January 22, 2012

Noll still has links missions

Ten years ago, after a stretch as a professional golfer that left him frustrated with the sport, David Noll Jr. returned to amateur status on the course.

His plan was to go to work for his father at the family business, Carpet Capital Fire Protection, spend a couple of years playing golf as an amateur, then return to the pro ranks. But David Noll Sr. was diagnosed with cancer shortly thereafter and died at the age of 55 in 2003.

“That changed things,” Noll said in a phone interview Saturday after picking up his fifth straight Georgia State Golf Association Men’s Player of the Year award during a luncheon at Cherokee Town Club in Atlanta.

Neither life nor golf were the same for Noll after that turn of events, but in the way he has tackled the new plan, the Cohutta resident and Dalton Golf and Country Club member has sought to honor the father who believed in him.

“I had my family. I had to step in and really go to work to try to help my family out,” he said. “.... That’s the way life goes, and you don’t dwell on it, you move forward. But for some reason, I started having a lot of (golf) success right out of the gate.”

A decade later, that has not changed a bit. Noll’s fifth straight GSGA honor was also his seventh overall, tying him for the all-time lead of Men’s Player of the Year awards with LaGrange’s Allen Doyle, who in 1983 was the first winner. Doyle, who turned pro when he became eligible for the PGA Tour’s senior circuit, is company that Noll doesn’t mind being associated with — but he also has every intention of doing him at least one better.

“That’s certainly a personal goal for me,” said Noll, who knows Doyle and has played against him in the past.

He called Doyle’s amateur career one of the best of all time.

“If you mention Allen Doyle, everybody knows who he is and what a fierce competitor he is,” Noll said. “Anytime you put your name next to a competitor like that, it’s a big deal. It certainly is to me.”

Noll came close to winning the GSGA’s points-based award the first season he returned to amateur play, then earned it in 2003 and added another in 2005. Since 2007, the honor has been all his, but every new year is special in its own way to Noll.

This time, tying Doyle played a part in setting the honor apart. But so did winning the Georgia Amateur Championship for a second time, nine years after the first. The significance of having his name on a trophy — twice — where the list started in 1916 with Bobby Jones isn’t lost on Noll.

He had finished as the tournament’s runner-up in both 2005 and 2009 and was among the top six every year from 2005-11, but was beginning to wonder if another win was ever coming. Last July, the drought ended — his reign had returned.

“Now I’m going to work on No. 3,” he said.

Noll’s 2011 highlights on the GSGA circuit also included a top-five finish at the Georgia Mid-Amateur Championship and a runner-up finish with Woodstock’s Mark Strickland at the Georgia Four-Ball Championship. Beyond that, he also advanced to match play at the United States Golf Association’s Mid-Amateur Championship, a tournament he has seriously targeted for a victory in the next few years to meet his goal of claiming a USGA title.

“It’s not easy, but I feel like that one would be the easiest for me to win,” Noll said. “It’s something without question in my mind I could actually do, but you’ve got to have a lot of good fortune. When you start talking about match play, it’s a matter of ‘Will the stars line up?’ You’ve got to say, ‘These eight days, I’m going to be at my greatest.’”

While it’s easy to understand that winning tournaments and trophies doesn’t get old, Noll stands out for his similar attitude about preparation for competition. He has regularly spoken about his dedication to doing something golf-related every day it’s reasonably possible, even on harsh winter days, and said that the work has been a pleasure.

With work and family (including two children younger than 6), that’s harder than in the past, but he has emphasized quality over quantity of practice in recent years.

“It’s my favorite pastime, to practice,” he said. “I love to practice. It doesn’t get old. I’d rather go practice, just putting and chipping, than go through a quick nine holes in the afternoon.”

The past 10 years have also given Noll a chance to learn plenty about the mental side of the game, the role confidence plays in success and how every decision on the course counts.

It has been a rewarding decade for Noll, but he’s not ready to sit and reflect too much.

“I’m pretty proud of the effort,” he said. “By no means am I finished.”

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