Jason Norris needs only one word to describe what he is looking forward to most about defending his Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways title. “Everything.”
One of the most popular winners in recent memory on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia, Norris, (or ‘Norrey’ as he is almost universally known), is champing at the bit to return to the Natadola Bay Championship Golf Course in 2018.
Last year’s four-shot win was an emotional one for the now 45-year-old, among the spoils of victory a lifelong dream come true with a year’s access to the European Tour and a two-year ticket on the Asian Tour.
Now 12 months on the feel-good factor is still high for Norris who says he has ‘nothing but great memories’ of his win last year.
“The dinners, the welcome ceremony, the pro-am, the media interviews….just everything, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” he says.
“Winning was such a big deal for me last year and if you can’t enjoy going back to the place where something really special happened then there’s something wrong with you.
“I’ve been the defending champion at smaller tournaments before but this was obviously the biggest win of my career so far and I’m looking forward to giving it 100 per cent when it comes to defending it.”
As tournament week approaches Norris is inevitably being asked if he thinks he can win again but he says that’s not the best way to approach the week.
“I’m confident of playing well again,” he says, “but in golf that’s no guarantee of winning.
“The line between finishing in the top-10 and walking away with the trophy has never been so fine and the depth in the game at every tournament is amazing.
“But having said that, I really like the golf course and the setting and I have great memories to draw on of different shots that I hit last year so I’m keen to get underway.”
The key to producing the sort of golf capable of winning, he says, is to simply enjoy the week.
“Some courses just fit your eye and Natadola Bay is one of those for me,” he says. “So the golf part will be pretty straightforward.
“The more important thing is to enjoy the week and have fun. Fiji is an amazing destination and the tournament itself has a great vibe which keeps getting better every year.
“Add in being defending champion and I don’t feel like it’s going to be difficult to enjoy myself.”
Adding to his confidence is a body that’s finally feeling healthy after a year battling an injury that hasn’t allowed him to play the sort of golf he would have liked on the European Tour.
But with the back issue finally behind him, he says it’s full steam ahead for the remainder of 2018 – starting in Fiji.
“It’s been frustrating because I just haven’t been able to play my best but these last few weeks I’ve really felt much better and I’m ready to go,” he says.
“We’ve done a lot of hard work in the gym and it’s really starting to pay off. On the few weeks where I’ve felt good this past year I’ve been happy with how I’ve played so I’m really looking forward to feeling that way every week now.”
While his golf might not have been fun for much of the year, travelling Europe with his family has been and it’s an opportunity he’d love to have again.
“I’d probably do it a bit differently next time because it’s a fair bit of work travelling with the whole family,” he said.
“But it’s been a phenomenal experience. My wife has really loved every minute of it and the kids have too, for the most part.
“They get a bit bored sometimes because they don’t really appreciate what they’re seeing but I think as they get older they’ll understand what a special time it’s been.”
During his time travelling the world Norris says he has become an active ambassador for Fiji and the Fiji International presented by Fiji Airways, a tournament he counts among his favourites not solely because of last year’s win.
“It’s a great example of how a tournament can be a win-win,” he says. “It’s such a big and important event for the local people and contributes to the area in a really significant way.
“The exposure it has brought to Fiji has been quite remarkable. Obviously because I’ve won the tournament I get asked about Fiji everywhere I go and I can tell you, I’ve been their greatest ambassador these past 12 months.
“I love the place and so does every other player that tees up there. I’ve never heard a bad word about it among the players and that’s pretty rare!”
While Norris couldn’t be happier to have won last year the feeling is mutual among tournament organisers.
“Jason is, and has been, a fantastic champion,” says said Gavin Kirkman, CEO of the PGA of Australia which owns the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia.
“He’s one of the most popular players on the Tour for a reason and he’s shown his class this past year as he has travelled the world pursuing his dreams.
“But perhaps more importantly, he really ‘gets it’ in terms of the tournament and what we’re trying to achieve.
“Yes, it’s great to win the trophy at the end of the week but the goal is to have a lasting impact year-round and Jason continues to do his bit in that regard.
“He’s been a fabulous ambassador for the tournament and the country and regardless of the outcome this year, I’m sure he will continue to be.”