When Norah Catlin showed up for Wiregrass Ranch High School girls golf tryouts in 2017, it wasn’t long before coach Jeremy Calzone realized a special talent had entered the program.
The longtime Bulls coach originally wasn’t aware of the then-incoming freshman’s background winning countless junior tournaments; being named the Greater Tampa Junior Golf Association’s player of the year; qualifying for the Drive, Chip and Putt Championships at the Masters; and first picking up the sport at the age of 4.
Moreover, the timing couldn’t have been better.
The team had just graduated a strong senior class buoyed by Morgan Powers, Alexis Lane and Lexy Frenchko.
With that, Calzone figured the 2017 season would be a retooling year. “We were like, ‘Man, it’s going to be a struggle this year,’” he recalled.
Little did the coach know the most accomplished female golfer in school history had walked in the door, and she’d guide the program to three straight conference championships and district titles.
At tryouts when Calzone asked which of the newcomers had ever golfed before, Catlin meekly raised her hand, speaking softly without much conviction.
Assuming she was mostly a novice with the sport, Calzone unwittingly placed her with a beginner’s group, instead of with some of the team’s more experienced returnees.
He soon discovered a mistake was made.
“It took me two shots to realize, ‘Ok, you need to be in that (top) group with those other girls…,’” Calzone chuckled. “I joke with her all the time, like, ‘You could’ve told me you were like one of the elite players in the area.’ …It was a good surprise to have, obviously.”
The rest is history.
“She’s definitely by far the best (player) we’ve had,” Calzone said of Catlin.
Since entering the Wiregrass Ranch hallways, Catlin has laid claim to the county’s top female
golfer. She is a three-time Sunshine Athletic Conference Player of the Year and three-time state qualifier.
Her freshman year she became the first female golfer in school history to qualify for the state finals, held annually at the Mission Inn Resort & Club, in Howey-in-the-Hills.
As a junior last year, Catlin finished tied for 17th at the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) Class 3A state championships, firing five-over par (74-75—149) across the two-day tournament.
It represented the best showing among female golfers from The Laker/Lutz News coverage area. The next top score among locals was Steinbrenner High’s Posie Farrelly, who carded nine-over par (79-74 — 153)
Entering her senior campaign, Catlin is looking to build on her past accolades and then some, if and when the already-delayed Florida prep sports season gets underway due to COVID-19.
In addition to trying to secure top county honors and a strong state finish a fourth time, her main goal is to finish undefeated in the dozen or so regular season matches scheduled.
“It’s something that I’ve gotten very close to the last three seasons. I want to be able to do it at least once before my high school career is over,” she said.
Catlin, too, hopes her accomplishments inspire her younger teammates and the next generation of female golfers: “Honestly, I really hope somebody sees what I’ve done and wants to beat it, because that’s how you get better.”
‘A mental game’
On the course, Catlin takes pride in her short game, particularly her chipping ability. It was a skill she began mastering at a young age, using her family’s backyard to practice various angles and distances.
To shore up her accuracy, Catlin’s father would give her $1 every time she hit a tree from a particular position. “We had to stop that very quickly because I’d bankrupt him,” she quipped.
Catlin’s chip shot proficiency, too, has awed Calzone over the years: “It’s crazy, she’ll be five or 10 feet within the pin, ready for birdie almost every time, and if she’s not, it’s almost like you’re shocked, you know.”
The mental side of the game is another of Catlin’s strengths. She makes a point to not let a bad shot or two ruin an entire round — a common theme for some golfers. Instead, she tries to stay level-headed and keep her composure throughout.
Catlin detailed her mindset: “The biggest mistake that some golfers make is when they hit one bad shot, they get very upset, because they think their day is ruined, whereas their attitude towards the situation is what ruins their round. By keeping a level head and telling yourself, ‘Golf is a game, at the end of the day,’ it’s a lot easier to hit the next shot and bounce back.”
Each summer, Catlin travels to St. Petersburg, Russia, to visit family members on her mother’s side.
Catlin doesn’t pick up a golf club during that period, which admittedly leaves her rusty for a couple weeks in advance of the season.
The pandemic, however, cancelled the teen’s annual Russia trip.
From a golfing standpoint, it could prove a blessing in disguise.
That’s because she has used the extra downtime in town to hit the links with more fervor — and should yield a more polished version of herself by the start of the season, whenever that is.
“I think all this extra practice that I’ve been able to do is really going to help me,” Catlin said, adding she’s fortunate golf courses have stayed open during the pandemic, as the sport’s been deemed an essential recreational activity by state and local governments. “It’s been nice to still have my sport running, and it gives me something to do every day.”
More prepared than usual for the start of a season, Calzone acknowledged Catlin could put forth her best showing of her prep career.
“If she’s been playing all summer, look out,” the coach said. “She’s never disappointed me, so my expectations are always pretty high for her, because I know what she’s going to do.”
Promising future awaits
Catlin has multiple offers to golf collegiately, but she hasn’t yet decided if that’s a path she’ll take.
One of the top students in her senior class with a 4.5 GPA who takes a heavy dose of Advanced Placement (AP) and dual-enrollment classes, Catlin aspires to study political science in college and attend law school. She also is passionate about environmental issues, recently completing an online environmental justice fellowship amid the pandemic. Studying abroad in Russia and becoming fluent in the language are some other lofty objectives.
When it comes to higher education, Catlin said, “I just want to focus more time on my school and focusing on my GPA.”
In either case, golf will still be a lifelong hobby for her, whether she’s playing competitively or not.
“It’s definitely going to be in my life, probably for the rest of my life,” Catlin said. “I genuinely like it because it gives me time alone, time to think, and it’s as much of a mental game as it is a physical game. …Also, it’s just a nice way to get fresh air.”
Whatever Catlin winds up doing, Catlin’s high school coach is sure she’ll find success.
“She’s just an unbelievable person,” Calzone said. “She’s just a great, all-around person. Her grades, she’s very polite, she’s well-liked by all the teachers, the kids at school. Just a great, unbelievable person. I mean, she’s unbelievable at golf, but I think she’s just an unbelievable, all-around student-athlete.”
Published August 05, 2020