Alex Noren secured his second career victory on the European Tour yesterday at the Saab Wales Open. Playing the final round in blustery conditions, he succeeded in holding off a chasing pack that included Gregory Bourdy, Peter Hanson, Anders Hansen, Johan Edfors (looks like Jesus, putts like Mary) and Ricardo Gonzalez.
It was an impressive display of nerve from Noren, who has struggled in recent years to live up to his obvious potential. In the opinion of his former caddy and Irish Times columnist Colin Byrne, who left the Swede last summer to work with Edoardo Molinari, Noren had become too fixated on abstract questions of swing mechanics and aesthetics to ever really allow himself the opportunity to play with freedom:
“Technique is unfortunately where my last partnership ran aground. The need for technical excellence became greater than the aptitude required for scoring.”
The truth of Byrne’s criticism is writ large over Noren’s strangely endearing YouTube channel, where odd-ball footage of lonely range sessions (’3 Days of Fun Shit’) sits alongside more offbeat fare, like this ultra-competitive workout with Johan Edfors. Aside from his slightly hyperactive sense of humour, the Swede’s obsessive attention to detail is the only other constant.
His victory at the weekend, however, not to mention his two other top-fives this season, hint at a new pragmatism in Noren’s approach to the game. The contrivance of his violent, baseball-style practice swing might still bear witness to his range rat impulses, but the ingenuity of his shot-making over the weekend was very much that of a player more focused on results than elegance.
Having begun the week with qualification for the US Open at Congressional, Noren’s next task is to graduate from Open Championship Qualifying at Sunningdale on Monday.
“It will be weird, but I will look forward to it,” he said.
“My driving has been the best it’s ever been. I never really believed I could do well on tough courses, but now we play them all the time.
“I’ve proved to myself I can hit a lot of greens and not just rely on my short game.”
The Swede’s admission of past insecurity puts a hopeful spin on his recent form. Without the vulnerability and self-analysis that make his old YouTube videos so intriguing, he may well succeed in becoming the professional he’s threatened to be since his days at the University of Oklahoma.