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Norton, Tallent find U.S. Senior Am final

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – My theory is that all golfers should learn to embrace their eccentricities.

If somebody says to you, “Hey, you do a little dance every time you hit the ball,” you respond like this: “I love it. I’m a dancing fool. I think there’s another guy out there – uh, Bubba Watson or something like that – who kind of dances around during his swing.”

The match-play final of the U.S. Senior Amateur, to be played here Thursday morning between 61-year-old Pat Tallent of Vienna, Va, and 55-year-old Bryan Norton of Mission Hills, Kan., pairs two golfers who definitely do things their own way. Each could be the dictionary definition of eccentric.

One 18-hole round at Big Canyon Country Club will decide this national championship.

• Achenbach: U.S. Senior Amateur benefits from Big Canyon’s great 18th.

Tallent, a retired accountant, may be the world’s greater hater of the hook. Call it the draw. Call it the right-to-left shot. Call it anything you like. Tallent hates them all.

“No hooks allowed,” Tallent said. “I don’t want to see any hooks. I don’t want to think about any hooks. I don’t want to picture any hooks. I don’t want to hear about any hooks. I do not hit a hook. Ever.”

While many golfers have failed to identify their strengths, Tallent has gone all the way to the other side of the spectrum.

If he were to write his autobiography, it could be titled, “1,000 ways to hit a fade.” His repertoire includes full fades, half fades, punch fades, cut-off fades and some other fades that defy description.

The U.S. Senior Amateur is familiar territory for Tallent. In 2010, he was the qualifying medalist (140 at Lake Nona Golf Club in Orlando, Fla.) and eventually lost 2 & 1 to Paul Simson in the final.

An Academic All-American basketball player at George Washington University, Tallent prides himself on being a fire-breathing competitor.

Picture a 61-year-old golfer sounding more like a fierce 21-year-old athlete. “I will never give up,” he says. “If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose. But I will never quit.”

In Wednesday afternoon’s semifinal round, Tallent outlasted Rick Cloninger of Fort Mill, S.C., by a 3 & 1 margin. The match was even through 13 holes, but Cloninger lost 14 and 15 after two unlucky occurrences.

On the par-4 14th, Cloninger hit “what I thought was a perfect tee shot,” although it rolled farther than he anticipated and plopped into a fairway bunker. Facing a near-impossible shot, he made double bogey and lost the hole.

On the par-3 15th, his tee shot ended up in heavy, tangled grass just a foot off the putting surface. Although he was no more than 15 feet from the cup, he was handcuffed by the grass and made a bogey. He went 2 down.

“I was kind of running on fumes at the end,” said Cloninger, who played two qualifying rounds and then won four matches before losing in the semifinals.

Tallent, too, admitted he was worn out by this golf marathon. However, it should be pointed out that both Cloninger and Tallent have been riding in golf carts all week.

Which brings us to Norton, the other finalist. He insists on walking, and has done so for the seven rounds of golf he has played in five days.

“I play better when I walk,” Norton said. “It’s that simple. Golf to me is a walking game.”

In the semifinal round, Norton defeated former U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Randy Lewis by a 2 & 1 count. “He played really well,” said Lewis, “and I wasn’t good enough today.”

Former U.S. Amateur and U.S. Senior Amateur champion Vinny Giles calls Norton a “rookie” because at 55 he has reached the minimum age for the Senior Amateur and is making his first appearance in the championship.

The rookie, who is a reinstated amateur and an insurance agent, does a few things differently. For example, he would rather hit an iron than a metalwood, and he avoids a driver like the plague. He hits a 2-iron with great frequency on par-4 and par-5 holes. Typically he has hit just one metalwood shot (a driver off the 8th tee) on the entire front nine at Big Canyon.

That 2-iron is a Ping G2 HL, and Norton has the necessary clubhead speed to hit the ball very high and very far.

Another peculiarity: Norton carries two putters, one long and one of conventional length. Picture a man walking to the green with two putters under his arm. In general, he uses the long putter on shorter putts and the conventional length putter on longer putts.

Honor your eccentricities. This could be the motto of either U.S. Senior Amateur finalist.

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