Playing the best golf of his career at 37. Reaching the cusp of the world’s top 50 through competing in Japan. Playing to win in honour of his late father. South Africa’s Shaun Norris writes this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
I’m 37 years old but I’m only starting to reach my prime. Professional golf is so competitive now with so many good players out there, but I think the one thing that has seen me move up the rankings so much is that I've stopped trying to be a perfectionist all the time. I've found something that works for me, I feel comfortable and I've just gone on from there. It has been a long journey to get to this point, but the last four or five years have been really good for me. A big part of that has been having my brother on the bag again. We're having a lot of fun out there wherever we are, and we're working on things that make me comfortable. Working on things that make me relaxed. Instead of standing out there and bashing 500 or 600 balls trying to create the perfect swing I've found something that works for me, under the gun, in pressure situations.
Growing up in South Africa you always want to go and play in the US or Europe – but it didn’t work out that way for me. Although I got my European Tour card in 2011, I lost it after a season, and I was just hanging around and playing in South Africa when I realised I needed to change. The Sunshine Tour is a fantastic starting point, but you can't make a career from that Tour and I trusted myself that I could compete against better players. The only way of doing that was through travelling. I did well in the Alfred Dunhill in 2015 and that inspired me to go over to Asian Tour Q-School. That went well and I got my card. Then I played well, and I made a few top fives. Then before I knew it I'd won an event, one that was co-sanctioned with the Japan Golf Tour. A good friend of mine said I should take up membership in Japan as the Tour there is really good, so I did that and for the last four years I've been out there playing on those courses. It's been a great experience. The venues are fantastic, the people are very friendly, and they don't hold back! They try to make the courses as tough as possible, and by playing courses set up in that manner it's really improved me as a golfer. My thinking on the golf course has improved enormously and I'm a much better player now after my time in Japan. The Japanese people have taken me in with open arms and have been incredibly welcoming. Having the Rugby World Cup there was fantastic too. Turning up to the golf course and having five or six Japanese people there wearing South African jerseys and supporting me during my round was amazing. It’s a country where the people are so positive with everything they do. It’s incredible to see. I took my family there last year too and they loved it. It's a country I can't recommend going to visit enough.
Last year was an amazing one professionally but a difficult one personally as my dad passed away. Dad was diagnosed with colon and kidney cancer nine years ago, so it's been a long road and it got to a point where it was very hard for the family. He was really battling with pain. We couldn't do anything for him, and to see him suffer like that – a man with so much dignity and pride – was very difficult. He didn't even want you to help him out of his chair, that's how proud he was. That was hard for all of us, and for the first six months of last year it was a real battle. We all tried to honour him and his word. His biggest dream was to become a golfer himself, but he only took up the sport when he was 32. He started living his dream through his boys. So, for me to become a professional golfer and for my brother to become a caddie too, he loved it. Then when my brother started caddying for me, that was extra special for him. He loved seeing us together. He didn't want us to sit at home and be around while he was ill, he wanted us to travel still and play tournaments. He wanted us to do it for him. So that's what we did. We pushed and we pushed and although it was hard at the end, we're just happy he's pain-free and he's in a better place.
I found out dad had passed away while I was competing in Japan. My brother was helping mum at home through the final stages of dad's life, so I was out there on my own. I was in no man's land. I don't know how I did so well that week. I found out dad died on the Thursday morning then by Saturday night I’d shot three rounds in the 60s and was one off the lead. I was just going through the motions really, but to finish in the top five in that event was crazy. I spoke to him the night before he died and he told me, ‘never give up, it doesn't matter what happens to me, keep going.’
It really helped being able to talk to Justin [Walters] about everything. He called me around a month after his father passed away and he said to me, 'Norrie, how are you doing this?' I just said to him, 'there's nothing I can do or say to bring him back, but they loved us, they supported us, and they loved watching us do what we're doing. They're watching us still from above, and you've got to knuckle down and keep playing for them as they're always there for you.' Dad stuck a club in my hand when I started walking, we were always a golf mad family, so without him not only would I not be where I am today or even playing golf. He, and my mum, sacrificed so much for both me and my brother, as golf is not one of the cheapest sports to start out as a youngster. So, I owe him everything.
I'll always play for dad from now on – he’ll always be in the back of my mind. I know he's always looking over us from above and I want to keep improving for him. I'm now just outside of the top 50 in the world and the future is so exciting. To be playing in these big events with people I grew up watching – guys like Ernie Els and Tiger Woods – is brilliant. Even to stand on the same driving range as them, have them greet you in fantastic. Majors, WGCs, Rolex Series events. Playing in all of these big tournaments is what you dream of when you’re little, so to now be at a stage in my career where I'm at this level is amazing.