Henrik Norlander keeps his cool

June, 12, 2014

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AP Photo/Eric GayHenrik Norlander saved par on his final hole to finish his first round with a 70.
PINEHURST, N.C. -- Henrik Norlander had won a national title before; two, in fact, as a teammate of Patrick Reed's at underdog Augusta State. But this national championship at Pinehurst isn't that national championship in the NCAAs. So when Norlander rose at 3:45 a.m. Thursday for a 6:45 a.m. tee time, he was ready to roll.

"I felt like a kid on Christmas Day," he said. "It was no problem."

Pinehurst was no problem, either, at least for the first 14 holes. Playing in his first major, Norlander, a sectional qualifier and Web.com player who teed off on the back nine, held a share of the lead at 3 under when he walked off the fifth green. But then he went bogey-bogey-bogey before making an up-and-down par to finish the first round at even par.

"I didn't really feel the pressure," Norlander said. "I didn't make those bogeys because I was nervous."

No, he made those bogeys because Pinehurst is an extremely difficult golf course.

"You can hit two perfect shots," he said, "and still end up chipping sideways."

Norlander's coach at Augusta State, Josh Gregory, is serving as his caddie and counselor this week, constantly reminding his former player to stay calm and slow down. Norlander had help in settling his nerves. He had as many fans watching him on the 10th tee at 6:45 a.m. as he would for a practice round on the Web.com.

Norlander putted and practiced in the dark, then proved as capable at Pinehurst as fellow Swede and fellow Henrik was in Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. ("He's a great ambassador for Swedish athletes, for sure," the golfer said of the Rangers' goalie.)

Now Norlander wants to grow into a similar figure on the major golf circuit. As first go-rounds go, this was a whole lot of fun.

"I felt way more comfortable than I thought," he said.

It showed.

Ian O'Connor

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »