Alex Noren: The Silent Assassin

IF winning four times on the European Tour in 2016 in what was a truly breakout season for Sweden’s Alex Noren didn’t catch the eye of 2018 Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjorn, shooting a final round 62 over the notoriously tricky West Course in what he said was “probably the best round of my life” to win the flagship BMW Championship at Wentworth in May, certainly did.

The mild-mannered and instantly likeable 34-year-old has quietly crept into the world’s top 10, which is quite a feat considering that he was floating around the 100 mark before his sensational run of victories began at last year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, continuing with the Omega European Masters, the British Masters supported by Sky Sports and the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player. More remarkable still is the fact that despite his electric form over the last 12 months, which has also seen him finish top five in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and top 10 in The Players Championship, most American golf fans still don’t know who he is.

Wentworth Wonder

Bjorn was one of the first to relay his congratulations after Noren notched his eighth – and biggest – European Tour title at Wentworth, saying: “A 62 final round on the West Course to with BMW PGA Championship is beyond impressive! Congratulations Alex Noren – quickly turning into one of the world’s best!”

But typically, despite being almost nailed on to make the Dane’s team, the understated Oklahoma State University Graduate isn’t getting ahead of himself.

“I just try to improve my game and work on all areas. If that makes me qualify for the team it would be a dream come true.”

You see, Noren doesn’t like to feel too comfortable. A certain amount of uncertainty is healthy and he’s more than happy to “fly under the radar”. It’s the kind of subtle assault on the top table that the likes of Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar pulled off to great effect in the past. But with significant scalps like the Scottish Open, British Masters and now PGA Championship in his possession, he’s now beginning to feel comfortable among golf’s elite and he’s now eyeing up the biggest prizes the game has to offer.

Major ambitions

“Golf is a difficult game so I’m never high on confidence and I like to feel some anxiety to stay on top of my game. But every tournament you do well in improves your confidence and you raise your own bar of what you can achieve so I definitely aim to do better in the Majors,” says Noren whose solitary top 10 in the Grand Slam events came at the 2012 Open Championship. “I love to compete and the better the tournament the more fun it is.”

Breaking the Wentworth course record to win the biggest event in Europe outside The Open, against a world-class field, was a fairly emphatic way for the 2006 Challenge Tour graduate to raise the bar.

“I think this tournament in my mind compares a lot with a Major,” he said after beating Italy’s Francesco Molinari by a stroke. “The only thing I’ve tried to do is to play better against a better eld on better, tougher courses. And I view this as a very difficult course against a very tough field.”

He proved his skill on the links of Castle Stuart when he beat Tyrrell Hatton to the Scottish Open title last year and Noren has a great opportunity to follow it up by putting his name in lights at Royal Birkdale this summer.

“I love links golf. You have to be creative and it make you a better player. The turf is so nice and firm as well so it’s a lot of fun to play. It’s more thatI enjoy it than it being particularly suited to my game so I’m really looking forward to The Open.”

The business and marketing graduate believes the secret to his staggeringly rapid rise over the past 12 months has been finding balance between his life on and off course life. Previously he was guilty of working too hard on his swing – a fact that was borne out when he missed most of the 2014 season due to tendinitis in his wrists caused by over-practice.

His strong work ethic remains but his marriage to wife Jennifer, and the birth of their daughter Iris has given him a focus away from the course that enables him to feel physically and mentally refreshed when he tees it up.

“For me it’s the biggest reason why I have done better recently. I take a lot more time off now and think less about golf off the course. Before I took up too much time practicing and it drained my energy and focus.”

Noren’s ‘silent assassin’ act has already yielded supreme results but you can bet that he won’t remain “off grid” on the global golf landscape for long if he keeps terrorizing the game’s biggest events in the manner that he’s been doing this past year.