When Oregon’s men’s golfer Norman Xiong was 6 years old, with the help of his uncle, he traveled from his home country of Guam to California participate in the six-and-under junior world golf tournament. That is where Xiong caught the eye of instructor Rick Johnson.
“I see this chubby Asian kid go up there and just strike this six iron like I hadn’t seen the whole week from any player,” Johnson said.
Prior to the tournament, the Xiong family had been considering a move to the mainland of the United States. It was its encounter with Johnson that led the Xiong family sell its family business and leave its home in Guam to move to San Diego. Now Xiong is a star freshman on the Ducks and Golfweek’s No. 12 college golfer in the country, despite having only eight matches under his belt.
“My role has always been to direct him to the areas in which he needs help,” Johnson said. “He calls me his life caddy. I always marvel at how much he trusts me and leans on me.”
Norman’s uncle James Xiong pushed for the move after meeting with Johnson and seeing how he interacted with other kids at the event. His uncle, who plays golf himself, saw something in his nephew when Norman was just four years old. He has played a vital role in assisting Norman along the way.
“One day he was going to the range,” Xiong said. “So I went with him and he saw I had a lot of talent. He kept bringing me to the course, and I was just enjoying it and having fun. It helped me become a better person and build relationships that are really meaningful to me.”
Upon arriving in California, the family moved into a one-bedroom apartment in San Diego, where Norman went to school for Kindergarten through fifth grade. After school each day he joined Johnson at the First Tee of San Diego program, for which Johnson was working at the time. From sixth grade through high school, the Xiongs moved first to Temecula and then to Canyon Lake, California.
“We wanted to make sure that Norman was always having fun and ensuring he could have a normal childhood,” Johnson said.
Having fun has worked out well for Norman, as wherever he has played, he’s won. From age six to 12 he competed in 80 to 90 tournaments, winning nearly 80 percent of the events.
During his teenage years, when other competitors his age were traveling three to four weeks in a month, Norman would travel one or two. Despite Johnson referring to Norman as “a child prodigy,” they chose to look at his travel schedule as a marathon and not a sprint.
Xiong won the junior world tournament once, and finished runner-up four times.
At age 15 he won the most prestigious event in the American Junior Golf Association, the Nike Junior Invitational at Pumpkin Ridge golf course in Portland, Oregon. He won it in dramatic fashion, by birdying the last hole to win.
At age 17 he won the AJGA Thunderbird International, which is one of the majors for junior golf.
As a junior golfer, one of his biggest goals was to get into the Junior Ryder Cup, because he loves team golf and getting chances to represent his country. So Xiong played in and won the Junior PGA, another major of junior golf, earning him an exemption into the Junior Ryder Cup in Minnesota. Once he accomplished that in April he decided he didn’t need to prove anything else at the junior golf level and was ready to tackle college golf.
The results have led to Norman Xiong becoming one of the top college golfers in the country. He’s finished outside the top 10 just twice this season. His best finish was a first-place tie with teammate Wyndham Clark at the Wyoming Desert Intercollegiate.
The Ducks’ top two players have been Clark and Xiong. Clark currently ranks as the No. 1 college golfer in the nation, and Xiong has pushed him step-for-step all year. They finished second and third in the Duck Invitational, and both will be key factors in the team’s push to become back-to-back national champions later this month.
“Honestly I’m shocked he only won once,” Johnson said. “What’s unique about Norman is he likes a big stage. The bigger the stage, the more focused. When he got into college he looked at every event like it was the U.S. Open, and really tried to seize it.”
Despite all the success Xiong has found since coming to the University of Oregon, such as being the only freshman named to the Arnold Palmer United States team, he still stays humble.
“He’s not one to talk about himself,” Johnson said. “I even had to create a Facebook page for him because so many people would ask me how he’s doing.”
Head coach Casey Martin said he looks forward to seeing Xiong reach his full potential and “move on to bigger and better things” in the next couple years.
“I’m just thrilled he’s at Oregon because he is a delightful person to be around,” Martin said. “He’s so easy to cheer for that just as a coach it’s a dream situation.”
Follow Zak Laster on Twitter @zlast3445