By JACK LeGWIN
Norman Xiong, the No. 6 amateur golfer in the world, has capitalized on his opportunities.
Born in Guam, Xiong said that his knack for the game of golf really was the impetus for his family moving to Southern California.
“I moved from Guam pretty early,” Xiong told BTS Sports. “Guam was a place for my parents to start up their business, they ran a restaurant there. When I started golf, they knew I had potential, so we moved everything to San Diego.”
Xiong said he believes that move was a great one for his future in the game of golf.
“I think being from SoCal was really beneficial in my junior career,” Xiong said. “They had a lot of good tournaments and great players there. It really helps you compete, learn a lot and be around the elite players in golf.”
After graduating from high school at Temescal Canyon (Cal.) early, Xiong headed to Eugene, Oregon to play for head coach Casey Martin.
“Last year was a roller coaster honestly, graduating from high school early, then hopping right into the middle of the season and going full speed from there,” Xiong said. “It was really fun. I learned a lot. This year has mellowed out from last year and I’m trying to absorb it all.”
That freshman year, he earned Pac 12 Freshman of the Year, the D1 Phil Mickelson Outstanding Freshman of the Year, as well as being named to the All Pac 12 First Team. Xiong said that he’s really not focused on the pressure that comes with being one of the best.
“Last year was a great year for me, but I don’t think I’ve played my best golf yet,” Xiong allowed. “I still think I can play a lot better with the skill set that I have. Playing in the Walker Cup and being out there made me expect more of myself. I think I did get affected by the pressure a bit, but right now, I have to make sure that I’m in the moment, and stay in my bubble the best that I can.”
Xiong, however is still searching for the form that saw him bring home multiple awards as a freshman, but he’s confident that he can find it once more.
“Individually, I started off very well this year,” Xiong said. “I carried that momentum that I had this past summer into the fall. After winter break, I got back into it, and I guess I haven’t hit my stride yet. I might be playing well, hitting it well, but I’m not scoring as well or competing as well as I’d like to. Usually this is the time of the year that I start picking it up competitively so I have to keep doing what I’m doing and start to get going, especially for my team so we can have a good end to the spring season.”
And what did Xiong specifically want to improve in his game from the 2016-2017 season?
“Skill wise, I wanted to improve a little,” Xiong said. “I feel that my game now is technically and mechanically sound but mentally, I expected to mature a lot. I’m still learning a lot and I’m trying my best to stay in the moment and keep improving.”
Xiong was selected to represent the USA in the Walker Cup last year, helping the USA defeat Great Britain and Ireland 19-7. He was the youngest player selected for the team, at 18 years old, and he excelled, going 3-0-1 in his four matches.
“It was the pinnacle of amateur golf for me,” Xiong said. ” It’s was the 10 best amateurs in the USA and in Europe as well, so if you accomplish being picked for that team, there’s not much left in amateur golf. It was amazing to play with all of those guys that are much more experienced than I am. To see how they handled it and to see how they performed was really special. The whole vibe of it was unbelievable. It was definitely the biggest tournament that I’d played in. It was my biggest goal and I accomplished it.”
Xiong said he expects to make a big step this spring, and while he admits that plan could change, he’s said he’s preparing himself to enjoy what may possibly be his final year at Oregon.
“My plan in going to college, was hopefully turning pro through the experiences that I gained there,” Xiong said. “I’m planning to turn pro this spring, but anything can still happen. It’s very close to the summer, so I’m gearing up for that, but I’m still trying to enjoy everything I have here before I go on to the next step.”
If he should take that step, he is clear on his goals and expectations of the experience.
“I expect it to be different than college in that it’ll be a totally new environment, a new atmosphere and lifestyle even,” Xiong explained. “My goal is to play golf, and the best golf that I can. My expectation is to learn as much as I can, and develop throughout the year through the experience.”
Xiong’s uncle James has been a big influence in his life, and he said that in that next step, his uncle will join him on the journey.
“He’s going to be my coach,” Xiong said. “He’s not as much a swing coach, he’s more of a mentor who sticks around me and guides me through everything, which is what he’s been doing my whole life for me. When I was getting ready to leave for college in my senior year of high school, he let me be so I could learn on my own, which I think was really smart of him. My job this past year was to experience college on my own, and take what I’ve learned from him and try to allow myself to mature. As I go into the new stage of turning pro, we plan to bring that team back together.”
Meanwhile, Xiong is still focused on learning and improving. There have been multiple players he has looked up to since he got to Eugene in the college ranks, and he has learned to appreciate what other players bring to the table.
“I hadn’t seen Maverick (McNealy) play until last year,” Xiong said. “I had heard of him, and I knew who he was, but I played with him for the first time at Pac 12’s last year. I look up to him not only as a player, but as a person, and with his mental game. He’s really smart on the course. Aaron Wise has been someone that I look up to a lot with his mental game as well. He’s really focused. The players around me now whom I’m most impressed by are Collin (Morikawa) and Matthew (Wolfe). They have really impressive games and I think they could translate really well to the tour. Wyndham (Clark) and Aaron have given me a brief idea of what it’s like. There’s a lot of travel, so I have to prepare for that. I’m excited for the next level.”
With a plethora of talent at his disposal, as well as support to help him make that transition, it’s safe to say that Xiong will capitalize on his upcoming opportunities.