Greg Norman's left shoulder made news last week. This no doubt
caused him to smile, because he has grown weary of the public's
fascination with some of his other body parts--specifically, his
head and heart. Now that he has had arthroscopic surgery for
rotator cuff injury, the world's third-ranked golfer can snooze
contentedly on his 87-foot yacht. He will blow no major
championships in 1998.
We're confident that Norman will be back next year or sooner,
tanned and fit. Injuries rarely end a golfer's career, and the
record book is full of players who reached their greatest
heights after suffering bodily trauma. Steve Jones won the 1996
U.S. Open after mangling a finger in a dirt bike accident. Lee
Trevino won a PGA Championship and eight other Tour titles after
being struck by lightning. Ben Hogan won the 1950 U.S. Open a
year and a half after driving his car head-on into a bus. The
link between injury and excellence is so strong that you expect
Tour players to fire their personal trainers and hire personal
Athletes in other sports have more reason to see injuries as
career killers. Arm pain has snuffed the promise of hundreds of
baseball pitchers, including shooting stars like Steve Busby and
Mark Fidrych. College basketball players go from NBA lottery
picks to neighborhood lotto players at the pop of an anterior
cruciate ligament. Tennis? Monica Seles is a mere echo of her
former grunt four years after she was knifed by a fan, while
perennial No. 1 Steffi Graf, limited since 1996 by a kneecap
injury, languishes at No. 33 in the WTA rankings.
And who can forget Rick Steelsmith? O.K., everybody can. And
has. Steelsmith was the Professional Bowlers Association rookie
of the year in 1988--"the next Earl Anthony"--until his right
shoulder started talking to him between frames. A decade later
Steelsmith's name sounds like the answer to a rock music trivia
Golfers are different. The injured golfer uses his downtime to
supervise construction of a new house. He takes the kids to
Disney World. He flies to Tenerife for the opening of the course
he supposedly designed. When he finally plays again, everyone
asks him, "Where have you been?" Surgery for a ruptured disk?
Routine. A bout of tendinitis? Yawn. To make a bona fide
comeback in golf, a player practically has to win two majors
within a year of breaking a leg after a fall down a glass-strewn
This is not to make light of Norman's surgery. Any downtime is
distressing to the Shark, who wants to be remembered for
something other than the final round of the 1996 Masters. He's
43 and hurt. Buzzards circle his head while meaner birds pick at
him with laptops and microphones. But consider the adage: Out of
sight, out of mind. Yes, Norman will miss this summer's three
remaining major championships. He will also be spared exchanges
such as this:
Reporter: "Greg, do these tall trees here at the Olympic Club
remind you of the pines down in Amen Corner, where you...uh...I
mean, not when you were paired with Nick Faldo, but just in
general...you know, uh...like maybe a practice round?"
Norman: "I can't believe you asked that question."
The injured golfer doesn't have to answer tough questions. Or
easy ones, either. The injured golfer is an independent
contractor. He just stays away.
Casey Stengel recognized the value of short absences. When an
argument with an umpire got too hot to be resolved amicably,
Stengel would sometimes slump to the ground, feigning
unconsciousness. It was Casey's way of changing the subject.
Norman's shoulder isn't quite like a Stengel fainting spell.
Norman's injury is real, his pain nagging. Yet no one needs a
break from scrutiny more than golf's bad news bear. If he's
wise, Norman will treat his six months off as a welcome
After all, it is the injured ego, more than the bone and sinew,
that takes longest to heal.