Get ready for potentially the last true Cinderella story in golf.
With its decision to deem Q-School an undesirable entry route directly into the PGA Tour from now on, the tour basically determined it didn’t want guys like Henrik Norlander cluttering up its fields. After all, the former two-time national champion at Augusta State has never once proven himself in a single PGA Tour-sanctioned event at the major league or Triple-A level.
Norlander, however, accomplished what very few established pros have ever done – survived 17 rounds of Q-School from pre-qualifying through the third and final stage to earn his right to compete with golf’s big boys.
Nobody else will ever be able to do it again.
“I got to see that I am good enough to go through four stages of qualifying,” Norlander said. “I shot low pretty much every time. I really believe my game is good enough to belong out there. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I know my potential and I just have to go out there and have fun.”
Understanding his own abilities has never been Norlander’s strength, even when he was listed as the No. 1 golfer on the Jaguar team that won consecutive NCAA titles in 2010-11.
It still wasn’t registering when Norlander joined the professional ranks. The native Swede struggled on the European Challenge Tour in 2011, making three cuts in seven starts. He struggled again in the early months of 2012 on the regional eGolf Tour and was questioning his future.
“I thought the transition to pro would be so easy,” Norlander said. “It got to the point of, ‘Should I even sign up for Q-School?’ ”
But in stepped a figure who’s always been instrumental in Norlander’s success – former Augusta State coach Josh Gregory. Conversations with his old coach helped spark Norlander to an eGolf victory in late September, just in time for his confidence to kick in before the Q-School grind.
“He is still my mentor,” Norlander said of the current Southern Methodist coach. “I always struggled in believing in myself and realizing that I’m actually pretty good. He caddied for me at pre-Q, first and second stage and he put it in my head that, ‘You’re better than these guys. You can get through.’ ”
Gregory caddied for Norlander again at the final stage, toting his former player’s bag for nine consecutive days.
“When I showed up at final stage I just tried to have fun because I knew everything would be better than 2012 even if I finished last,” said Norlander, who was guaranteed at least a spot on the Web.com Tour in 2013 for making it that far. “It was probably a lot different mentality for players who had been out there fighting for years. I was about to get a job and if they had a bad day they might lose their job. I felt absolutely zero pressure at Q-School.”
The clincher was a bogey-free 67 in the final round, where Norlander made a 7-foot putt on the last hole to earn the last cards along with college teammate Patrick Reed.
“When I got my card the key was not to feel like I got on the PGA Tour and now I can relax for a few weeks,” he said. “I worked even harder than I ever have. It’s all about hard work and there’s no shortcuts.”
To that end, Norlander has been grinding eight hours a day in Evans at Champions Retreat, where he was given a membership to represent the club on tour.
“My hands are hurting when I leave,” he said.
On Saturday, Norlander left to join Reed, Charles Howell and Vaughn Taylor in Hawaii for the first full-field event of 2013.
“It’s all new but very exciting,” he said.
Norlander takes a somewhat unique perspective into tournament week. All of his range grinding and game finding is done before he ever gets there. Practice rounds to get acquainted with the course, light putting to get a feel for the greens and loosening up on the range is all the work he plans to put in on site.
“It’s too late to show up at a tournament on Monday and not feel 100 percent prepared and try to practice Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said. “You’ll be worn out by Thursday, especially if you play three, four or five weeks in a row. I don’t practice at tournaments. That job is done. To me it’s almost vacation when I go to a tournament.
“I’ve got to go do what I’ve been doing because I got there with my routines. I’m still the same guy. I earned my spot there and I’ve got to take my place. I can’t be shy of being there.”
The hardest part for a rookie is establishing new routines in a foreign environment. It won’t hurt Norlander to have a friend like Reed out there with him, and he’s built relationships with veteran Swedes like Henrik Stenson, Robert Karlsson and Jesper Parnevik to lean on for advice.
“The biggest challenge is to get comfortable out there and not be intimidated by big players,” he said. “That’s the key, for me to really get comfortable out there. To realize it’s just golf and everybody is just trying to get the ball in the hole in as few strokes as possible no matter what tour you’re on.”
Norlander will play Waialae, Palm Springs, Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach before the first reshuffle to improve his standing. His goals remain personal, but his Cinderella vision is universal.
“Getting out there is a dream come true and I want to stay out there for awhile,” he said. “I don’t want to just have this year and live on that. I want to get as good as I can and play to my potential. If I work hard, hopefully I will get there one day.”