Ken Norton completed on Monday what no one is believed to have accomplished in golf: he played at least one round every day for a year, setting a Guinness World Record for most rounds completed in a year – more than 600.
He started his first round July 19, 2010, as part of a competition sponsored by San Diego-based JC Golf. For completing the challenge (he’s believed to be the first person to last this long), he’ll receive five years of free golf and a TaylorMade custom club fitting.
On the 18th hole of Twin Oaks Golf Course on July 18, he sank his final putt, with family, friends and reporters watching. The crowd held its collective breath. Cameras flashed.
“Now I know what it’s like to be a pro,” Norton said. “Everybody will be cheering, but then get super silent when you putt. I got pretty choked up after the final stroke.”
Norton, 55, has quit his job and surrendered everything to the game of golf.
In his former life, he was the owner of a construction company who worked himself weary, burned through multiple marriages and lost $8.5 million in land in 2007 when the economy crashed.
“I was living at 100 mph, completely going, 24/7. Life was totally out of control.”
Norton endured five heart attacks, put on weight and hardly slept, he said.
Now, he can focus on golf.
The JC Golf rules required him to play 18 holes a day, but Norton preferred to keep going. He played more than 600 rounds in 365 days.
“18 is nothing. I get bored with that and keep going,” he said. “So after I get done playing golf, I jump on the Harley and run down to the beach and go surfing.”
When he plays in the morning, he slaps his bag onto his shoulders, hops onto his motorcycle and hits round after round at one of JC Golf’s Southern California courses.
He has dropped 40 pounds, stopped drinking and is in the shape of his life, he said.
But the best accomplishment, he said, is the way his game has improved.
He has won six local and charity tournaments in a row, and went from a 25 handicap down to a 6.
Even treacherous weather can’t keep Norton from the tee. When the course is closed to the general public, he has played some of his best rounds.
“One of the days it was raining the worst, all the tees were flooded,” he said. “I got a hole-in-one using a pitching wedge. I shot even par with one club that day.”
In all, he says he has made 10 holes-in-one.
But that’s not what kept him going. He’s got his eye on the prize: a set of clubs that will help him play even more – and better – golf during his five free years.
Tuesday morning, he played a round at 7 a.m., then headed to TaylorMade’s top-secret fitting location.
“It’s all secured; the public can’t get in,” he said. “I’ll go in there and every single club will be fitted. Then, I’ll be able to really play golf.”