This is the sixth in a series of profiles of the 2013 inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
It wasn’t Wyn Norwood’s goal to be a great golfer. He just couldn’t say no to his friends at Russellville High School.
“I had first played golf with an uncle in Marianna who tried to teach me the game,” Norwood says. “But I didn’t play much, and I wasn’t very good. There were three guys in high school who wanted to play in the district tournament, but you had to field four players in order to enter.
They talked me into playing with them. Luckily, they only took the top three scores from each team back in those days. The district tournament was at the Conway Country Club, and I shot about 120. We made the state tournament at the War Memorial golf course in Little Rock, and I had to play again. I think I shot about 120 again, but they suckered me into playing the next year.”
From that humble beginning, Norwood would go on to become a legend in the world of Arkansas amateur golf.
Norwood was a two-time Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference golf champion while playing at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. He went on to win two state amateur titles and participate in 14 national amateur championships.
Norwood worked at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock from 1992 until his retirement at the end of the 2012 school year. UALR had dropped its men’s golf program in the 1980s and had never had a women’s program prior to the 1992-93 season. Norwood revived the men’s program and started the women’s program. He spent his first 13 years at UALR as the head coach of both teams. He was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year for both men’s and women’s golf in 1994. Those were the first of five such awards he would earn.
On the evening of Friday, March 8, Norwood will be a part of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013. He’s being inducted in the golf category, but Norwood was a star athlete in multiple sports while growing up in Russellville.
“Whatever sport was in season, that’s what I played,” he says.
He graduated from high school in 1963 and stayed in Russellville to attend Arkansas Tech University on a football scholarship. He was a wide receiver and defensive back. Norwood was an outstanding football player, though he’s known for his self-deprecating style.
Norwood says: “Coach Don Dempsey used to say, ‘Norwood is the most deceptive athlete I’ve ever seen. He’s much slower than he looks.'”
Norwood had a revelation following his freshman football season at Tech.
“We were lifting weights, wrestling and boxing as part of the football offseason program,” he says. “I looked around, and it was just a bunch of linemen and me. I asked where all the other receivers, defensive backs and running backs were. I was told that they were playing baseball or on the track team in order to get out of football offseason.”
Norwood decided to join the Wonder Boy golf team during the spring of his sophomore year.
The golf coach at Tech was none other than the legendary John Tucker, the “original Wonder Boy” who was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1962. Tucker was born in Russellville in 1901 and played all sports at Tech. He later played football at the University of Alabama. As the head football coach at Arkansas Tech, Tucker compiled an amazing record of 74-17-11 from 1933-47.
“My main sport was football, but I was determined to get better at golf,” Norwood says. “When I first started, I was back practicing when everybody else was playing. That’s because I was so far behind.”
It didn’t take the gifted athlete long to catch up. In fact, he was the AIC golf champion as both a sophomore and a junior. For Norwood, Tucker was more than just a coach.
“He was an uncle by marriage,” Norwood says of Tucker, who died in 1983 at age 81. “His first wife, who died young, was my dad’s sister. Coach Tucker had no children, so he had always kept an eye on me when I was growing up in Russellville.”
Norwood’s father had died when Norwood was just seven, and his mother had multiple sclerosis.
“There were a lot of people in that town who took care of me,” Norwood says.
Norwood didn’t play golf his senior year. Instead, he joined the Navy once football season ended.
“I had a roommate who was obsessed with being a Navy pilot, and he talked me into going to see a recruiter with him,” Norwood says. “I basically went to keep him company. I was accepted into flight school, though, and decided it was a pretty good deal. I spent the summers after my sophomore and junior seasons at an officers’ school in Pensacola, so I went into the Navy as an officer.”
Norwood was a pilot for A-4 fighter aircraft and spent more than five years in the Navy. He was stationed in a succession of warm-weather locations — Pensacola; Meridian, Miss.; Kingsville, Texas; Jacksonville, Fla.; and San Diego — and found himself playing a great deal of golf on his days off. He honed his game and was named to the All-Navy and All-Service teams.
After leaving the Navy, Norwood was hired by Raymond Bright (a 2012 inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame) as an assistant football coach at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. Before the next football season could start, Bright resigned. His replacement as head football coach was Ken Stephens, who decided to leave Norwood on the staff.
Norwood coached for three football seasons at UCA — 1972-74. During his first spring at the school, Cliff Horton (a 2011 inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame) was the golf coach. Norwood served as the UCA golf coach the next two years.
Norwood left UCA to go into the insurance business, a profession he stayed in until being hired at UALR. His career as an amateur golfer took off during those years. He won the state amateur championship twice and was the Arkansas captain for 13 Mid-South Cup matches.
Norwood has been president of the Arkansas State Golf Association, the Mid-South Golf Association and the Southern Golf Association. He was the captain of the 1995 team in the Simon Bolivar Cup in South America and was the coach of the U.S. men’s golf team at the 2011 World University Games in China.
At UALR, Norwood coached 19 men and 23 women who earned All-Sun Belt Conference honors, including Sun Belt individual champions Daniel Fox in 1999, Maria Jose Hurtado in 2000 and Patrick Sullivan in 2005. He guided UALR teams to four conference championships. Norwood was inducted into the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame in 2001.
Kim Backus, the Arkansas representative for Nike Golf, first met Norwood at a golf tournament in 1975.
“Wyn and I met through golf, but his love of all sports has kept our friendship strong,” Backus says. “We’ve attended everything from grade school to middle school to high school games together. He’s a guy who appreciates and supports all of the sports teams in this state.”
Jay Fox, the executive director of the Arkansas State Golf Association, says he can think of few people in the country who have made as big a contribution to amateur golf as Norwood.
“He has been involved with the board at ASGA since 1975,” Fox says. “He has been involved with the Southern Golf Association since 1980. He has traveled all over the world on behalf of amateur golf. As a golfer, he was without a doubt the best chipper I ever saw back when he was in his prime. You could put him in the bottom of a trash can, and he would find a way to get up and down. The Arkansas golfers who were my idols growing up were Stan Lee and Wyn Norwood.
“Just think of the thousands of people he has influenced through the years. Heck, I would not have been in this job for the past 22 years if it weren’t for Wyn Norwood. I was working in his insurance agency. He encouraged me to be active in the ASGA, and he later encouraged me when I applied for his job. All of us involved in golf in this state are better because of the things Wyn has done.”
For his part, Norwood says: “Winning tournaments as a golfer was fun, but the real joy was seeing the young men and women I coached grow up and succeed in life. I have friends all over this country because of sports. I’m blessed.”