Aug. 15, 2011
In the corner of the office of Kansas State men’s golf coach Tim Norris sits a red, white and blue “Hogan” golf bag accompanied with the name “Norris.”
In the bag is a 30-year-old Hogan-made persimmon driver, plus Hogan irons, including a 1-iron, all with steel shafts.
On the wall above the bag is a cartoonish caricature of Norris with the caption: “$2,160 per stroke under par.”
It was a gift received several years ago at a 50th reunion of the Sammy Davis Jr. – Greater Hartford Open. The caption was in reference to Norris winning the Aug. 15, 1982, event with an amazing score of 25-under par for the first-prize money of $54,000.
While Norris quips that “… the money is long gone,” the memories from the event 29 years ago today are still vivid in the mind of the Wildcat men’s golf coach.
Played at the Wethersfield Country Club outside of Hartford, Conn., Norris was near flawless with rounds of 63, 64, 66 and 66. He won the event wire-to-wire by six shots over Hubert Green and Raymond Floyd, who had won the PGA Championship the weekend before.
The 25-under par 259 total still stands as a Greater Hartford Open record and missed by only two strokes for being the most strokes under par in any four-day PGA event.
After earning his way into the tournament field through a 1-under par Monday qualifying round, Norris hit 92 percent of the greens in regulation and averaged only 27 putts per round over the four days.
“You combine those two things and you have a pretty good chance to shoot some low numbers,” said Norris, who didn’t have a bogey until the ninth hole of the final round. “It was a stretch of some pretty good golf.”
For Norris, the four-round roll couldn’t have come at a better time.
The week before the tournament, he had received a letter from his sponsor (a Fresno businessman) saying that it might be a good idea if his wife would start looking for a job.
“He just said, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” said Norris, who was in his second year on the tour with limited success, plus battling a hand injury. “We (Norris and is wife, Shelly) shed a few tears, but it was something I probably needed. He was probably just trying to light a fire under me. Sometimes you need to be told the truth instead of what you want to hear.”
With only two top-10 career finishes to his credit, Norris laughed as he said, “No one was picking me as a potential winner entering the tournament. I had about $2,000 in career earnings and 15 times that in expenses.”
But this was to be Norris’ week. His shots were true, and when one did go astray, he had good fortune: “I had one shot bounce off a spectator’s head and it ended up on the green.”
On the next hole, Norris three-putted for a bogey, and he was immediately reminded which golfer the gallery was pulling for.
“It was my first bogey in the tournament, but a young fan yelled out, ‘Hey Raymond (Floyd), he’s choking!’ Really, I felt pretty good throughout. I was on TV after the first round and was asked about being ahead of the projected leaders. I said, ‘Bring them all on. I like my chances.’
“In this game, if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not going to get much respect from anybody,” said Norris.
Norris responded with four-straight birdies and won the event by six strokes. A $54,000 check came with the victory, plus $12,000 from Titleist for using the company’s ball.
“American Express was happy because I could finally pay some bills,” said Norris. “I was fighting for my life on the tour at that time. Even that year, I think I only won $66,000 and $54,000 came from that tournament.”
Just as important, Norris received a two-year guaranteed spot on the PGA Tour with the win.
Norris, however, was nowhere close to being on easy street. He would turn to El Paso-based sponsors, which included his father-in-law, in 1983, and then went out on his own in 1986.
“I remember the first tournament that year my transmission went out as I was driving to the tournament, so right off the bat I’m down $1,500,” said Norris.
Waiting for his car to be fixed, he found his way to Pebble Beach for the Spalding Invitational, which was not a part of the PGA Tour, but included such Spalding Club users as Greg Norman and Johnny Miller.
Norris shot rounds of 64 and 71 at Pebble Beach with the 64, at that time, being a course record. More importantly, it put another $40,000 in Norris’ pocket.
Norris would also win the California State Open and the Sun County PGA Championship before shutting down his career in 1989 with $549,535 in career earnings.
“That’s what some guys earn by placing second in a single tournament,” said Norris, who played in the 1983 Masters, plus four U.S. Opens in the early- to mid-1980s with a highest “Major” placing of 40th in the 1985 PGA Championship.
On the verge of losing his tour card in 1989, Norris said, “That was a sign that maybe I needed to do something else. After my daughter was born, I just said, ‘Do you know what? It’s time to do something else.’ We were just treading water, so we decided to take a year off.”
The year off never materialized as the men’s golf coaching job opened at UTEP where he coached from 1990 to 1996, before accepting the job at Kansas State in 1997. And now, entering his 15th season at the helm of the Wildcat golf program, Norris is the longest-tenured coach in the Big 12.
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