A few weeks ago, Greg Norman, golf's Job, was filming an instructional video at his home course, the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla., when, in the distance, it began to thunder.
This is an article from the June 22, 1987 issue
Seeing bolts of lightning, the film crew made haste for the clubhouse, union rules. But not Norman. Norman got a bucket of balls and began chipping onto the practice green while the skies lit up around him.
One of the crew members began to fret. "Greg!" he yelled. "What are you doing! Can't you see what it's like out?"
Norman looked up from his wedge.
"Man, I've been struck by lightning twice in the last eight months," he yelled. "It can't happen again."
For a man who has been struck with such an extraordinary run of rotten luck, Greg Norman seems to be stubbornly carrying on. So, with Fate's hands currently around Norman's neck and Norman's around Fate's, let's take time out for a recap.
No golfer had ever chipped in on the 72nd hole to win a major, right? So what happens? On the last hole of the 1986 PGA Championship a human sand rake named Bob Tway chips in from a bunker to beat our Aussie hero, Crocodile Done-in, by two. Then, at the very next major, the 1987 Masters, Larry Mize, known near and near, chips in on the second hole of sudden death from a quite unchip-in-able place—140 feet away, downhill, onto a green faster than the Hackensack off ramp. Who needs a putter to play Norman? Just bring your lucky wedge and a Saint Christopher medal. Ever see a Great White Shark eaten by an anchovy? Twice?
In endorsement bonuses alone, those two miracles cost Norman more than $500,000, but that's only money. It is history Norman yearns for, and were it not for those two shots, he would have come to this week's U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco with a raffle ticket to the modern game's first-ever Consecutive Slam—the 1986 British Open, the '86 PGA, the '87 Masters and the '87 U.S. Open. Only two literal strokes of luck kept him from it. Another catastrophe and you can look for Norman on the cover of Psychology Today.
There is more. Norman lost last year's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills after leading on Sunday and lost the 1986 Jack-Is-Back Masters after needing only a par on the final hole to tie. That's frightfully close to winning five of the last five majors. Instead he has just one. Norman has become the most beloved loser since Ralph Kramden.
But do you see Norman smashing every vase in his house? Do you see him refusing to go outdoors? Do you see him missing out on the tiniest sliver of fun? No, you do not.
Outwardly, Norman has seemed unruffled since his untimely de-Mize. He has bought a $118,000 Ferrari Testarossa and a new home in North Palm Beach, hung around the Roger Penske pit during the Indy 500, made plans to play golf for charity on five continents in as many days (with time for a ride in the king of Morocco's personal jet), had more beers and laughs than the populations of some small countries, and taken decades off a reporter's life by spinning a rented Trans Am going just over 80 miles per hour into a perfect 180-degree turn that would have left Jim Rockford in tears. All in all, Norman has gone about life in the usual manner, with little respect for boredom, safety or yesterday.
Typical Norman: After Tway's miracle shot, Greg went back to the clubhouse to find his friends looking as if they had just watched Lassie die. "What's with all the long faces?" he asked. "Let's get some beers." After the Mize Surprise, Norman and his wife, Laura, flew home to Orlando with friends on a chartered plane. They popped some champagne and had so much fun that when they looked at pictures of the trip later, Laura had to ask, "Is this after we lost?"
Certainly, Norman's handling of these disasters has been fresh and inspiring. After each of his four-letter-word defeats—Tway and Mize—he headed straight into the pressroom, made jokes, lifted a lager and toasted the man who beat him, even though, as Laura says, "he was dying inside."
If you haven't noticed, this is not exactly the established pattern in golf lately. Two Masters running, Seve Ballesteros has stomped off the course without muttering a repeatable syllable. Earlier this year Craig Stadler left the scene of his terrible towel penalty in San Diego so enraged that he was off the premises before anybody could talk to him. And, of course, all that is mild compared with other sports. Even as a father, John McEnroe still cannot seem to lose a point without disfiguring a racket or abusing a line judge.
"People don't understand how tough that is," says golfer Peter Jacobsen. "Here a guy holes out an impossible shot to take a major right out from under your nose, and now you have to go into the pressroom and be Mr. Wonderful."
Indeed, inexplicably, that's what Norman was. After the Mize chip, Norman said, "I didn't think Larry would get down in two from there, and I was right. He got down in one." Rest easy, Bobby Jones, sportsmanship is not dead.
Of course, we did say "outwardly." What of inwardly? How much damage did back-to-back heartbreakers do to the man Jack Nicklaus calls "the best player in the game"?
Well, after winning three straight tournaments in Australia last year and 10 around the world overall, Norman hasn't won a Tour event in 1987. In Dallas at the Byron Nelson Classic, he shared the opening-round lead but finished tied for sixth. "You know," Pete Bender, his caddie and confidant, said to him on that tournament's last day, "I think Augusta took more out of you than you thought." And Norman agreed.
What's more, history stands drooling. Not to spread doom, but in 1970 Tony Jacklin became the first Brit to win the U.S. Open since 1920. In 1972 he was tied for the British Open lead until Lee Trevino chipped in at the 71st hole and beat him. Jacklin never won—never figured m-another major. After Tom Watson beat Nicklaus by chipping in on the 71st hole of the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Nicklaus didn't win a major for four years, and he says today, "I'm still not over it." But even Nicklaus never had two majors—in a row—snapped out of his molars, the way Norman did. Who could blame Norman if he winds up bumming quarters outside some Woolworth's?
Ptoooie, says Norman. "I never feel sorry for myself. In golf, if the other guy is better than you at the time, so be it. When I lose like that, I want to come back and say, Screw it. It tees me off even more and I want to play better."
On this matter, Norman speaks from counsel with the Bear, who has become something of a soul mate. "I asked Nicklaus, 'How did you handle that stuff?' " says Norman. "And Jack said he found that whenever he was in contention to win a major, the other players lifted the level of their game just to beat him. That's a great honor for him to have. People respected him. And he said, 'You're going to find out that's what is going to happen to you, too.' "
O.K., but of Norman's major misses, how many can be chalked up to players like Tway and Mize lifting their acts to just one notch below the miraculous loaves and fishes, and how many can be laid on Norman his ownself?
Take the 1986 Masters. Norman played brilliantly with four consecutive birdies through the 17th hole on Sunday. He was in the middle of the fairway on 18, needing only a par to tie. But instead of aiming for the middle of the green, he went for the pin. He attempted a hard draw with a four-iron and shoved it right instead. He missed the green by 10 yards, chipped to 17 feet and missed the putt. Ego 1, Greg 0.
"Greg wanted five straight birdies," Bender says. "He wanted to make history. He wasn't going to go for the middle of the green." But if he had to do it again, Norman says he would pull out a five-iron and hit it high. "I guess what makes me the maddest is that everybody remembers my bogey at the last and not the four birdies to get there."
Take the 1986 U.S. Open. "You're chokin', Norman," two sudsed hecklers yelled at Greg on the 14th hole at Shinnecock on Saturday, when he held a one-shot lead. Norman may live in America, but he's Aussie to the marrow, and he marched over to the ropes. "If you want to say that, then say it to me afterward. But until then, shut your face!" he snapped. It cost Norman his momentum, Bender says, "and when you've lost momentum in this game, you've lost everything." One small victory, however: The hecklers never did show up when the round was finished, proving they were more sober than people thought.
Take the 1986 PGA. To this day, Norman has a hard time believing he lost. "A lot of people have said to me my last-round 76 was a bad day, but I say, I hit the ball as good as I hit it the first day .... It's just that nothing happened. Like at 11 [a double bogey], I hit a perfect one-iron, but my ball rolled right into the bottom of a divot. I couldn't get it out. An inch either way, I win the golf tournament, simple as that...but I never thought I was ever going to lose that golf tournament.... Even when he chipped it in, I still thought I was going to chip it in! 'Cause I'll be damned if I was going to lose that championship."
Take the 1987 Masters. Please. "From the last day of the 1986 tournament, when I hit that second shot and missed the putt for par, from that very moment, and for the next year, 24 hours a day, I thought about the Masters," Norman says. "Every day it was in my mind. More than anything else in my life I wanted to win that one." And though Norman wasn't allowed the moment he coveted the most—Nicklaus putting the green coat on him—he still thinks of the 1987 Masters as a triumph. "I got myself there. I was there at the end with a chance to win it. So that to me was the greatest pat on my back.... It was a shot that will go down in history that prevented me from doing it."
Later, Seve Ballesteros, who was eliminated on the first hole of the playoff, told Golf World, a British monthly, that Norman made a mistake hitting for the center of the green on the playoff hole instead of going for the pin. That, according to Ballesteros, allowed Mize to believe he still had a chance, that Norman was not a lock to two-putt from where he was, just on the fringe.
Hearing this did not make Norman happy. "Seve is so detrimental to his name right now," Norman says. "He can't shut his mouth up, because he keeps chastising other players for what they've done.... I don't understand the guy, I really don't. I thought I got to know him the years I played in Europe, but now I'm totally lost with him.... It's always easy for somebody like him to sit back and make comments when he's lost. If he's going to throw stones at a glass house, he would never have three-putted the 10th.... If he was in exactly the same position I was, I promise you, Seve Ballesteros would've hit it to the middle-right of the green."
None of this makes the defeat any less painful. "It was the worst loss I've ever had in my life. I mean, it was tough.... Walking down the fairway, I said to myself, 'I can two-putt from there. I know I can two-putt from there!'...I wish Larry had holed his putt on 10, rather than do what he did at 11. To me and Seve and to the whole world that would've been much better than to see what happened on 11."
Take the Grand Slam. Norman talks about It as though It can be achieved. But what happens when you talk about It and then you lose the first leg of It and It's over before It has begun? Did Norman tempt the gods of golf?
"I don't believe in the gods of golf," Norman says. "The only god is within yourself, because that's your own desires. I didn't tempt anybody, because if I had won the Masters this year, could you imagine what would be going on now? ...People want to hear this stuff. You want to write about it. The players want to hear about it.... Everybody's been so scared of winning the four majors. I mean that's the god's honest truth. They've been scared of doing it!"
Take Greg Norman. Unhexed. Unafraid. Unsqueamish about saying what he wants and spitting in the eye of predestination. "I don't consider those losses a waste of time. No way. I haven't really served my apprenticeship in the major leagues. I'm getting there right now. These losses I'm taking are going to be to my benefit down the line, that's the way I treat it."
How much benefit can one guy stand?
Welcome to Olympic, a course that should fit Norman like a spandex suit, a course that rewards the long, straight hitter. Many of the holes dogleg at about 260 yards, unreachable for most players. Norman, whom Johnny Miller calls "the greatest driver of the golf ball in history," could resemble a hungry frog at a convention of slow flies.
"I'm looking forward to Olympic more than any other [tournament]," Norman says. "And if I come down the last three or four holes of the U.S. Open tied or one in front or two in front, I think I'll win the tournament."
Wince. There he goes, tempting Them again. Doesn't Norman know that every time Olympic has held an Open the course trashed the era's B.M.O.C? In 1955, Ben Hogan lost to Jack Fleck in a playoff. In 1966, Arnold Palmer wasted seven shots in the last nine holes and lost to Billy Casper in a playoff. Can you imagine the two of them together, Norman and Olympic?
So what will it be this time? Scott Hoch (four letters), climbing a tree and knocking his ball 220 yards into the hole? Or maybe Jodie Mudd ricocheting from a beer stand into the cup? Or maybe Norman will be leading by 10 shots and a safe will fall on his head.
"No, no, no," says Laura. "It just couldn't happen again. In fact, I really feel more of a relief now. It's all over. And you know what? I have a feeling that this time Greg is going to pull one of those miracles on somebody else."