As a college golfer at the University of Oregon, Norman Xiong justifiably drew comparisons to Tiger Woods from his coach, Casey Martin.
“I just always took it as he was saying at that age, from what he saw because he played with him (Woods) and witnessed it firsthand, that was just his point of view,” Xiong said.
Martin made national news in Dothan back in 1999 when he earned his PGA Tour card by finishing in the Top 15 of the Nike Tour following the tour’s season-ending tournament held at Highland Oaks. Martin was born with a birth defect in his right leg and successfully sued the PGA for the right to be able to ride in a golf cart during tournaments.
Martin played at Stanford University with Woods and likened Xiong to his college teammate.
Xiong certainly played Tiger-like during his two years at Oregon.
He was named the nation’s top freshman golfer with the Phil Mickelson Award after graduating high school early and enrolling in college in time for the spring season of 2017. Xiong followed that up in 2018 by earning the Jack Nicklaus Award, given annually to the Division I men’s golfer of the year, along with the Haskins Award, named for the top collegiate golfer.
Believing there was little more to accomplish on the college level, Xiong left before his junior year and turned pro.
“It would have kind of been like going through the motions if I would have stayed another year, or another two years,” Xiong said.
That’s where the story takes a different turn for the 20-year-old from Las Vegas, who is in Dothan this week playing in the second stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying-School tournament at Highland Oaks. Formerly the Web.com Tour, the Korn Ferry Tour is the next step below the PGA Tour.
Golfers here this week are trying to earn a trip to the third and final stage of Q-School in hopes of earning an exemption onto the Korn Ferry Tour for the upcoming season.
It is definitely an uphill battle now for Xiong after shooting a disastrous 9-over-par 81 during the first round on Tuesday. It was the highest score of the day in the 74-player field.
How does he rebound going into the second day of the four-round tournament?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I’ve never really had a round like this. I don’t know what to do yet.”
Such illustrates the challenge facing young golfers — and even veterans — in trying to make it in the professional ranks.
What was mostly smooth sailing for Xiong as an amateur has become a struggle, such as his opening round at Highland Oaks.
“I just didn’t hit it that well,” Xiong said. “I had a few bad breaks. I had one out of bounds.
“I hit my driver way right. I tried to lay up and then had like 140 out of the rough and hit it straight over the green. I hit my second one to about three feet short (of the hole) and just three-putted.”
It was another humbling experience for Xiong, who made a handful of cuts during his first year on the Korn Ferry Tour, but definitely didn’t play as well as he hoped.
“It’s just different,” Xiong began of the pro ranks. “I don’t know how to explain it. There’s a lot of external pressure. It’s a big risk to go to certain tournaments to stay at these hotels, book these flights and hire these caddies.
“Those are all expenses to where you hope you play well. If you miss the cut, you might not make any money. It can definitely be a big loss and big gamble, so that’s definitely weighing on you.”
Still, Xiong says he doesn’t regret turning pro early in the least.
He knows the secret to success on the golf course, but finding those winning ways again is easier said than done.
“You know what good golf is,” Xiong said. “It’s pretty simple. There’s nothing complicated about it. It’s fairways and greens. Make a lot of pars; make a lot of birdies.
“It’s just simple golf and that’s what I played before. But things can change over time.”
Xiong will keep plugging away.
“Life is hard in general,” Xiong said. “I’m just taking it one day at a time.”
First round leaders: Three golfers finished the first round at 6-under 66 — Danny Walker of Bradenton, Fla., Thomas Walsh of High Point, N.C., and Zach Partin of Lewisville, N.C. Right behind at 67 was Lukas Euler of Raleigh, N.C., and Nathan Stamey of Bluffton, S.C. Coming in at 68 were Mike Schoolcraft of Denver, Isaiah Logue of Royston, Ga., Connor Arendall of Fort Myers, Fla., Trevor Ullestad of Jewell, Iowa, and Stephen Franken of Raleigh, N.C.
Second-round play begins at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The public is invited to attend and there is no cost for admission.