JASON’S JOURNEY OF MERIT
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.