U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
Norton Prevails in Battle of Familiar, Formidable Foes August 28, 2017 | Minneapolis, Minn. By Dave Shedloski

Bryan Norton, of Mission Hills, Kan., turned the tables on Tim Jackson, the No. 6 seed, in a rematch of the Round of 32 from last year. (USGA/Chris Keane)

After two scratchy days of play in the stroke-play rounds, Bryan Norton needed to see something good in his game early Monday – not only to bolster his confidence, but also for surviving the 12-man playoff to determine the final seven qualifiers for match play in the 63rd U.S. Senior Amateur.

Two solid pars on holes 10 and 11 at The Minikahda Club did the trick, but his reward for the effort was a first-round matchup with Tim Jackson, the two-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who was twice a member of the USA Walker Cup Team. The same Tim Jackson who had made the semifinals of the U.S. Senior Amateur the previous two years before losing to the eventual winner. And the same guy who knocked Norton out of the championship in the second round last year at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis.

“We saw each other before the round and he said to me, ‘Couldn’t you have tapped in first or last [in the playoff] or something so the pairings would have fallen differently?’ said Norton. “We both felt like the draw wasn’t the best, having to play each other so early. We’ve played a lot together.”

Jackson’s worries were confirmed when Norton, buoyed by his playoff performance, assembled a nearly mistake-free round and went on to win, 2 and 1.

Seeded 59th among the 64 players in match play after shooting 8-over 152 in stroke play, Norton meets Frank Vana of Boxford, Mass., in the second round on Tuesday at 9:20 a.m. CDT. Jackson had been seeded sixth after coming in at 2-under 142.

Norton, 58, of Mission Hills, Kan., birdied his opening two holes against Jackson and went on to shoot 3 under for 17 holes. He missed only one fairway, at the 17th, and one green.

“I knew I was going to have to play well to beat Tim, and fortunately I did,” said Norton, who finished runner-up to Pat Tallent in the 2014 championship. “It was one of those days where you already feel like your back is against the wall. And I had already felt that way in the morning because I had to play off just to get in [match play]. I was just in that mindset all day.”

That was the same feeling he fought in the qualifying. Even though he didn’t play poorly throughout the wet weekend, he scored poorly and never felt comfortable.

“It’s a hard golf course when you feel you’re behind because it’s hard to make putts and you can’t force them to go in,” he said. “So today I got the kind of start I needed when you’ve been struggling a little bit. That started with the playoff. It was exactly what I was looking for. I’ve done well in some tournaments in the past, so I know what a momentum game it can be.”

Norton never lost the lead after going 1 up with a par at the par-3 sixth hole, but he never led by more than two. It was a nail-biter for the two-time USGA runner-up, who recalled his match with Jackson last year when it went the distance. Jackson, 58, closed him out 2 up with a chip-in on the final hole.

“He hit one of the most beautiful chips you’ve ever seen,” Norton recalled. “He had to land that thing in the rough, and have it bounce on, and it was just perfect. If you’re going to lose, then lose to that. Fortunately, this time I got on top and was able to stay there. And that’s tough for him when you shoot 142 and you see what your draw is, knowing that we’ve had some great matches in the past.

“I just feel real lucky to win. I hit the ball great, but that isn’t going to last throughout a whole week. I have to find a way to get the ball in the hole faster. But I am going to enjoy this. Right now I’m thinking of dinner and getting off my feet, rewarding myself, because this was a good win against a great player.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to USGA websites.

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