HOWLEY HALL’S Tom North will return to college in Fulton, Missouri later this month for the second year of his golfing scholarship at the William Woods University.
He hopes to be able to take with him the title of North of England open amateur youth champion and will head into next week’s event at Middlesbrough buoyed by last week’s second-place finish in the Faldo Series North Championship at Moortown.
Only a three-birdie burst in his final four holes by eventual winner James Wilson, of Tyneside, denied North a play-off.
And considering he feels he did not play his best all week, finishing runner-up with scores of 70 76 68 was a commendable effort.
“I struggled a bit on the greens as well,” reflects North. “I knew being four shots back going into the final day it would be a tough challenge, so I was pretty happy with a 68. I can’t really complain about that too much.
“I birdied 15, 16 and 17 and when I came in I thought, as I was only one back at that point, that I might have done enough to get into a play-off.”
However, Wilson went into the red on all three of those holes too denying North a sudden-death shot at winning a place in the Faldo Series Grand Final.
His performance did reflect the progress he has made during his first year at WWU where, in 12 events, he placed in the top 10 no fewer than seven times, with three of them top-five finishes – including two second places.
“I played pretty consistently decent over there,” comments the Leeds Union player.
“The golf courses suit my game better over there and I tend to like playing them all.
“It is target golf and I can pretty much hit driver most places and it suits me a bit more.”
Committing himself to a four-year university course thousands of miles from his native Yorkshire was a big step, but he is thriving after an initial, understandable, settling in period.
“Pretty much the whole first semester was a case of getting used to it and adjusting to the lifestyle change, but in the second semester it was a lot easier,” he says.
“I came home at Christmas, that was the only time before coming back in May for three months.
“Fortunately on the golf side I adjusted pretty quickly and started playing well from the get-go, which helped me with my confidence. Once you are in the team it gives you a bit more confidence to play more freely.”
North, who will be part of captain Nigel McKee’s Leeds Union team as they take on York at Pike Hills on Sunday, continues: “There are 15 guys in the team, but about eight realistically that have a chance of making the top five, so we do qualifying at the start of each year.
“This year our top guy Jack [Clarkson] and me at No 2 were pretty solid in how we were playing, but we have qualifying for most tournaments.
“It was pressurised to start with as I was an incoming freshman, but I think that was good because it gives you a competitive environment straightaway, so when you get into the tournaments you are kind of ready for it.”
Such has been his growth as a player from a young age that team selection, be it at club, union or junior county level, has come almost automatically for him.
So working his way onto the WWU men’s golf team presented a new hurdle that he straddled with great aplomb – and relish.
“All of the guys on the team are pretty good, which is a good thing because it is obviously going to make you better when you are competing with good players,” he acknowledges.
“I would say the biggest area that I have improved on is how to score and get it round better.
“There have been a lot of times where I haven’t really been hitting it that good, but I have learned how to score on those days. Along with that and improving my short game, I think those have been the biggest things.
“There were a few times when I should’ve scored some low ones, really, mid 60s, but I just didn’t get the job done.
“Hopefully when I go back this time I can get a few more low numbers in.”
He plans to major in exercise science and will make the field his career if he does not achieve the ultimate goal of playing on the European Tour.
“I do a few classes that are specific [to exercise science]and then there is general education classes as well,” says North.
“My plan is to finish my degree, it’s four years, and then I’ll see where my golf game is.
“I would like to play my way onto the Tour, but I need to see where my game is.
“Exercise science is about how the body works, so it is likely I would work as a physio or nutritionist if I don’t become a Tour player.”
Gym sessions are a regular part of his weekly routine along with his classroom time and – of course – golf coaching, practice and tournaments.
Being from the north of England the Missouri winter did not come as too much of a shock to him even though last winter it was colder than many on record in the state.
“When I go back this month it will be nice until about the end of October and then you have got the November to February period when it can be pretty cold and you don’t play a lot of golf, it’s just practising inside.”
His time in the States does not bear influence on his handicap back home, but the fact that he has dipped from scratch to plus one this summer does reflect the forward progress he is making at William Woods University. The odds are that his game will have moved to another even higher plateau by the time he returns home next year.
Meanwhile, his Howley Hall club-mate Becki O’Grady will compete tomorrow in her third consecutive American Golf UK Long Driving Championship, at Chester Racecourse, hoping to win a ticket to the World Final in Oklahoma.