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LOVABLE LOSER A FUNNY THING HAPPENED TO GREG NORMAN AFTER HIS DISASTER AT THE MASTERS

April 29, 1996
April 29, 1996

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April 29, 1996

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LOVABLE LOSER A FUNNY THING HAPPENED TO GREG NORMAN AFTER HIS DISASTER AT THE MASTERS

At 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, Greg Norman looked out at the people
lining the Harbour Town pier staring at his boat and tried to
understand this new aspect of his fame. Fame keeps Norman out of
traffic jams at tournaments--"I don't want to sit there,
trapped, and have people honk at me and say, 'Hey, Shark, you
the man,'" he says. Fame keeps Norman walking fast between the
locker room, the practice range and the 1st tee. Fame keeps him
inside his hotel room with a room-service menu. Fame sells a lot
of shark- logoed sportswear. Fame has set up trust funds for his
unborn grandchildren. Fame has made Norman a grateful man. Fame
made Norman a cynic.

This is an article from the April 29, 1996 issue Original Layout

He probably thought he knew the smile and snarl on every hydra
head of fame, but the week before Norman's fame had taken a turn
for the weird. It started small: a call on Sunday night from
phone-phobe Fred Couples. Hours later at the Augusta airport, a
group of people stood on the other side of a fence and applauded
Norman's plane, which sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half
as the small party inside drank all the beer.

A scab was forming on his forehead. Norman had left Augusta
National bleeding between the eyes. "It'd take a lot stronger
bullet than that to level me," said Norman, speaking at first
about his 78, then pointing, with a grin, to the mark left by a
sharp poke from a tree branch outside the press building.

Then the outpouring of compassion began to build. Norman and his
hangover opened his office in Tequesta, Fla., early on Monday
morning, and the sympathy had already started to arrive by fax.
The first wave came from Australia, where the Sydney Daily
Telegraph had listed his number. "At least nobody's published it
over here," Norman said. "I can deal with 18 million people, but
not 250 million." By the end of the week the faxes numbered more
than 3,000 and the snail mail had just begun. At first Norman
blithely promised to keep them all and respond to every one.
Later he was trying to devise a strategy to make that possible.
"I don't know what we're going to do," he says.

The compassion became a thing of beauty on Tuesday when Norman
flew to Hilton Head Island, S.C., to practice for the MCI
Classic at Harbour Town. The players, the friends he was sure he
didn't have, one by one sought him out to shake his hand, look
him in the eye and tell him he was still the best golfer in the
world, that they were proud of him and thoroughly impressed by
the way he handled his defeat at the Masters.

Everywhere, the galleries stood and cheered. The goodwill was
heartsease to Norman, and more than his cynicism could take. On
Wednesday he declared himself a changed man. That new person he
became might have been Sally Field: You like me, you really like
me, Norman all but said.

Though he spent most of the tournament a good distance from the
lead, and though the Masters winner, Nick Faldo, was also in the
field, Norman was by far the biggest attraction of the week. He
enjoyed the warm regard of the galleries throughout, although on
the first two days the intensity level dropped somewhat,
probably because of the man playing beside him.

Says Paul Azinger, who fought off cancer the year before last,
"I think I might have been the perfect pairing for Greg, as far
as putting things into perspective. We grind it out, but the
reality is, he lost a tournament. I could have lost my life. In
that regard I might have been the guy he needed to look at for
two days."

For the first nine holes of the tournament, Brian Henninger made
them a threesome. Henninger had infections in both ears but had
never played with Norman and wasn't about to let a little pain
and a lack of balance get in the way. When Henninger went nine
over on the front, Norman said they would play again someday, in
a final-round pairing no doubt, and Henninger should go look
after his ears.

The only blemish on the love-in showed up on Saturday, when an
inebriate, identified by local police as Thomas J. Yarrington,
heckled Norman as he came off the 18th tee. "Do you have a
problem?" Norman asked as he strode over to the man.

"Why'd you choke last week? You cost me a lot of money," came
the drunken reply. Tony Navarro, Norman's caddie, quickly moved
between the two and pushed Yarrington to the ground.

"That's assault and battery. I'm going to sue Greg Norman,"
shouted Yarrington, who was removed from the property and
arrested on disorderly conduct charges.

Eight hours later it was past midnight, and Norman had run out
of golf balls. All evening people had been out on the pier,
gawking at Aussie Rules, Norman's 87-foot sportfishing boat,
which had motored up to Hilton Head to serve as the Shark's
headquarters for the week. If he saw children in the crowd,
Norman would sign a ball and give it to them. "All of a sudden
45- and 80-year-olds want to be 14 and 13 and six years old,"
said an amused Norman. "There have been 40 or 50 people standing
behind my boat until 12:30 at night. I can't comprehend that
myself, but it just goes to show you that the sincerity is
there. They were just standing there. It was amazing--12:30 at
night, and they'd be standing there."

It's no wonder they stared. Even at rest on his boat, Norman is
compelling theater. He is simultaneously the most isolated of
superstars and the most nakedly human.

Says Azinger, "There are not many guys who can put themselves in
his shoes. There aren't many who fly around the course three
times in a helicopter and land on the back of the range. But
everyone who's played this game has been humbled and humiliated,
and he had an extremely humbling experience. I would have just
said congratulations had he won, and probably not much else, but
we talked quite a bit. I told him that he showed more dignity in
defeat than he ever could have in victory, and he talked about
what it was like to feel that way, the kind of stuff that I
probably would never have shared with him. It means a lot to him
to know that players do care. Even guys who don't really like
Greg's personality still feel sorry for him."

They say that no one ever remembers who finished second, but
when the runner-up is Norman--as it has been 29 times, nine in
the majors--it is the champion who starts blurring around the
edges. Faldo remained kind of a forgotten man at Harbour Town,
competing largely out of the limelight, interviewed after each
round only by a small group of British press. Exhausted, he
finished tied for 29th at five under par, one stroke behind
Norman, 14 behind winner Loren Roberts, who fired a
tournament-record 19-under-par 265 to beat Mark O'Meara by three
strokes.

By Friday, Faldo had decided to withdraw from this week's
tournament in Greensboro, N.C. Asked if he had been able to
concentrate, Faldo replied, "No, not really. It's tough to give
it that little extra you need. The mental pressure of last week
was just immense, but given the outcome, I'm glad to be tired."

"Everyone's talking about Greg, but you have to give credit to
Nick," says Faldo's Ryder Cup partner, Colin Montgomerie. "No
disregard to Phil Mickelson, but if Greg had been playing with
Phil, it would have been a different situation. Nick's a very
intimidating character on the golf course. I've been intimidated
playing with him, never mind playing against him. Because of who
he is, the aura that he has, a few people have folded in his
presence."

Since winning, Faldo has often spoken about the monumental
pressure at Augusta on Sunday. "Yet the word pressure doesn't
seem to bother him at all," says Montgomerie. "That's a godsend
in our game."

Interestingly, pressure has been virtually absent from Norman's
vocabulary. In his public discussions and press conferences at
Augusta, Norman used the word just a couple of times, always
saying that he had wanted to put pressure on Faldo.

Of his own feelings, Norman says, "I tell you the honest truth,
I was not nervous. I didn't have any feeling of self-doubt. I
really felt good the whole day."

Norman was consistently upbeat at Hilton Head, regularly hosting
convivial get-togethers on his boat. "I don't think there's any
act in there at all," says his friend, Nick Price. "He's
hurting, but he's keeping that to himself, which is exactly what
most of us would do."

And he has learned. "The best thing is that I'm less cynical
now, which is going to make my approach to the game much easier
as years go by," Norman says. "It's easier to deal with
situations when you know that people really care about you; it
picks you up when you're feeling down. It's been an amazing few
weeks. Missing two cuts, practicing at home, playing great,
playing at the Masters, and then coming here. It's been a
lifetime of experiences."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUNDThe affection shown by players and fans left Norman humbled and happy. [Greg Norman]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUNDDuring the pro-am Norman could kid about his new outlook on life with 14-year-old Randy Wiggins. [Greg Norman and Randy Wiggins]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Satisfied but tired, Faldo found it tough to concentrate and decided to take this week off. [Nick Faldo]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Roberts missed only six fairways, but his landmark score was more the result of pure putting. [Loren Roberts]