Learning life’s lessons on the golf course

By Gus Bode

Life is a funny thing. Throughout the high points, the low points and everywhere in between, it finds ways to maintain its hilarity, or at the least mild amusement.

This way of life is not lost on golfers. That’s why it’s not surprising to, at one moment, hear SIU men’s golf coach Leroy Newton call his game “a funny one.” Nor is it shocking to hear one of his protgs mention golf as a reflection of life.

“[Losing] is part of golf,” said senior Brian Norman. “Golf is disappointing sometimes. It’s like life. You just got to take it how it comes.”


Norman said at one of those low points, his team was riding home from Silvis with the taste of a fourth-place finish in its mouth.

The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, the last one in which he’ll play, had been won by Illinois State with a 17-stroke margin over SIU. The Tournament Players Club golf course has bested him and his teammates. The Henderson, Ky., native’s two-year stop at SIU, via John A. Logan College, will not produce a conference championship.

As team leader, though, Norman has few regrets as the van moves along Route 74. Golf is life. Life is golf. And neither one allows you to win them all.

“I’m going to play in a lot of events, play in some professional events, maybe qualify for a couple of [Professional Golf Association] tour events,” Norman said. “I’m just going to keep working on my game, see how good I can get at golf and maybe make pro.”

Norman has no conference championship to look back on, but a couple of all-conference plaques are in his possession as well as some prominent spots in the SIU record books.

Norman holds school records with all-time low scores over 18 holes (64) and 36 holes (136). His career stroke average of 73.25 is also the best the school has ever seen. Five of the 55 he’s played were shot in the 60s, making him second best in that category.

“I’m just fortunate to have the opportunity to even play college golf,” Norman said. “I’ve only been playing golf since I was a freshman in high school where most golfers start when they’re like 5 years old. They’ve had a big jump-start on me.


“I’m very pleased with how I played at SIU. I came up short on some of my goals, but you got to set goals high ’cause if not, then you’ll just settle for mediocrity.”

As to why Newton finds the game humorous that may have something to do with the way bad weather can become a characteristic of a team’s season like it has this year, with this team. But when impending rains are expected on the first day at conference, they somehow let up, just until everyone makes it into the clubhouse.

The game could be funny as well when shots don’t go your way and your comfort in the course wanes as well as your patience. For golfers, laughing could be all you can do to keep from breaking down.

“You can try your hardest and still mess up,” Newton said. “You can hit a perfect shot, and it winds up behind something.”

Being that it’s like that for the coach, you can imagine what it’s like for someone maneuvering the course. No one is immune to inconsistency, and this trait loves to pick the most unfortunate times to take effect.

“I struggled in the first round,” Norman said. “It wasn’t that tough out there, but I couldn’t get anything going. Then finally on the second 18, I started hitting them better. Coming down the stretch, I threw away a couple of shots, but that’s just part of it. You got to stay positive and try to do your best for the team and for yourself.”

It may also be funny to be a collegiate coach, subject to the whims of those who you lead, such as Kyle Hosick. The sophomore established himself as SIU’s best player last fall but left for Illinois in the spring, a defection that still has an effect on Newton.

“We lost a great player at the halfway point of the year,” Newton said.

As much as he laments the loss, Newton also uses it to prop up his team as it is now, a group that came together quickly to offset the loss while producing a certified No. 1 player in Norman.

“Everybody thought that we lost the whole team when we lost one kid,” Newton said. “And these boys decided that they wanted to do a good job, and they did. They represented the school very well.”

Even with his dreams of PGA stardom, Norman fully realizes that it’s time to “get a job,” as coach says. As he laughs off that prospect, you can tell Norman will long have golf on the brain.

“I’ve met a lot of great people here,” Norman said. “Coach Newton has helped me a ton. I’ve met a lot of guys that I’ll have friendships with for the rest of my life. It’s been a great run. It’s a shame that it has to end. I wish I could go back two years and start all over.”

Reporter Kyle Means can be reached at [email protected]