All is not lost. Golf's future, quite nearly on the verge of
being canceled, may have finally arrived on Sunday in the form of
Australia's Greg Norman, a man who overcame his own worst instincts
to win his first major championship -- the 115th British Open, at
Now that Norman, 31, has shed the scarlet letter (C, for
''collapsible windpipes''), golf may at last have found someone to
start signing some inheritance papers. After blowing more leads than
Inspector Clouseau -- including one-shot, last-day margins at this
year's Masters and U.S. Open -- Norman delivered a steady-enough,
one-under 69 on Sunday to plunder Gordon J. Brand, and anybody else
you've hardly heard of, by five swats.
''He felt it inside,'' said Norman's wife, Laura. ''He told me on
the Concorde coming over, 'I'd like to lead for four rounds and win.'
Norman was wrong. He led for three rounds and won: 74-63-74-69 --
280, gloriously simple, even par. But they were the right three
rounds, the last three. He could have won even if he had six-putted
the 72nd green. This time it took only two putts, and when the second
clinked into the cup, the albatross went poof, and we were left
with a startling look at what sort of computer golf had wrought.
Consider: The British Open is Norman's third win in his last seven
tournaments. He had set a PGA Tour record with winnings of $547,779
even before he pocketed the $105,000 first-place check on Sunday. Of
the 12 rounds played in majors so far this year, Norman's name was
the first one you read in the next morning's paper six times. How
many years has it been since anyone had such a long, hard look at the
Loch Slam Monster?
Maybe this says it better: After a torrid 63 on Friday that tied
the record for the lowest round ever in a major (a three-putt on 18
kept him from breaking it), someone asked, ''Greg, have you shot
another round anywhere near that good this year?''
Norman was thinking about it when somebody else hollered,
''Yeah, I shot a 62 at the Canadian Open,'' said Norman.
Then somebody yelled, ''Las Vegas!''
''Oh, yeah,'' Norman said, somewhat embarrassed.
''Yeah, and a 62 at Bay Hill, too.''
Other than those, hardly anything worth mentioning.
The '86 Norman Conquests have been shimmering. Yet, for all the
Fridays and Saturdays he has led, it is only the Sundays we remember.
Sundays, bloody Sundays: a bogey on the final hole at Augusta to lose
by one; a 75 at Shinnecock Hills to lose the U.S. Open by a mile.
''Everybody knows how much I wanted to win a major,'' Norman said
after the final round. ''You guys know. The media is always writing,
'Why can't he win here? Why not there?' and everybody's saying, 'Come
on, Greggy, you can do it,' and even if you know you can, it starts
to get you down. You get a monkey on your back.''
You could almost see the beast dancing a Scottish jig on his
shoulder blades as he ate dinner at the Turnberry Hotel on Saturday
night. Though chatting pleasantly, Norman had the aura of a man who
was to be hanged in the morning. People would look at him and then,
when they had caught his eye, glance away. At the Masters and the
U.S. Open, Norman had dined as the leader or near leader on Saturday
night only to have something stick in his throat on Sunday.
As Norman was finishing his meal on this night, he looked up and
saw Jack Nicklaus standing over him. ''Can I talk to you?'' Nicklaus
asked. He sat down with Norman and told him, ''Nobody wants you to
win this tournament more than I do. You deserve to win.''
Norman was duly honored, but, call it what you like, it was still
just one more person not to let down. Norman got more of the same
when he called his Orlando, Fla., home to talk to his three-year-old
daughter, Morgan-Leigh. ''Good luck, Shark,'' she said. Not Dad.
Shark. And there was this from Laura: ''I love you, honey, win or
lose. But it would be nice if you won.''
All well meaning and all that rot, but none of them was willing to
take over for him on a four-footer.
Little wonder, then, that he couldn't finish his breakfast the
next morning. ''I was nervous as hell. . . . I kept saying to myself,
All right, let's not do another Shinnecock here. (He had come out for
that round flat, he said.) Let's stay a little nervous this time. I'd
rather be nervous, keep myself up, than be too relaxed.''
Pete Bender, his caddie, counseled him before they started the
final round, ''We're just going to win a golf tournament today. We've
won plenty of tournaments. What's the difference between those
tournaments and this one? They're all just tournaments.''
Just a tournament? Where had Pete been, at Fergie's bachelorette
No, this wasn't just another tournament, and even for a British
Open it had been particularly rife with strange and exotic
happenings. In what other tournament, for instance, has Norman had to
wrest the lead away from the commissioner of the PGA Tour?
He had to this time. Playing in the second threesome, Deane Beman,
bless his Walter Mitty heart, was sole leader of the Open for about
30 minutes on Thursday morning. His 75 tied for lowest score in the
Even if you're not crazy about Beman's czarship (back of the line,
pal), you had to lift a glass to what he did across the big pond.
After putting out at the 1973 Walt Disney World Classic, Beman took a
short 12-year break during which he pursued other interests. Then,
six months ago, he decided to bullyrag his game back into shape.
Three weeks ago he came to Scotland and, without greasing the first
wheel or pulling the first string, qualified for the Open like any
other Ian by shooting a very uncommish-ish 70-70 -- 140 at Western
Gailes in Ayrshire. Eat your heart out, Pete Rozelle.
Maybe Beman had gone a little middle-age crazy, but why not?
Nicklaus, 46, was the current Masters champion. Raymond Floyd, 43,
was the U.S. Open champ. Why couldn't Deane Beman, 48, be the British
champ? After all, he outranks those two.
''Everyone keeps asking me, 'How's Deane going to do?' '' said
Nicklaus. ''And I tell them, 'You watch, he's a gutty little
competitor. He'll do fine. He may do better than fine.' ''
In fact, on the first day he did better than Nicklaus (78), or
Floyd (78), or Lee Trevino (80), or, in fact, his two blood enemies,
Seve Ballesteros (76) and Mac O'Grady (76).
Unfortunately -- and proving that the Royal & Ancient has no
sense of humor -- the world was deprived of the three-ball group of
Beman: Hey, Mac! Did you see that? Seve just took my ball and hit
it into the ocean!
O'Grady: What ocean?
Alas, Beman's 78 on Friday put him two shots on the downhill side
of the 36- hole cut, leaving him disgusted. Why, he was positively
Stadlerish. When asked if, despite not making the cut, he didn't
consider the comeback a pretty fair achievement, Beman looked up with
disdain and said, ''I never consider missing the cut an
He wasn't the only one who was unhappy. There was grousing from
all quarters, it seemed. Trevino (who finished 21 shots back), Floyd
(12) and Ballesteros (8) complained that Turnberry had been
''Americanized'' with watered fairways and overly treacherous rough.
July 27, 1986
Tom Watson (16 back, or 28 shots worse than the last time he was
here, as the Open winner in 1977) planned to write an official letter
of complaint to the R & A about the narrowness of the fairways.
O'Grady (18 back) registered an official complaint, saying the
paint used to color the holes white had hardened so that the ball was
bouncing out of the cup. We're not making this up.
The players, as a whole, complained about everything from the
width of the fairways to the height of the rough to, presumably, the
depth of the ocean, all without much satisfaction. It wore on one
player. ''The people you hear doing so much complaining,'' said
Nicklaus, ''are the ones with the highest scores.'' Nicklaus left
Turnberry 18 over and quiet. Only Gary Koch (tied for sixth) and
Fuzzy Zoeller (tied for eighth) represented the Stars and Stripes in
the top 10.
The rough became such a conversation piece because the players
were up to their keisters in it so often, what with a sturdy cross
wind and those tight fairways. Some fairways were no more than 20
paces across; one, the 9th, so narrow that on Thursday only 10
players hit it.
Forty-five-mile-per-hour winds that day and a drizzle had the
curious meteorological effect of forming little snowmen -- 8s -- on
scorecards everywhere. Floyd had one on the par-4 14th, and it went
like this: Drive, lost ball, drive again into rough, wedge into more
rough, three-wood into semirough, pitch onto green, two putts. Sound
like anyone you know?
''The best players in the world are out there getting
humiliated,'' said Norman. Bernhard Langer agreed: ''These are the
worst conditions I've ever played in.'' Only wee Ian Woosnam of
Wales, 5 ft. 4 in. and 11 stone (154 pounds), was smiling. His round
of 70, even par, led the first day by 1. Wind can only get so low.
Norman called his opening 74 ''a 64'' in such blustering, which
made you wonder what he thought his 63 the next day, in less wind,
but wind nonetheless, was worth -- a 53? It gave him a two-shot lead
over Britain's Brand. Five back was Tommy Nakajima of Japan, trying
to become the first Oriental to win a major. When hellacious wind and
rain returned on Saturday, Nakajima cut Norman's lead to 1 with a 71,
a typically good day in the rain for the bespectacled Nakajima. When
Nakajima was a boy, his father trained him to play in wet weather by
having him hit practice balls while standing under an outdoor shower.
All of which brought Nakajima and Norman together on the 1st tee
for the final round, with dread on Norman's face and a country on
Nakajima's shoulders. The sun had come out for this, shining brightly
and making it the warmest day of the week. Both players safely found
the fairway, but then Nakajima did a funny thing. He broke first,
missing with his approach and then three-putting from five feet for a
double bogey. That gave Norman a three-shot bulge. In the Land of the
Rising Sun millions of hearts broke, and Nakajima, who finished with
a 77, would be crying by day's end. It was the crucial hole of the
day -- Norman would never let his lead shrink to fewer than three
strokes -- and it was already over.
The lead was five shots when Norman chipped in from a bunker 75
feet away on No. 3; five again at No. 8, when Norman made a five-foot
birdie. ''I think that's when I knew,'' he would say later. ''When I
made that putt, I just said, Well, boys, I shut the gate. I'm playing
too good now.''
And, indeed, the lead was never less than four the rest of the way
as Norman kept his heart and his feet below the speed limit. ''At one
point,'' he said, ''Pete said to me, 'Look, walk at exactly the same
speed I'm walking. I'm watching you. You're going too fast.' And I
did, and when I got to the ball, I felt great and it seemed like no
problem after that.''
All that was left was to wait in the grandstands at 18 for the new
champion. Norman hit his four-iron to the final green, and in
British Open tradition, thousands of fans swarmed onto the fairway,
trying to beat the ball there, the better to see the new king putt.
If the new king lived, that is.
Somewhere in there -- within the meadow of bobbing, ruddy Scot
faces rumbling, rumbling forward, late for the last seat in Paradise
-- somewhere in all of that stampeding humanity was Norman, late for
his much-postponed moment in history. The ball waited for him. The
scoreboard waited for him. The silver trophy waited for him, longing
to be kissed, but Norman was nowhere to be seen. Then, a commotion on
the right side. And popping through, Norman appeared, sweater askew,
nerves ruffled, but no worse for wear, free at last, arms held high,
drinking in the din.
Twenty years from now, when we're remembering Norman's first major
-- perhaps the way we remember Arnie at Cherry Hills in 1960 or Jack
at Oakmont in 1962 -- maybe we'll remember it that way: Norman,
finally, forcefully breaking through, out of the faceless crowd and
into that rare and healing Scottish sunshine with a smile and a
promise nearly as bright. END