These days, when his nameplate seems attached to leader boards
with Superglue, Greg Norman does more than just win--or lose--golf
tournaments. He personalizes them. While the constellation of
supporting players around him shifts and switches, more than
ever Norman is the star.
The Shark fascinates us with a physical brilliance that is
remarkably consistent yet intriguingly difficult to harness when
he needs it most. His open nature provides a clear view of an
unabashed desire to excel, the courage to fail and a headlong
decisiveness that delivers opinions in black and white and
actions in fire-engine red. Norman is golf's ultimate
protagonist, oozing equal parts charisma and hubris. Except for
his jet, yacht and the full length of the 66-foot chip shot he
holed to win the NEC World Series of Golf in sudden death on
Sunday, Shakespeare would have found his character a perfect fit
for center stage at The Globe.
In the Middle American bastion of Akron, at the tough but
generic South course at the Firestone Country Club, Norman
single-handedly transformed what has become a ho-hum, no-cut,
season-ending money grab for a field of 47 into the most
engrossing nonmajor tournament of the year.
Norman's magnetism lay in more than just performance--even though
his playoff victory over the disappointed duo of Nick Price and
Billy Mayfair, after all three had tied at the surprisingly high
score of two-under-par 278, hit a bonanza in milestones. By
playing a controlled, patient style demanded by a course set up
with high rough and firm greens, Norman earned his third PGA
Tour victory of the year, the most he has ever won in a season.
The $360,000 purse also gave him a single-season earnings record
of $1,555,709, achieved in only 14 events, and made him the
Tour's leading money winner of all time, with $9,493,579,
passing Tom Kite.
More important, Norman is providing evidence that he has evolved
into a different player, one who instead of giving tournaments
away, puts himself in position to benefit from the mistakes of
others. At Firestone, Norman made only one birdie on the final
nine holes--with a 15-foot putt on the par-5 16th--but had no
bogeys, while Price bogeyed the 13th and the 18th and Mayfair
the 15th, 16th and 17th. It seems as if fate is finally ready to
become Norman's friend. Reflecting on his litany of shocking
losses, Norman said, "The game of golf always evens itself out.
The golf gods have been good to me today. It's slowly working
But even more than Norman's refined virtuosity, what gave this
world series its bite was the nature of our protagonist's
character. Norman laid the subplot in last Thursday's first
round when he set himself in ideological concrete over an
unresolvable rules dispute that held the reputation of fellow
veteran Mark McCumber in the balance, and then made it known
that he was withdrawing from the tournament on moral grounds
when he decided justice had not been served. The situation
evolved into golf's most public charge of cheating since Tom
Watson accused Gary Player of playing fast and loose with a
growing leaf at the 1983 Skins Game.
The dispute began on the 7th hole as McCumber was looking over
an eight-foot putt for par. Before hitting the putt, which
he missed, McCumber bent over and touched the surface of the
green with his right thumb and forefinger. After McCumber had
holed out, Norman accused McCumber of pushing down a spike mark
in his line, a violation of the rules. McCumber answered that he
had touched a spike mark, but only while brushing aside an
insect that was in his line, a movable loose impediment. But
Norman was adamant that he had seen a rules violation and called
for a PGA Tour rules official to settle the issue. By the time
the official, Mike Shea, met the players on the 9th hole,
emotions were running high. Norman was so angry that from 189
yards, into a headwind, he chose a seven-iron for his approach,
even though his caddie, Tony Navarro, told him the shot was a
hard six-iron. "I'm so damn mad I'm going to put this in the
clubhouse [beyond the green]," Norman told Navarro before
rifling the ball onto the green.
Shea heard out both players and decided, correctly, to do
nothing. The Rules of Golf state that when a situation
involves one player's word against another's, without other
evidence, the player whose ball is involved receives the benefit
of the doubt. Therefore no penalty was applied.
This angered Norman all the more. "Believe me," he said later,
"the whole back nine I could have bench-pressed 500 pounds."
After shooting a three-over-par 73 that put him seven strokes
behind Jim Gallagher's 66, Norman refused to sign the scorecard
of McCumber, who shot 68. McCumber again denied wrongdoing while
Norman intensified his accusation. Norman then announced he was
withdrawing from the tournament. Shea signed McCumber's card as
the rules allow and then became one of several people trying to
change Norman's mind.
The most persuasive were PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and
Norman's wife, Laura, both of whom emphasized that Norman would
only be doing himself and the tournament harm by withdrawing.
After a few hours Norman reversed his withdrawal (permitted
under PGA Tour rules) and agreed to play. "They were right,
obviously," said Norman, after winning. "Maybe I was a little
clouded in my judgment. But I felt so strongly about the denial,
I felt something had to be done."
Some wondered if Norman was also motivated by revenge. One
of Norman's most vocal critics during his unsuccessful attempt
last November to help launch a proposed world tour was McCumber,
who was widely quoted as saying, "Who does Greg think he is,
God?" The two had not been paired since, and the theory that
Norman may have had payback in mind gained some adherents when
McCumber, who kept his comments about the altercation brief,
said, "I could tell it wasn't going to be a pleasant day when
we were on the 1st tee."
Norman denied any agenda and continued to reiterate a hard-line
view of the episode every time he was asked.
"I was 100 percent correct," he said. "I would do it again if I
saw a violation that blatant. No one is bigger than the game of
But the player whose integrity was being questioned, McCumber,
felt that Norman himself was acting bigger than the game by
using a bully pulpit to defame him, particularly after McCumber
had incurred no penalty under the very rules Norman holds
sacred. "My life speaks for itself--and golf is only part of my
life," said McCumber. "What Greg thought he saw is not what
happened. I mean, people can be wrong."
In the final analysis, even if Norman was right about what he
saw, and even though several players privately applauded him for
standing up for what he believed, he handled the situation
poorly. In a sport in which most penalties are called by the
perpetrators, not by their playing partners, the accusation of
cheating can taint, and even ruin, a career. When rules
violators have been disciplined--most notably Bob Toski, who was
exiled from the Senior tour in 1986 after an investigation
determined that he was improperly marking his ball--it has been
done discretely through official channels, not in a public forum
by the best-known player on the planet. Tellingly, it was
Norman's failure to go through channels before endorsing the
world tour that was widely seen as his biggest mistake during
Fortunately, when it comes to his golf, Norman has been
remarkably free of hubris. Despite all the emotion from the
McCumber incident, he put together a controlled 68 on Friday.
On Saturday four bogeys in a row put him 10 strokes behind
leader Vijay Singh. But Norman found a groove, closed with a 31
and salvaged a 70. "My reaction to those four bogeys probably
gave me a chance to win the tournament," he said. Norman
capitalized on that chance in the playoff after Price, who
admitted that his recent slump left him less than "100 percent
comfortable under the gun," and Mayfair, who missed a
seven-footer on the 72nd that would have won it, faltered.
After pulling his drive into trees on the first playoff hole,
the 18th, Norman was left with 167 yards to the green. But
rather than take it over the trees directly at the pin as he
might have in younger days, Norman elected a safer draw around
the trees, knowing that if it didn't come off, he could still
get up and down. "I wanted to make sure I had a play for a third
shot," he said, "not just wipe myself out of the tournament
trying to go for the glamour shot."
When the ball ended up in the right fringe, Norman had only one
thought: 1990 at Doral, where he had come from 10 back with 14
holes to play on the strength of a closing 62, then chipped in
for eagle on the first extra hole. When Sunday's chip followed
the mental script perfectly and dropped in, putting him alone at
the top for the first time, Norman had done unto others what
others had done un to him. Because of that, and because of
Norman's consistent play over the last three years, there were
no sour grapes from Price, who badly wanted his first victory in
a season of turmoil but left a final 20-footer for a tying
birdie dishearteningly short.
"Greg plays himself into contention more than any player other
than Jack Nicklaus," said Price. "He deserves every win he
gets." Finally, after too many years, golf's biggest star is
truly learning to convert.
The bad blood between Greg Norman and Mark McCumber had been
simmering for almost a year--ever since McCumber lit into
Norman's ill-fated attempt to launch a world tour--before it
boiled over last week in Akron. Such pairings with a past are
not uncommon on the Tour. Here are some other famous feuds:
Nick Price - David Frost
Infuriated by Frost's belated call for ruling, Price stalks away
from tournament in '92.
Belying Mr. Nice Guy image, Price maintains nodding relationship
Dave Hill - Jack Nicklaus
Hill sees red when Jack, on eve of Senior tour debut, disses
guys he has "beaten before."
While Nicklaus still wonders what fuss was all about, Hill has
sued for peace.
Dottie Mochrie - Laura Davies
Mochrie rubs Davies wrong way by cheering when Euros miss putts
in '94 Solheim Cup.
Lingering cold front probably won't pass until payback time next
year in Chepstow, Wales.
Roger Maltbie - Hale Irwin
Irwin is speechless--for years--after Maltbie's fluke shot wins
Still festering. These two not above taking gratuitous potshots
if given opportunity.
Seve Ballesteros - Paul Azinger
Seve catches Zinger red-handed bending rules in both 1989 and
'91 Ryder Cups.
Could explode any moment. Barely spoke during summer taping of
Wide World match.
Curtis Strange - John Daly
Tour players do drugs, says John. Crawl back under your rock,
Absolutely no use for each other. One reason Daly fails to get
sniff for Ryder Cup.
While the propriety of the Greg Norman-Mark McCumber incident
was the No. 1 topic of conversation at the World Series, Lee
Janzen's failure to be named to the U.S. Ryder Cup team also
continued to generate debate. Many feel that Janzen, who along
with Norman is the only three-time winner on Tour this season,
should have been chosen ahead of captain Lanny Wadkins's picks
of Curtis Strange and Fred Couples. Since his U.S. Open victory
in 1993, Janzen finished in the top 10 in 11 tournaments and won
six of them, a remarkable accomplishment. The SI Closing Average
(accompanying box) shows that Janzen is batting 1.000 in events
he has led after the third round, while Strange hasn't been to
the plate and Couples is hitless. The arguments against Janzen
are also strong. He had ample opportunity to earn Ryder Cup
points, yet skipped one of the final qualifying events (Buick
Open). Also, in the 1993 Ryder Cup, Janzen was the only American
not to win a point. We asked SI Online subscribers if they
thought Janzen should be on the team. Here is a sampling of the
"Janzen should have been chosen. I hope Wadkins based his picks
on experience and chemistry. I am worried about some of the guys
who made it on points. Mickelson should give Janzen his spot."
"Strange's Ryder Cup record has been much better than Janzen's,
who pulled an El Foldo in 1993."
"I always knew Lanny was a member of the Good Ol' Boys Golfing
Network, but how can he put friendship over the national
Dave Marr, who captained the U.S. team in 1981, cut to the chase
when asked what he looked for in a Ryder Cup player. "You need
finishers, finishers, finishers," said Marr. "Players who when
they get a guy down, step on his neck." What kind of
neck-stompers are on this year's team? One way to tell is to
look at how well they've been able to finish tournaments in
which they held an overnight lead. To figure the SPORTS
ILLUSTRATED Closing Average, we took the number of times a
player was in the lead or tied for the lead going into the final
round over the past two seasons (when Ryder Cup points were
awarded) and divided it into the number of times he went on to
win. (We've also listed total victories to illustrate how often
a player came from behind.) As a frame of reference, Tom Watson
in 1979-80 scored the highest two-year Closing Average in the
modern era, winning 10 of the 11 times he led going into Sunday
(.909). And, for those still convinced that Greg Norman can't
close, the Shark is 4 for 5 (.800) in 1994-95 when he is ahead
after three rounds. By this measure Janzen is a better pick than
Couples or Strange. Curiously, seven of the 12 members of the
U.S. Ryder Cup team have either failed to close or have not
played themselves into position to do so.
Wins Closing Average
Phil Mickelson 2 2-2 1.000
Ben Crenshaw 2 2-3 .667
Peter Jacobsen 2 1-2 .500
Tom Lehman 2 1-2 .500
Davis Love III 1 1-3 .333
Corey Pavin 3 0-2 .000
Fred Couples 1 0-2 .000
Brad Faxon 0 0-1 .000
Jeff Maggert 0 0-1 .000
Jay Haas 0 0-0 .000
Loren Roberts 0 0-0 .000
Curtis Strange 0 0-0 .000
TEAM 13 7-18 .389
Lee Janzen 4 1-1 1.000