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Kansas Golf Associaition

The Norton Name Added to Father/Son Champions Roster

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Since turning 50 years old, Bryan Norton has been collecting golf titles faster than any other Kansas golfer regardless of age.  He has two Kansas Senior Amateur titles and a USGA Johnnie & Bryan Norton, 2013 Father-Son championsnational championship (2010 US State Team with Tyler Shelton and Charlie Stevens).  Earlier this year he won the Kansas Senior Four-Ball with Mark Addington.  But last month’s win at Lawrence Country Club may mean more to Bryan than any of the others.  He teamed with his son Johnnie to win the KGA Father/Son Championship setting a record in the process.  Bryan and Johnnie Norton became the first team in the 15-year history of the championship to come out of the junior division and win the overall title.

Johnnie Norton has apparently watched his dad play golf so much that his swing looks much the same – but left handed.   His ability to make birdies with controlled shot-making and good putting is also in the blood line.  Team Norton cruised to a 4-under par 66 in the first of two rounds to share the overnight lead with Grant and Thane Ringler of Hutchinson.  Only two bogies marred a round bolstered by six birdies.

The Ringler’s have been playing in this annual family event since Thane was old enough to break 80 and now with his game is high gear as an All-American NAIA golfer it appeared that it might be their year to end up on top.  The second round paired with the Norton’s in the last group would be the real test.  Bryan and Thane knew each other well despite the 30-some year difference in age – they met in the second round of the Kansas Amateur in 2010 at PrairieRingler's & Norton's in final group Dunes, Thane’s home course.  Norton won 5&4.

The Norton’s took a quick one-stroke lead with a birdie at #1 but then Thane Ringler responded with a fantastic eagle on the par five #3 hole to take a brief one-stroke lead.  The pivotal hole of the championship may have followed at #4.  This long par four requires a well-placed and long drive to reach a small elevated green surrounded by bunkers.  The Norton’s managed a par while the Ringler’s struggled to a double bogey.  Bryan and Johnnie were now back in the lead by a single stroke with 14 holes to go – a lot of golf.

Team Norton built a two-stroke advantage with a birdie at the treacherous seventh hole, a downhill par three with a water hazard to the right and out-of-bounds close to the left and Darrel Holden, 2013 Junior Divison championrear of the green.  A three-stroke advantage was posted with another birdie at the par four #10 hole.

Rather than concede to what might appear to be the inevitable, the Ringler’s went to work at the 11th hole and made three consecutive birdies to get back to a one-stroke deficit.  After two more holes and all pars, the Norton’s and Ringler’s stood at the tee of the 16th hole with the ultimate championship still in the balance.

The 16th hole at Lawrence Country Club might be the most difficult short par four hole in Kansas.  The tee shot is blind and the line to take is variable depending on your appetite for risk.  The drive zone has multiple tiers and a level lie is rare.  The approach shot may be downhill, but the distance is always hard to figure with swirling winds to a very shallow putting green.  If that is not enough to scare you, try not to notice the large water hazard adjacent to the entire front edge of the green.  Once on the green, the degree of slope makes a three-putt the average result.

Thane Ringler wanted to give his dad, a Hutchinson dentist, a KGA championship.  He hit his approach to within eight feet leaving a very makeable line to the hole.  A birdie here could get them back to even with the Norton’s.  But then it was the Norton’s turn.  Bryan, a veteran of big pressure shots, calmlyKoy Holden, 2013 Junior Division champion struck his mid-iron approach to six feet.  Then as if to say “watch this, Dad”, Johnnie put his approach on the green a mere two feet from the hole!  Thane putted first and narrowly missed and then Bryan let his son have the fun of tapping in his putt for birdie.  Bryan and Johnnie walked from the 16th green with a two-stroke lead and some big smiles.  The Ringlers made a great effort, but there were not enough holes left to overtake the Norton’s who managed to keep pace with a par and a birdie on the final two holes.

Bryan and Johnnie Norton finished at 11-under par 129 on the strength of 13 birdies and only two bogies in 36 holes of four-ball stroke play.  They finished nine strokes better than the next best junior team, Darrel and Koy Holden.  The Holden’s 2-under par 138 made them the Junior Division champions.

The 2014 KGA Father/Son Championship moves to Tallgrass Country Club in Wichita where Bryan Norton won the 2002 Kansas Amateur.  You can bet Johnnie won’t have any problem convincing his dad that a title defense would be even more fun.