Date: November 22, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Noren cold on hottest claims

Alex Noren looked almost shocked when asked how it felt to be the hottest player in world golf.

Yet, as he and David Lingmerth prepare for this week’s World Cup of Golf at Kingston Heath, that’s exactly the moniker with which he must suddenly deal.

Noren is 34, from Stockholm. He is average height, average build, has a modest background and, until July this year, was putting together a solid rather than spectacular career, primarily in the lower reaches of the European Tour.

But subsequent victories in globally compelling tournaments such as the Scottish Open, European Masters, British Masters and, just two weeks ago, the Nedbank Challenge, have made him hot property.

Noren’s world rankings trajectory is, simply, up.

He was as low as 654th after his first tournament of 2015, but last week checked in at a mind-blowing No.9.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s higher than Bubba Watson, Olympic champion Justin Rose, Masters hero Danny Willett and luminaries such as Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson.

In short, he’s the man, perhaps only rivalled by Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama on current form.

Just don’t tell him that.

“I don't really think so. Golf is a tough game and … you appreciate the ups. But it's a new week and it's not like my game is perfect every week, it just happened to be a good stretch,” Noren said with an absolute lack of cockiness his rise might have warranted for a more affected individual.

“I'm still feeling a little bit nervous before this week, as I am every week.

“Obviously it's nice to come up with some good tournaments and your confidence builds. I’m hitting it a little bit straighter than the last few years, so I'm looking forward to it.

“But I don't see myself as the hottest player.”

That modesty didn’t bother his teammate this week, David Lingmerth, who is looking forward to hitching a ride with his senior partner.

“Absolutely. No pressure, yeah. Everybody's been telling me just to put the ball in play this week and then Alex will take care of the rest,” Lingmerth said with a broad grin.

“No, it's going to be a lot of fun. Alex is a great guy. We're just getting to know each other better and playing a team tournament, something that we don't do a lot.”

Adding further to the “hot Noren” theory is that he’s been an occasional visitor to nearby Huntingdale when the Australian Masters was resident.

“It's nice to be here. I love the course already. I played a few holes and I've been down this way a few times playing Huntingdale but this is very nice,” he said.

“This feels like it's getting pretty firm and a few of the tee shots today played longer probably than it will in the tournament when it dries up.

“But the caddies are really good with all the yardages and how far you hit it (and they’ve) been around here a few times so that helps.”

It all points to something special from Noren, perhaps the only man to appear in the world’s top 10 of recent times whose face isn’t etched in the minds of golf fans globally.

So of the myriad opportunities this magnificent event offers Australian fans, throw in a chance to learn a bit more about this almost anonymous Swedish sensation – and how all young golfers can attack the US PGA Tour-dominated world rankings from a different angle.

Because even though Noren can now walk into any event he likes, he plans to split his time between the United States and Europe in 2017.

“It changes the opportunity to choose tournaments. Before I … played the qualifications for them and it's not as easy to plan next year. I think it's going to be a lot easier to plan.

“My goal as always has been to play the best tournaments against the best players, and I think those eight tournaments – the WGCs and the majors – are the toughest and the best that we have.

“Then if I can play around that to mix it up in the US and Europe, that would be ideal for me because I love playing in America, I went to college there.

“But I also love playing on the European Tour with all my friends. I think we have a super schedule, they just announced the Rolex Series next year, so they're giving us great opportunities.”