Alex Noren introducing himself to U.S. in big way

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 27: Alex Noren of Sweden plays his shot from the second tee during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines South on January 27, 2018 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images) Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Alex Noren introducing himself to U.S. in big way

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Alex Noren introducing himself to U.S. in big way

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – In the U.S., chances are Alex Noren is known more for a picture of his callused hands than for the game that those hands produced. But the 35-year-old Swede, fresh off a playoff loss to Jason Day at the Farmers Insurance Open, is ready to introduce himself in a big way.

Noren is ranked 15th in the Official World Golf Ranking after cracking the top 10 in 2016 following a fourth European Tour victory in 11 starts. He owns 10 professional wins in Europe and a pair of top-10s in the British Open, but had played in just four non-major, non-WGC events on the PGA Tour before the Farmers.

Perhaps that’s why he is considered the highest-ranked golfer who nobody knows much about on this side of the pond.

“He’s the full package – very solid long game, short game is great, he’s probably one of the best putters in Europe – yet he’s not very well known in the States yet,” Francesco Molinari said. “… I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win in the States this year.”

Noren certainly figures to give himself plenty of chances. After earning his PGA Tour card last season, he plans to play a full schedule on both tours this year. In addition to the four majors and WGC events, Noren estimates he’ll play a handful of other events in the U.S., most of them this spring. He teed it up in Phoenix this week, finishing T-21, and is set to play the Genesis Open for the first time in two weeks at Riviera.

It will be the most Noren has played in the U.S. since he graduated from Oklahoma State University in 2005.

“There’s always a time for everything…” said Noren, who has a home in Jupiter, Fla., and practices out of The Bear’s Club. “I’ve waited for this opportunity to be able to play both tours. I’m happy with the way I’ve started.”

Noren’s decision to play more in the U.S. centers on his goal of performing better in the major championships. After all, as Noren points out, three of them are contested in the U.S. He believes that playing on American courses against American talent will make him a better player – and help him solidify a spot on the European Ryder Cup team this fall.

“I just want to play a bit more setup-wise like they do on the PGA Tour – firmer greens, more rough, tucked pins,” Noren said. “You get used to that after playing a few events like that, so when you get to majors you’re not kind of too fresh and inexperienced, so to speak.”

Noren’s desire to be the best started when he was an amateur. His college teammate, Hunter Mahan, called Noren the “perfect teammate,” because Noren set a high standard with his work ethic, pushing the other players. Noren was almost always the first guy in the gym or on the range in the morning – and the last to leave.

“He consistently showed up to the course every day to work as hard as he could and get better every single day,” Mahan said.

Yet, Noren didn’t get upset when he didn’t achieve that perfection. Mike Holder, then the head coach at Oklahoma State, used to penalize his players in qualifying rounds for every cuss word, thrown club or negative gesture after a bad shot. Noren was the least penalized.

“His attitude has always been his greatest asset,” Mahan said.

Even with a great swing and attitude, Noren never won in college. And when he turned pro, he became more consumed with beating balls for hours on end. Finally, in 2014, Noren’s obsessive work ethic limited him to just two events after he developed tendinitis in both wrists.

When he came back, Noren became smarter with his practice. Becoming a dad in late 2016 to his daughter, Iris, helped give him further perspective away from the game.

“(Fatherhood), it’s been great to me,” Noren said. “A guy like me, I practice a lot, I tend to sometimes do too much (practice) off the golf course instead of just maybe resting.”

Earlier in his life, Noren was always worried that he didn’t hit enough balls. Now, he’s found a better balance in life.

“He knew what he wanted in life,” Mahan said, “and he’s got it now – and deservedly so.”

Well, not everything. There’s still winning on the PGA Tour, hoisting a Ryder Cup and, of course, basking in major championship glory.

That could all change this year. Gwk

 

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