Noren savoring hottest stretch of his career
The hottest stretch of Alex Noren's career has come a few weeks too late.
If only two of his three European Tour wins since early July hadn't arrived after the qualification period for the Ryder Cup ended and Darren Clarke had selected his captain's picks.
"I wasn't on their minds," Noren says.
Too bad for Clarke. With Noren on the team, the Europeans might not have been humbled at Hazeltine.
The 34-year-old Swede is easily playing the best golf of his life — and, as a consequence, earning more money than he could ever have imagined.
"Please take a week off and give someone else a chance," English golfer Chris Paisley tweeted Sunday, hours after Noren won the British Masters at The Grove to take his 2016 prize money over 2 million euros ($2.2 million).
The hot streak began when Noren won the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart the week before the British Open. He lost in the final of the Paul Lawrie Match Play in early August, won the Omega European Masters in September, and then triumphed at the British Masters at the weekend.
Noren woke up Monday at a career-high No. 18 in the rankings and is guaranteed to play in all the majors in 2017, which means a first appearance at Augusta National for the Masters.
"I've been trying to get into the top 50 to play in more (big) tournaments," Noren told The Associated Press in a phone interview from his hotel after arriving for the Portugal Masters in Vilamoura. "But to get into the top 20, I really couldn't dream about it."
Noren appreciates the upturn in fortunes more than most golfers would.
In 2014, he played just two events because of tendinitis in both wrists that required surgery. Every time he tried to play, he got extreme inflammation in the wrists and lost most of the movement in them. He was told not to compete or train.
That year, he earned less than 5,000 euros ($5,500) in prize money.
"Maybe it was good for me that I had this injury," Noren said. "I could do something else other than golf."
There have been more changes in perspective for Noren this year.
He and his girlfriend, Jennifer, had their first child — Iris — early this year. Suddenly his mood stopped depending on the numbers on a scorecard.
"Maybe that's the biggest contributor to my form this year," Noren said. "Golf was everything to me before ... It put a lot of pressure on me."
He has also decided to spend less time at the range. That has meant practicing at a different club — Ullna Golf Club, near Stockholm — which Noren says doesn't have a driving range.
"I play a lot more golf on the course than before and try to achieve scores even when my game doesn't feel so good," he said. "Before, if I played nine holes and I didn't feel so good, I went to the driving range. Now I use the course as my driving range, hitting extra balls here, extra balls there."
Noren said he might take advantage of his lofty ranking by playing more events on the PGA Tour in future, allowing him to "play the best tournaments against the best players on the best courses." But he said he will not turn his back on the European Tour.
But in the short term, Noren has the end of the best season of his career to focus on. He is currently ranked fourth in the Race to Dubai and must be one of the favorites a month out from the World Tour Championship finale.
"I know how tough golf can be. I've had my really bad runs before, so I don't take it for granted," Noren said.
"I'm just really happy with what I've done this summer. I have more self-confidence now than before. But I honestly don't feel that other people are looking at me in a different way."