It has been a wild and stormy year for Greg Norman, one minute filled with the utmost sweetness, the next bitter as bile. He has been on a mind-bending, heart-stopping, head-snapping roller-coaster ride quite unlike anything any man has experienced in recent golf history. It began with a 53rd-place finish in the Bob Hope Classic on Jan. 19 and it rocketed on through 17 other tournaments. Before it was all over he had three victories and $750,000 in prize money. He had also achieved the remarkable feat of leading the field into the final round of all four major tournaments and the equally remarkable feat of undermining his own game so effectively that he wound up losing three of those four.
This is an article from the Aug. 25, 1986 issue
So now, instead of being a living, breathing monument—the only man ever to win the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA in one year—Norman, 31, is still ineffably human, a nice guy whose accomplishments in this madcap year of ups and downs finally evened out to become definitely above average but not untouchable, very good but not truly great, most impressive but by no means immortal.
Indeed, there are some who think he will never again do as well as he has this year. There are some who talk of a faint heart, of a choker's psyche. After Norman's catastrophic loss in the PGA on Aug. 11—in which he dissipated a four-stroke lead over the last round and saw the championship vanish into the 18th hole along with Bob Tway's amazing sandblasted wedge shot—a brass-tongued radio commentator asked him flatly, "Is the monkey back on your back?" Norman nearly bolted out of his chair and snapped, "You guys are never satisfied."
In the days after that loss, Norman was more relaxed and more contemplative about pessimists who have already relegated him to fallen-idol status. "People only think of the present, they can't remember the past," he said. "Everybody goes through these things: Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, me—we've all had the trophy right there and then let it slip away. But people can't relate to the fact that those things are just a small part of a golfer's whole career. Do you know what went through my mind after Tway holed out that shot? I thought, God, this game never ceases to amaze me! You've got to be philosophical about a guy holing a bunker shot to beat you.
"When I saw his [Tway's] ball in the bunker, I said, 'That's an easy shot.' It was sitting well, on the upslope. Five feet farther back, on the flat, and he would have had no shot. And then to think my ball had landed 10 or 12 feet on the green and spun back and off.... Every time you lose, you think that life's unfair. You think of the bad breaks. But when you're winning and playing well, you still get those bad breaks, only you overcome them. It just depends on how strong your mind is."
Given the kind of season Norman has been through, there shouldn't be much doubt about the strength of his mind—or the brilliance of his golf game. Beginning with the Masters in April and continuing through the next 10 tournaments, culminating with the PGA, he won the Panasonic Las Vegas Invitational, the Kemper Open and the British Open (by five strokes). He finished second or tied for second four times—including the Masters and the PGA. He was tied for third once, fifth once, 12th in the U.S. Open and 10th in the Memorial. Seven times he shot rounds of 65 or better and his per-round average for the 11 tournaments was a startling 69.60. His average in final tournament rounds is 69.94—the best on the tour. He won $750,429 in that period, which is an average of $68,221 each week.
It is storybook stuff, no doubt about it. And while he was on this tear, plenty of people were ready to declare Norman as Our Next Great Golfer. It could well be true someday, but not yet. His streak of wins and high-level finishes is surely terrific, but it is by no means something achieved only by certifiably Great Golfers. The PGA was Tway's fourth win this year, and he has won $606,005. Craig Stadler won four tournaments in 1982 and so did Calvin Peete, who has won a total of 11 since 1982—three more than anyone else in that time. Tom Weiskopf delivered a fantastic string of finishes in 1973, winning the British and Canadian opens, the Colonial, the Kemper and the Philadelphia tournaments, as well as the four-man World Series of Golf and the South African PGA championship. Johnny Miller won eight tournaments, but no majors, in 1974. Winning one major does nothing but tie Norman with the likes of Orville Moody and Charles Coody and a raft of other also-rans.
So what might constitute a measure by which Norman's—or anyone else's—claim to greatness could be truly judged? How about winning two majors in a single year? Only five active players have done that: Jack Nicklaus (five times), Arnold Palmer (twice), Tom Watson (twice), Lee Trevino and Gary Player, each once. If Norman had won the PGA, he would have joined that select group and his case for greatness would have been enormously strengthened.
But he didn't, so instead of debating the height of his pedestal, many people are now debating the dread question of whether he is a born loser, one of nature's chokers. It is both insulting and utterly unjustified. For example: In the 1986 Masters, Norman flew a terrible approach shot into the crowd beside the 18th hole, finishing with a bogey when par meant tying Nicklaus and going into a playoff with a 46-year-old hero who had been sitting around for almost an hour. But, please remember: To get to that exalted near-miss, the gritty Norman had birdied the previous four holes. In the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, he did go into the last round with a one-stroke lead and did wind up 12th after a crude round of 75, but if he were, in fact, a choker, that blowup would have had him thinking weak for a long time. Instead, five weeks later, he came thundering back and overpowered the field in the British Open for his first major. And as for his PGA demise, Peter Jacobsen played with Norman and Tway in that-final round and he said, "I didn't see anything like a choker out there. A choker is short and to the right on his putts. I didn't see a nerve in Greg's stroke. Maybe if Greg had a little choke in him it might have helped. Then he would have played for pars instead of trying to extend his lead."
Does Norman have some kind of a fatal flaw in his game that will keep him from ever reaching the pinnacle? Among the experts there are questions about his ability to pace himself so that he doesn't come up with his competitive juices spent late in a tournament. There are questions about his tendency to attack when he should lie back, about his ability to bring good strategic management to a golf course, about the zigzag streakiness of his game. Yet, no one sees him as a man likely to be permanently victimized by his own shortcomings.
Some critics say that he swings too hard. Can that be? The point in golf is to hit the ball hard, and Norman probably hits it as far as any winning player ever. Currently, he ranks fifth among PGA pros in distance off the tee (277.5 yards). Once, while playing at Doral with Weiskopf, Norman reached the par-5, 608-yard 12th hole in two shots, crushing a three-wood that stopped 12 feet from the cup. "That's the longest three-wood I've ever seen," said Weiskopf, no pop-gunner himself. Norman's longest mea-' sured drive went—he has witnesses—483 yards. Unlike many of his grim compatriots, Norman brings almost an air of nonchalance to his game. On the tour, he practices hard, but away from it, he almost never does. You can hang around Norman at home for a week and have a difficult time figuring out what he does for a living. However, his game does have some quirks.
Writing in Golf Digest, Dan Jenkins said, "Norman's feet move on almost every swing, he addresses his putts on the toe of his club head, he sprays his shots woefully to the right or left when he goes bad, and he is always making you wonder about his judgment. Despite these things, his power can be awesome and his touch at times can be likened to that of a brain surgeon."
After the PGA, Nicklaus summed up Norman's game this way: "From the standpoint of being a major tournament player, Greg is still young. He is doing a lot of the same things that happened to Watson, to me, to all of us. The guy is just too confident, too good a player not to learn from these things. His biggest fault, if he has one, is that he is so aggressive with his game that he can't tone it down at the end when he might need to. As long as everything works when he is going full out, he's fine. But he'll learn to play more controlled as he gets older.
"There comes a time when you realize that you can't fly it over every fairway bunker on the golf course or shoot it at every pin. You learn to hit it between the bunkers and leave the ball on the percentage side of the hole. And you become a better player for it.
"Sometimes you've got to sacrifice a tournament or two to learn. Norman is the only guy who is good enough right now, who can be in competition every week and learn—blow a few tournaments and get away with it. Learn from it. And he'll learn."
Jack Newton, a fellow Australian who admits his "mind was messed up" for a long time after he lost to Watson in a British Open playoff in 1975, says, "I think Greg jumped the hurdle when he won the British. The PGA was his worst performance; he simply didn't play well enough to win, and if he hadn't won the British, that might have been devastating. But I think he's fine now.
"He may learn to play more conservatively with a lead, but I think Greg will always be an aggressive player. At the Masters he hit into the gallery trying to fade it into the pin, which is not his normal shot, but that's why Greg is a great player. He was thinking about birdie, about winning, not about a playoff. That choker stuff is b.s."
Whatever they think of him as a golfer, Norman's peers on the Tour have an unusually high regard for him as a man. In an individualistic sport rife with jealousy, he is that rarest of players—a pro's pro. Thus, it wasn't surprising that on the evening before the final round of the British Open this summer, Nicklaus, John Mahaffey, Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green went out of their way at dinner to wish him Godspeed. Later, after he won the title, congratulations poured in from such diverse luminaries as Bob Hawke, the prime minister of Australia, and Arnold Palmer.
A few days after his victory, Norman was at his Florida home when the doorbell rang. It was his friend and neighbor, golfer Nick Price. "Let me see it, champ," cried Price. He strolled over to the mantel, where the trophy was resting. "Look at that, will you," said Price. "Such history. Unbelievable." There was pure joy on Price's face. He had been present when Norman, poised to take the Masters title last spring, hit the wild four-iron at the 72nd hole.
"I felt so bad," whispered Price, after Norman had left the room. "People don't realize...don't think, how well he played and then to have that happen. It was so sad."
Apparently it was sadder for friends like Price than it was for Norman himself. Greg's wife, Laura, is still surprised after five years of marriage that her husband rarely carries his remorse past the final hole. "At the Masters this year, that was the first time I saw the hurt, the disappointment on his face," she says. "But honestly, after it was over, he was over it. That night we had some friends come by our rented house. We had a great time. And then after the Open, riding back into New York City, everything was fine. We laughed. We talked.
"Some guys, it would hurt. They would worry that they might never win a major. But not Greg. The difference, for instance, between Greg and Seve [Ballesteros] is dramatic. Seve's not a very happy person. He harbors things more. He thinks people are against him. He's a wonderful guy, but he just won't let loose. Greg is loose all the time."
Norman does seem less buttoned-up than most other golfers. Maybe it's because he was first an athlete and then a golfer. Unlike most players, he has no fear of golf, no worry in the back of his mind that the insidious game can take back what it has given him. "I don't let anything bother me, because I know that if I work harder and harder, I'm going to get myself out of it," says Norman. "I knew I was going to win a major. I believe in myself to the nth degree, and if you feel like that, you don't have any problem. I'd like to win 10 or 15 of the sonofabitches."
Graeme Agars, an Australian broadcaster who has followed Norman all over the world, says, "He's the most positive thinker of any sportsman that I've come across. It's not an act, he really believes he can win all the time, and I think that's why he won't let the defeats in the majors this year get him down. After the PGA, he told us he gained more maturity in three minutes in Toledo than he had in the previous three years. He expects so much of himself. At the Australian Open, after he won last year, he got serious and said to us, 'It's really nice that I've won all these tournaments, but isn't it about time I won a major?' I guess this year was his answer to that question."
Winning suits Norman, and he certainly looks the part, with his shimmering white hair and his swagger on the course. His all-or-nothing attitude calls to mind no one so much as another hard-charging golfer with charisma—Palmer. Norman has often been compared with Nicklaus, but that was due more to the physical resemblance than to his approach to the game. In truth, Norman plays and relates to galleries as if he got his training as a cadet in Arnie's Army.
In a sport that seems to encourage grimness, Norman laughs a lot and doesn't labor over decisions. And like Palmer, he seems to enjoy himself more playing golf than doing any other thing. Nicklaus, by comparison, has put together the greatest record in golf almost as an adjunct to his business dealings. "I'm not real keen on business," says Norman. "I fall asleep at my financial meetings."
Norman shares another obvious characteristic with Palmer. Both would rather go down with guns firing than give in. There's no lay-up in either of them. "I don't like to be negative when I play," Norman says. "If I'm paired with a conservative player, I think, How can he do that? I love the challenge. I love grinding. I love it when things aren't going my way and I have to fight for it, fight with myself, and fight for a score. I love that, having to dig in deeper and reach for something in the bottom of you."
While Norman was driving on an English highway several years ago, another driver, perhaps resentful of Greg's stylish car and long, golden hair, kept taunting him, passing, cutting in front of him, and then slowing down. Norman got that look on his face he gets when he makes a double bogey. Finally, as the other motorist pulled onto an exit ramp, Norman roared around him and stopped, blocking the escape. He got out of his car, walked back to the other man's vehicle and, through an open window, punched his antagonist in the jaw. Then he walked back to his car and drove away.
Many people take in Norman's rakish manner, his striking appearance and his penchant for expensive toys, and they misread him. He is, indeed, one of golf's more conspicuous consumers—owner of a spacious Florida house at Bay Hill, which has an $80,000 red Ferrari in the garage, next to a Rolls-Royce, a Jaguar convertible and a Jeep Wagoneer—all of which will soon be joined by an Aston Martin he has on order. He owns two other houses—one in Brisbane, Australia, and one in Sunningdale, England. His family life seems idyllic with Laura, whom people simply call "the Best" because that is Norman's usual reference to her, plus two beautiful children, Morgan Leigh (who calls her father Sharkie), 3, and Gregory, 11 months, an infant mirror image of his father's dimpled, white-thatched good looks.
His humor, too, is mostly airy. Last spring, a siege of lung congestion baffled doctors for a while, and one told him that he might be allergic to grass. For a golfer this means oblivion, but Norman just shrugged and laughed, "Hey, it could be worse. I could be allergic to beer."
Despite the levity, the man adheres to a peculiarly straitlaced code. For example, he refuses to enter long-driving contests, even though he would be favored to win, because he thinks they are inequitable: Most players have no chance of winning. "The money should go into tournament purses," he says. He also refuses to employ the latest equipment rage on tour—"square grooves," irons with faces that allow a player to stop a shot on a dime. "They're not fair," says Norman, even though he knows he could lower his scores with them. And he refuses to renounce his Australian citizenship just to dodge the 62% tax bracket to which his country subjects him.
"That's just how I am," says Norman. "If I think it's wrong, I don't care, I won't do it. But it works the other way, too. If I think something is O.K., like driving my Ferrari fast, I'll do it."
Last year, after he built his Orlando house, he had a flagpole installed in front and ran up both the Australian and American flags. Soon he received a letter, unsigned, complaining that the Australian flag was flying above the Stars and Stripes.
Norman shrugged. He put in another flagpole. But inadvertently, the new staff, which held the Australian flag, was a few inches higher than the other. Another anonymous letter of complaint appeared in his mailbox. Now Norman dug in. "You'll notice," he says, "that I haven't changed the flagpole."
Judging from the cavalier, talent-blessed image he projects today, one might think that his rise to golfing stardom came easily for Norman. But he paid his dues. Eleven years ago he started working his way up through the Australian system of professional golf, in which a player, no matter how gifted, has to grovel before he can crawl. "It's not a difficult system, it's impossible," says David Graham, who labored for years as a "trainee" before he came to the U.S. in 1970. In Australia a golfer must still serve a three-year apprenticeship as an assistant pro, spending long hours in the shop, keeping his nose and the clubs clean, trying to live up to an archaic code written by a group of flinty men who believe that even the exceptional deserve no exception.
The Normans were a middle-class family. Greg's father, Merv, was a mining engineer. Greg's first handshake with golf was rather late. It came around his 15th birthday in Brisbane when—after a busy adolescence as a gifted athlete adept at everything from surfing and swimming to waterskiing, rugby, Australian Rules football, cricket and running races—he caddied for his mother, Toini, a three-handicapper, at a public course she frequented. Greg pulled his mother's golf trolley. Then, while Mum was taking tea in the clubhouse, he played two holes, the results of which he has forgotten. He does, however, remember his first regulation 18 holes: He shot a 108.
Enamored of a game he could attack with all of his considerable enthusiasm and energy, he slipped Nicklaus's instruction book, Golf My Way, inside his physics text, pretending to do his homework while secretly studying the game's rudiments. After graduating from high school, he took a job loading trucks. The work helped build up his strength, and the hours were right. After work he would hit balls until dark. While he was an amateur, no one could touch him. At 17 he was a scratch player; at 20 he turned pro. The Australian press got a look at his blond hair and sledgehammer drives and tagged him the next Nicklaus.
In one of his first tournaments, Norman arrived at the course to learn that the early leader had come in with a 67. "That's a pretty good score," he told himself. "I'll have to beat it." He went out and shot a 64.
"People say I'm a natural golfer," says Norman. "They have no idea of what went into it." Norman spent time as a pro trainee in Sydney, rising each day at 4 a.m. to get in a couple of hours of practice before work. Then, after a long day in the shop, he would go out and pick up several thousand balls from the practice range, finishing around 11 p.m. The work was hard, but more frustrating were the golf officials who would not give him the necessary waiver to play in national tournaments. It was as if he were in prison: three years as an apprentice.
In his frustration, Norman moved back to Brisbane, where he became the protègè of a crusty, jockey-sized fellow named Charlie Earp. Earp was the pro at the Royal Queensland Golf Club and he made a deal with Norman: Take a pay cut, from $38 to $32 a week, and every other day he could work half a day in the shop and practice in the afternoon. "But if I see you going out the club gate at noon, then keep going, because you're finished," Earp told him. To this day Norman keeps a golf diary in which he carefully records his practice time and progress, something Earp insisted on. During his days with Earp, Norman had another ledger to keep track of his gambling wins and losses. He would tee up in $100 Nassaus, sometimes playing for $1,000 in an afternoon. "Back then, I was like a wild dog on a leash," he says.
After a year under the tutelage of Earp, Norman had won the Queensland Trainees Championship twice, earning a three-month invitation to play in national tournaments. He finished fourth, third and 13th in his first three events. Then he won the West Lakes Classic by five strokes over such established stars as David Graham and Graham Marsh.
Always Norman had his eye on the American tour. In 1976, when he was 21, a golfer with only six years' experience, he was paired with Nicklaus at the Australian Open. Norman nervously topped his first tee shot and eventually came in with an 80, but followed that with a 72. Nicklaus told him he was good enough to win in the U.S. Pumped up by this, Norman went to Japan and won his first tournament there. Then he went to England and won the second event he played in there. "See you later, boys," he told the Australian PGA officials. "I'm not coming back."
He went to play on the Asian circuits, and there he honed his game. He was woeful around the greens, but by the time he was 22, he had won tournaments in three different countries, even though he was a chef with one eye on the cookbook. "I was learning," says Norman. "I was changing my swing. It was too upright. It took me about five years, but still I won at least one tournament every season."
While he was on the European circuit, Norman was invited to play in the 1981 Masters, and he made people take notice. He remained in contention through all four rounds, finishing fourth and earning his nickname, the Great White Shark. Finally, in 1983, after getting some help on his short game from Ballesteros, the Shark made his debut as a full-time player on the U.S. Tour—by losing in a playoff to Mike Nicolette at the Bay Hill Classic. Norman won $71,411 in his nine PGA tournaments and qualified for the U.S. Tour for '84.
But then something went wrong and Norman was suddenly just another guy with blond hair and a hook, missing cuts. The Shark was playing like a fish. Five months into the '84 season, he had played nine tournaments, finished in the top 20 only three times, and had earned only $42,524 in prize money. He telephoned Earp back in Australia and got some advice that was ridiculously simple: "You know you're better than all of those guys. Go out there and beat their asses."
Norman did. He won the Kemper Open. Then he went to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and, after making three miraculous pars on the last three holes on Sunday, forced an 18-hole playoff with the towel-waving Fuzzy Zoeller. He lost by eight strokes to Zoeller in a Monday playoff. "In the locker room, Greg had a big smile on his face," says Lawrence Levy, a photographer friend of Norman's. "He said, 'Golf's a funny game, isn't it?' " Then Norman tied for 10th at Atlanta, won the Canadian Open, finished second to Tom Watson at the' Western Open and opened with a 67 at the British Open before two 74s and another 67 left him tied for sixth.
That was a glimpse of Norman's bright future, but then he took sick while playing at the Hong Kong Open in early 1985, and he hacked and hacked, both on and off the course. He dropped from 9th on the PGA money list ($310,230) to 42nd ($165,458). "There was something in his chest," says Laura. "We even thought it might be cancer." Last May the problem was finally discovered to be a pocket of infection; it was treated with antibiotics. For the first time in almost 15 months, Norman felt—and began playing—like his old self. The wild dog was off the leash.
Norman pursues his many interests with full-bore intensity. He wants to do almost anything that is exciting: go shark fishing, hunt wild pigs, dart in and out of traffic in his Ferrari, play St. Andrews backward, pose in bikini underwear for a golf magazine. Twice he has taken the controls of jet fighters, a British Phantom and an American F-16, putting the latter through a loop and then a corkscrew roll. "The pilot said I could do anything but take it through the sound barrier," says Norman, who has never had any formal pilot training.
Norman's penchant for amusement nearly killed him last fall. During a christening party for Gregory, Norman was out on the lake, riding a hot dog-shaped tube pulled by a ski boat. He fell off and the foot of another rider smacked him flush in the face, knocking him out, removing three teeth that ripped his lip apart on their way out. It was feared that he had broken his neck. But trips to the hospital and the dentist fixed him up. A couple of weeks later, at St. Andrews, he led Australia to victory in the Dunhill Nations Cup, biting out the stitches in his lip as he played.
At two o'clock on the morning after Norman won the British Open, Scottish security guards stumbled upon a weird scene on the 18th green at Turnberry. There stood the Open champion himself with a small group including Norman's friend Levy, who was clad only in a dress shirt and women's lace underwear, kissing the Open trophy. Seems that Levy had taken a shower in the Normans' hotel room and had to borrow underwear. Greg was down to his last pair, so Laura, ever practical, offered hers. After hours of revelry and much champagne sipped straight from the trophy, everyone decided to head for the 18th green to climb the Turnberry scoreboard and filch the star that had been placed there next to Norman's name. A few choruses of some bawdy songs and toasts followed and somehow that all led to Levy dropping his pants and showing off his lace bikini undies. Well, it seemed to make perfect sense at the time.
Maybe golf will be more fun now with Norman's continuing adventures and misadventures. In the short time he has had the British Open trophy, it has been used by mates in England and Florida for countless victory toasts. The trophy is something Norman wants to share. He is very caught up in it all. When he goes home to Australia, often he will stay up into the night, flipping through the 23 scrapbooks his mother has filled with notices of the local hero.
His parents watched him win the British Open on TV back in Australia. It was 4 a.m. Later that day, Toini went off to play in her club championship, which she won, much to the delight of her son, who gleefully regaled everyone with stories about his dear old champion mum.
More than anything, Norman seems to be a man getting a great kick out of his life now—win or lose. Last week, he was in Colorado to play in the International, a tournament with a novel format that allowed players to miss the cut on the very first day—which he did. Did he care? Not a drop, mate. By Friday he was back in Bay Hill, sitting in his office, looking out his picture window, past his pool, his barbecue past his boathouse and the lake. Two phones were ringing and there was a stack of mail, including a letter from H.R.H. The Prince Khedker of Khed Anjanvel.
Norman was grinning, exuberant, a happy shark at play, and he spoke with enthusiasm: "What a great feeling I had in Denver when it was over! I thought, Good God, this is the first time in so many weeks that I can really get drunk. I went into the locker room with Arnold and Jack Newton and we had beers and just sat. Tom Watson came in and had a couple. Oh, it was great. I felt so free."
He shrugged and his hands flew up near his ears in a gesture of freedom. "Then this morning, while I was having a cup of tea and giving Gregory his breakfast, I said to myself, Greg, you have two days off now, and then you've got to go back to work. I knew my bubble had burst, but I want to get back to the grindstone."
Norman's last U.S. event of the year will be this week's World Series of Golf, so unless he wins that tournament he probably won't reach his goal of leading the U.S. money list. After that he'll finish out his tumultuous year by competing overseas.
"People think I'll never come back, I'm done, I'm finished." Greg Norman has a smile on his face. "I'll tell you, I've never got so nervous that I've said 'Oh——. I can't do it.' I've never been in a position where I've lacked the confidence to convert something bad into something good. I've learned so much from all this!"
The telephone rang again. A writer from England wanted to come over to do a story. He offered condolences about the PGA. "Yeah, but what the hell," said Norman. "I'll get the Slam one year."