On his way to building a career that is one of the most
difficult to assess in the history of golf, Greg Norman has
favored strenuous striving and achieving and acquiring and, yes,
a fair bit of flaunting. He has an affinity for the glamorous,
like one-irons to island greens, close encounters with ocean
predators, fast cars, vast yachts and state-of-the-art flying
machines. Norman's metier has always been action, while concepts
like self-containment and inner peace failed to make his agenda.
But now the realization that action isn't always its own reward
has directed the 41-year-old Norman's still supersonic
metabolism toward those things--in both golf and life--that are
more private and lasting. At last week's Doral-Ryder Open he may
have used his Bell Ranger helicopter to traverse the 75 miles
between his Hobe Sound, Fla., house and the tournament site in
Miami, but he emerged from the cockpit not a personality on
display but a professional on a mission. By Sunday evening the
mission was accomplished. Methodically, efficiently,
intelligently and tenaciously, Norman had won.
In the real start to his all-too-concentrated PGA Tour season
(he skipped the West Coast swing after placing 18th in the
season-opening Mercedes Championships in Carlsbad, Calif.),
Norman put together a final round of six-under-par 66 for a
19-under total of 269 to defeat Vijay Singh and Michael Bradley
by two strokes. Despite the low score, Norman's 16th career Tour
victory was not the pyrotechnic display of birdies for which he
is best known. What made the win even more impressive than his
previous two triumphs at Doral, in 1990 and '93, was that this
time Norman won by going against type. He played within himself,
relying on his short game when his long game proved scratchy,
marshaling his energy for the big moments and making the crucial
putts. It was arguably the most coldly professional performance
of his career. "Winning when you are not in full song is a very
positive confidence booster," said a satisfied but placid Norman
after he picked up the $324,000 winner's check. "I make myself
figure out a way to get the job done. That's what has changed
about me over the last couple of years."
It was the kind of victory that Norman's critics have said he is
incapable of achieving, and one that proves that he has
continued to improve as he moves into his 40's. Norman is
quickly exploding old claims that his swing lacks finesse, that
he is prone to the big mistake and is fragile under pressure.
While there has never been any doubt that he could blow away any
field when he was hitting on all cylinders, Norman was
considered lacking in the course management skills and mental
toughness needed to pass one of the true tests of
greatness--winning while striking the ball poorly. He did it
twice last year, at Hartford and at the World Series of Golf,
and he did it even more convincingly last week at Doral.
In short, the man who too often found a way to lose is now
finding a way to win. The recognition of that ability, along
with the fact that over the past four seasons he has finished in
the top 10 in nearly two thirds of the Tour events he has
entered, has dramatically increased the respect Norman receives
from his peers. In January for the first time they voted him PGA
Tour Player of the Year, for a 1995 season in which he won three
tournaments and set a record for earnings--$1,654,959--in only 16
starts. "Greg has improved in the areas where a player can do
himself the most good. He is thinking extremely well, and his
putting and chipping are as good as anyone's," says Ben
Crenshaw. "His competitive fire is incredibly hot, and you just
don't feel he is going to make many mistakes."
Instructor Butch Harmon, who helped Norman turn his career
around in 1991 by tightening his swing, nonetheless also
emphasizes his charge's mental growth. "Greg is where he is now
because of maturity and learning from mistakes," Harmon says.
"He is more aware of his capabilities and not so gung ho about
always hitting an aggressive shot. He has learned how to come
down the stretch and win."
But the learning process has been painful. Sensitive to
criticism and too often determined to prove his critics wrong,
Norman used to carry heavy baggage into the closing stages of
tournaments, particularly after the 1986 season, when he led all
four majors after three rounds but won only the British Open.
For several years afterward he projected tension whenever he got
in the hunt. Although Norman's victory in the '93 British Open
liberated him from the bulk of his burden, he was still coming
up empty at crunch time in the early part of '95. At Doral he
came to the 72nd hole tied for the lead only to pull a six-iron
shot well into a lake to lose by one. At the Masters he was one
stroke behind the leader on the 71st hole when he pulled a wedge
and bogeyed. But ever since the Memorial Tournament last June,
when he saved a victory on the final nine because of his short
game, Norman has been a closer. He points to a greater capacity
for self-analysis and a philosophy of relaxation and
self-containment reinforced by a book that he carries with him,
Zen and the Martial Arts.
This February, after winning one of two tournaments he entered
in Australia, Norman came home to his waterfront estate in
Florida for two weeks. He spent the time working on his long
game at the Medalist Club and honing his short game in his
backyard in the relaxed company of his yellow Labs, Foster and
VB (both named after Australian beers). "They're my gallery," he
says. "They lie on the green right by me and just soak up the
sun while I'm practicing. It's a wonderful routine."
By the week of Doral, Norman was refreshed and eager,
particularly because the tournament drew by far the strongest
field of the year, with seven of the top 10 in the Sony Ranking
entering. On Wednesday, Norman shot 63 in the pro-am, and his
first-round 67 put him four strokes behind the 63 of Lee Janzen.
After last Friday's second-round 69 left him two behind Joe
Ozaki, Norman countered spotty ball-striking by accentuating a
"just get it in the hole" approach that not even Corey Pavin
could have improved upon.
It was only after completing his rain-delayed third round, a 67,
on Sunday morning that Norman went to his full arsenal. After
saving par from the muddy banks of a lake on the 18th hole, he
spotted Harmon in a television tower. With three hours to kill
before the final round, Norman asked for a practice session. "He
told me, 'I don't have any power; I'm not happy with what I'm
doing,'" said Harmon. "We straightened out his alignment and his
posture and got some speed back into his swing."
During the session Norman also determined that "something caved
in on the inside of my driver--it just went dead." He phoned his
wife, Laura, and instructed her to bring a handful of drivers
via helicopter. Norman picked out a new titanium-headed model
that he had never used and played the last round with it. "I
missed only one drive," he said later.
Ultimately the club that won the tournament was Norman's putter.
He needed 101 putts and over the 72 holes missed just once from
inside six feet. Norman used 23 putts in the final round, the
most impressive a 20-footer for birdie on the 14th that gave him
the lead moments after he had heard a roar from the 15th, where
Bradley had holed a 20-footer for par. The clincher came at the
17th, where Norman holed a 30-foot chip for a birdie--his seventh
in 11 holes--and a three-stroke cushion. It marked the third time
in his last three victories in the U.S. that Norman had holed
out from off the green during the final four holes.
To elevate himself beyond the status of good player to great,
Norman will have to add to his two major championships. The most
obvious void in his record is a victory in the Masters, long a
cauldron of self-imposed pressure. To win at last at Augusta, he
will have to make good on his vow to resist trying to prove
anything to anyone. "I'm just trying to get nicely balanced,"
If he can follow the Doral model, in five weeks Greg Norman's
career might be significantly easier to assess.