Girls golf: Nolan emerges as one of FCIAC’s best

For NoraNoël Nolan and the Wilton High girls golf team, the 2016 season proved to be a turning point.

The Warriors produced more wins (five) than the program’s first two seasons combined (three), ending in Wilton’s first-ever appearance at the state championship tournament.

Nolan, a junior who emerged as one of the top players in the FCIAC this season, was a big part of that success.

She lowered her average by about six strokes from a year ago, and went from the bottom third at the FCIAC championships last year to a third-place finish this season with a score of 81 for 18 holes.

She also finished the season in fourth place in the FCIAC differential standings (score vs. par), with the three players ahead of her all seniors.

During the season, Nolan shot a one-over-par 33 at the Silvermine Golf Club, Wilton’s home course, tying Greenwich’s Catherine McEvoy for the low score at the course during a girls high school match.

And if that wasn’t enough, Nolan also had a hole-in-one in Wilton’s final regular-season match at the Country Club of New Canaan.

“I worked really hard over the winter on my golf golf,” said Nolan, who became the first Wilton girl golfer to make the All-FCIAC first team. “I just wanted to go out and have fun and play some good golf. I didn’t expect to shoot the numbers I did.”

Wilton coach Stuart Waack said Nolan’s season average has gone from 55 as a freshman to 46 last year, to 40 this past season.

“To drop her scoring average by 15 strokes in three years is just remarkable,” he said. “It shows me how much better she still can be, which is the exciting part about it.”

Although she’s been playing golf since age seven (her home course is Shore Haven Country Club in Norwalk), her main sport had been competitive swimming. She swam eight years for the Wilton Y Wahoos, and still swims with the Wilton High girls team.

After last season, when she was All-FCIAC honorable mention, Nolan realized that golf was her future and made it her main focus.

“I really love golf and swimming and I had to make a choice. I realized golf is a sport for life,” she said.

“Her chances are much better to play golf because the opportunities are so available,” said Waack. “There aren’t as many girl golfers out there.”

Nolan worked on her game during the fall, and over the winter at the Golf Performance Center in Ridgefield. She also played some rounds during the winter in Florida. While putting was the aspect of her game that Nolan worked on the most, Waack said he also saw significant improvement in her swing this season.

“She’s really improved on her swing in terms of making much more solid contact. It’s more fundamentally sound. She’s moving the ball much further,” he said, adding that Nolan’s strength from years of swimming allows her drive the ball at distances most girls can’t match.

“It’s sort of unheard of for girls who can hit the golf ball 225 to 230 yards with their drivers, and she’s one of those girls,” said Waack. “Her short game hasn’t caught up to it yet. When it catches up, she’ll have no problem breaking 80.”

Nolan was remarkably consistent this season. She shot 37 or lower in half of the regular-season matches, and was over 41 only three times. She won medalist honors six times.

The career-best 33 at Silvermine on May 9 was something Nolan couldn’t explain. She said it was similar to that experience that golfers in the ‘59 Club’, who shot rounds under 60, have shared.

“They didn’t go out with any expectations. They went out and it kind of happened,” she said.

Her first-ever hole-in-one on May 24 came on the seventh hole at the Country Club of New Canaan. The green was downhill, 154 yards, with the pin tucked to one side. She hit a seven iron right at the pin and the ball bounced once, rolled, and then disappeared into the cup.

“I didn’t know what to do, so I screamed,” said Nolan, who was in disbelief for several days. “I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it.”

For Waack, the crowning achievement of the season was Nolan’s performance at the FCIAC championships at Fairchild Wheeler Golf Course in Fairfield.

Last year, Nolan had been the first Wilton girl to qualify for FCIACs, where she shot a 98 and finished in the lower third. Her goal this season was just to make the top third in the standings.

But Nolan wound up shooting a career-best 81 to finish third behind McEvoy (73) and Anelise Browne of Staples (78), both seniors. It was the first time she had ever shot under 90 at a tournament.

“That’s something special. She gets the best of herself in those competitive situations,” said Waack.

Nolan’s exploits have been a boost for the three-year-old Wilton program, which had its best season yet this spring with a 5-9 record. The team grew to 14 players (from eight in its first year), and added seven new players. Two newcomers, freshman Karli Williams and sophomore Maya Fazio, proved to be major additions to the lineup.

The Warriors should be poised for even bigger things in 2017, returning their top-five golfers in rising seniors (and co-captains) Nolan and Morgan Hickey (All-FCIAC honorable mention), along with Williams, Fazio and rising senior Carolyn Yee.

“We’ve been growing each year and getting better and better,” said Nolan, who has aspirations to play golf on the collegiate level after next season.

Waack has no doubt she can get there if she continues on the current trajectory.

“I knew the talent she had, if she continued with [golf],” he said. “If she continues with the growth, she’ll have strong consideration as one of the better players in the state next year. It’s exciting.”