JASON’S JOURNEY OF MERIT

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - MICHAEL JONES GETTY IM­AGES PHOTOGRAPHY

Jason Nor­ris went from work­ing in a pro shop to win­ning on the Euro­pean Tour in the space of a week. Now he could win the Aus­tralasian Order of Merit. Michael Jones re­ports.

SWORDS ome­times it’s easy to buy into the no­tion pro­fes­sional golfers all lead lav­ish life­styles. We see cheques handed out ev­ery week worth hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars and as­sume that’s what it must be like for ev­ery player. That’s sim­ply not the case. Some strug­gle with the fierce com­pet­i­tive na­ture of the sport, while oth­ers never get the right op­por­tu­ni­ties.

For Jason Nor­ris, it took more than 20 years of hard work, a series of in­juries and two close en­coun­ters with death for that op­por­tu­nity to come knock­ing. But the South Aus­tralian grabbed it with both hands at the Fiji In­ter­na­tional in Au­gust.

“It was such a phe­nom­e­nal feel­ing win­ning in Fiji,” Nor­ris said. “We all know only a cer­tain per­cent­age of golfers make it. There’s a lot of guys who are great play­ers who could get to that level but it’s just about get­ting the op­por­tu­nity. Those guys at the very top are awe­some play­ers but it’s not all rosy like peo­ple might think … They see Adam Scott and those sort of guys – but it’s not like that for 99 per­cent of play­ers.”

The 44-year-old cer­tainly doesn’t shy away when ad­mit­ting he’s come close to quit­ting the game on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions. But as the PGA Tour of Aus­trala­sia en­ters the more lu­cra­tive stage of its sea­son – start­ing with the NSW Open – Nor­ris has a new­found de­ter­mi­na­tion that could

see him climb to the top of the Order of Merit. A solid per­for­mance in NSW, the Aus­tralian Open and Aus­tralian PGA Cham­pi­onship will likely earn him starts at the Open Cham­pi­onship and two World Golf Cham­pi­onship events.

“I’m sec­ond on the Order of Merit and would ob­vi­ously love to win,” Nor­ris said. “I re­mem­ber a con­ver­sa­tion af­ter the Aus­tralian PGA last year with my cad­die, Rod Butcher. I said to him, ‘I’m go­ing to set a goal to fin­ish top-three on the Order next year’. It’s the kind of thing you write down, put away and for­get about. So it’s great to think it’s com­ing to fruition, and I ob­vi­ously want to win the whole thing now.”

Nor­ris’ story is one that brings a smile to golfers and non-golfers alike. He’s en­coun­tered a series of mis­for­tunes and has seem­ingly taken them all in his stride. Ten years ago he came fright­en­ingly close to los­ing his life in a bi­cy­cle crash, which broke his jaw in 14 places and claimed five of his teeth. Doc­tors told him he would have died if his nose had been pushed just a cen­time­tre fur­ther into his skull.

“The bike ac­ci­dent hap­pened in 2007 when I was in the best form of my life,” Nor­ris said. “I was go­ing down a hill and hit a con­crete blower on the full. I should’ve just gone over the han­dle­bars but be­cause the fork snapped, I face-planted on the con­crete. Look­ing back now, I def­i­nitely changed from that time on. I was so re­sult-ori­en­tated and golf was my life but since that ac­ci­dent – and hav­ing kids – I’ve re­alised it’s not so im­por­tant. It’s just a job.”

That rev­e­la­tion be­came re­al­ity dur­ing the 18 months he spent work­ing in the pro shop at Ade­laide’s The Grange Golf Club prior to win­ning the Fiji In­ter­na­tional. A decade of in­juries and a bout of vi­ral menin­gi­tis – which caused him to with­draw from a win­ning po­si­tion at the 2013 Queens­land PGA – meant Nor­ris was ready to give the game away for good. But that’s eas­ier said than done for some­one who’s played golf for most of their life.

“I started playing golf as a 12-year-old,” Nor­ris said. “I’d head down to Malvern Val­ley Golf Club to hit balls chip and putt. By the end of year 10 I started work­ing at a driv­ing range just be­fore I was go­ing to do an ap­pren­tice­ship in car­pen­try, but I sort of fell in love with golf and never went back – I got the bug.

“I was a bit of a loner as a kid and I think golf was good for that. I could just do it my­self and didn’t have to worry about any­one else. I think that’s why I liked it so much and I could put all my

THOSE GUYS AT THE VERY TOP ARE AWE­SOME PLAY­ERS BUT IT’S NOT ALL ROSY LIKE PEO­PLE MIGHT THINK ... – JASON NOR­RIS

e orts into it.”

His part-time work at The Grange last year earnt him a measly $8,800 and came on top of 40 hours of prac­tice ev­ery week. Com­pare that to the $237,500 he banked af­ter four days play in Fiji and it’s easy to see why the pro­fes­sional game must be so ad­dic­tive. The vic­tory also re­warded him with a Euro­pean Tour card for the re­main­der of the year and a two-year ex­emp­tion to play on the Asian Tour. Still, Nor­ris isn’t get­ting ahead of him­self and hasn’t lost sight of what he now knows is re­quired.

“It was just an un­be­liev­able feel­ing in Fiji and one I’ll go back to for the rest of my life,” Nor­ris said. “But now I’m left won­der­ing what it was that was so di er­ent that week. It was just meant to be, I think, af­ter all that hard work. How do I bot­tle it is the ques­tion. I’m sure I’d do well sell­ing it.”

Should the jour­ney­man re­dis­cover that win­ning for­mula in time for the NSW Open, he’ll make con­sid­er­able strides in chas­ing down Brett Rum­ford at the top of the Order of Merit. The World No.442 (at the time of writ­ing) has al­ready en­joyed suc­cess but knows the im­por­tance of playing well at Twin Creeks, which is set to make its de­but host­ing the event.

“It would just be mas­sive for me to win,” Nor­ris said. “But I know it won’t be easy be­cause there’s a few big events left and “Rummy” is an awe­some player, and there’s ob­vi­ously a lot of other guys just be­hind me too,” Nor­ris said. “I’ve played Twin Creeks with my cad­die, he used to play there all the time. I’ve seen photos and it’s look­ing re­ally good at the moment. As a past win­ner of the event (2007) I’m look­ing for­ward to get­ting back out there.”

Nor­ris should be con­sid­ered one of the favourites to lift the Kel Na­gle Cup, but will face sti com­pe­ti­tion from some of Aus­trala­sia’s best play­ers. Dimi Pa­padatos strength­ens the field hav­ing al­ready won twice on Tour this year. While Ash­ley Hall will be look­ing to find form ahead of an­other Aus­tralian Open af­ter last year’s play-o loss to Jordan Spieth.

The NSW Open will be played at Syd­ney’s Twin Creeks Golf & Coun­try Club be­tween Novem­ber 16 and 19.

I’VE SEEN PHOTOS AND IT’S (TWIN CREEKS) LOOK­ING RE­ALLY GOOD AT THE MOMENT. AS A PAST WIN­NER OF THE EVENT (2007) I’M LOOK­ING FOR­WARD TO GET­TING BACK OUT THERE.” – JASON NOR­RIS

Plenty of hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion helped Nor­ris cap­ture the Fiji In­ter­na­tional.

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