The Shark was outby the pool this winter, talking business. Talking—to be morespecific—recession. "It's a dramatic slowdown," he said in his imitableAussie accent. "Russia's completely gone off the map. The Caribbean's shutdown. America is dead." And while there were a few places where golfcourses were still being planned or built—Mexico, Vietnam, China, Qatar,Dubai—you now had six to 10 architects fighting for every job. "Everythinghas been put on hold until further notice," the Shark said, his gray-blondhair puffed up by a warm breeze. "Or closed down."
This is an article from the April 13, 2009 issue
Funny thing,though. The chairman and CEO of Great White Shark Enterprises Inc. did not seemall that perturbed by the global construction slump. Nor was he fretting over adismal retail climate that presaged a slow period for the Greg NormanCollection, a globally marketed apparel line that bears his familiar Sharklogo. His famous blue eyes were as placid as the pool. The hawkish profilesuggested a raptor in repose.
You didn't need aconsultant to interpret the Shark's equanimity. Six months before, at age 53and six years removed from full-time tournament golf, he had entered theBritish Open on a whim and shocked the world by nearly winning the damn thing.Now, on the strength of his third-place tie, the Shark was an automatic inviteeto the 2009 Masters. If you knew the man's history at Augusta National—his tiefor second in 1986, his playoff loss of '87 and especially that final-roundmeltdown of '96, which produced the indelible image of the Shark bent over indespair, hands on his knees—you saw the glimmer of redemption in his eyes.Business opportunities might be drying up, but the Shark was swimming again indeep water.
Then a dooropened at the back of the house, and he turned expectantly. His wife steppedout from under a red-tiled overhang and paused to adjust an earring, giving theShark a moment to appraise her trim figure, mischievous eyes and windblownhair. A broad grin spread across the Shark's face, and a perfect storm ofpheromones made him turn his head slightly to display that prominent jaw.
A romance writerwould describe it better. An old sports hack can only deliver an informedopinion. The Great White Shark wasn't thinking about the Masters.
GREG NORMAN, theHall of Fame golfer, and Chris Evert, the Hall of Fame tennis player, weremarried on June 28, 2008, in a ceremony in the Bahamas. It was his secondmarriage, her third, and the messy disentanglements from their penultimatespouses cost Norman $100 million and Evert $7 million. Showing no ill effectsfrom this outlay, the newlyweds honeymooned in Egypt and South Africa beforepopping up in Southport, England, to entertain spectators at the Royal BirkdaleGolf Club—Norman with his spot-on impression of the vintage 1985--95 Shark(winner of two British Opens and top-ranked golfer in the world for a thenrecord 331 weeks), Evert in her fresh and endearing role as the Shark's mostavid fan. That week, and the following week during the Senior British Open atTroon, Scotland, the celebrity couple smooched across the gallery ropes sooften that the paparazzi wandered off in search of fish and chips.
Nine monthslater, as the world teeters at the edge of another Great Depression, Norman andEvert, both recently turned 54, are the sports equivalent of Fred and Ginger,dancing cheek to cheek across a mirrored floor. "They're goofy inlove," says Evert's younger brother, John, who runs the Chris Evert TennisAcademy in Boca Raton, Fla. "They hold hands and kiss in public, and youdon't want to be around them in a private setting." He laughs. "I'mlike, 'Guys, could you take it somewhere else?'"
Here, forexample, we find Greg resting his bare feet on Chrissie's knees while he readsthe Financial Times. "We both have foot fetishes," she explains, gentlytugging on one little piggy while coyly eyeing another. "We rub eachother's feet all the time." She tilts her head as she runs her thumbs uphis calloused soles. "Boy, feet. I think all athletes know the importanceof feet."
And feats.Starting with the 1976 Westlakes Classic, Norman's size-10Ds carried him to 20victories and three money titles on the PGA Tour and to another 70 triumphs onfour continents, including the Australian Masters (six), the Dunlop Masters(two) and the Taiheiyo Masters. Evert's size-7½s withstood the pounding,sliding and pivoting of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, three doubles titles andthe best pro singles record in history—1,309 wins against 146 losses.
"We both knowwhat it's like to be Number 1," Evert said last September while introducingher famous hubby to friends at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in FlushingMeadow, N.Y. A marriage counselor would have scribbled that remark in hisnotebook and underlined it twice, but Evert wasn't talking about the need forattention that undermines most celebrity unions. She was talking aboutcompetition. "It takes a certain kind of person to be in the upperlevel," she said, holding court in a dim corridor under the stands atArthur Ashe Stadium. "That's why Greg and I enjoy watching Olympiansperform. You can see it in their eyes."
"And you feeltheir pain," Norman said. "Somebody's got to lose."
His words were apoignant reminder that he, more than Evert, found the laurel crown to be fullof thorns. For every golf fan who remembers Norman's final-round 64 to win theBritish at Royal St. George's, 10 remember him finding two 18th-hole bunkersand a flagstone patio to lose a playoff at Royal Troon. For every reporterasking him to comment on his tournament-record, 24-under-par obliteration ofthe feared Stadium course at the 1994 Players Championship, there are 50 askinghow he felt when a) Bob Tway holed out from a bunker to steal the 1986 PGAChampionship from him, or b) Larry Mize tore his heart out with a 140-footpitch-in on the second playoff hole at the '87 Masters, or c) when he shot afinal-round 78 to blow a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo at the '96 Masters.
Evert would haveto dig deep to find a disappointment of Normanesque proportions: perhapsWimbledon in 1983 when, weakened by food poisoning, she lost a third-roundmatch to Kathy Jordan, and with it a chance to hold all four Grand Slam singlestitles at the same time.
But why all thedoom and gloom? The Shark has been working out with medicine balls and heavytubing to prepare for this week's Masters, and he looks as if he could knockout a kangaroo with one punch. "My first priority was getting my body backinto golf shape," he says, his idea of golf shape being a 32-inch waist andgladiator glutes. "It's not the big muscles that you target, it's thelittle core muscles that give you stability and rotational speed." Hegrins. "It's work, but I wake up in the morning feeling great."
Evert, meanwhile,trains alongside her panting spouse, egging him on while adding redundant toneto a body borrowed from a Disney princess. "No surprise there," saysDavid Dusek, an editor who used to help Evert pen instructionals for Tennismagazine and now works for Golf.com. Dusek remembers a summer in Aspen, Colo.,some years ago, when Evert slipped on her tennis shoes and suggested a hike."She was in her 40s, she's got three kids and it's 7,900 feet," hesays, "but she literally jogged to the top of Aspen Mountain. Are youkidding me? I'm wheezing, she's running like Bambi."
Based upon whathe's heard about the Shark, Dusek has no trouble imagining Greg and Chrissietandem-treadmilling in a blissful state of glycogen deprivation. "I don'tthink either of them," he sums up, "does anything half-assed."
AND NOW, a day atthe beach. She's in shorts, a tank top and sandals. He's in shorts, a blackpolo and flip-flops. "Can we lie on the sand for a couple of hours?"Evert asks, pulling her seat belt tight. "Do we have to rush back?"Norman, in the facing seat, merely smiles.
Sunlight from thestarboard windows floods the cabin of N1GN, Norman's Gulfstream 550, as itrolls along the fenced perimeter at Palm Beach International Airport. She tapsthe screen of a pink-clad iPhone. He thumbs text on his BlackBerry. Across theaisle, Jason McCoy, senior vice president of Greg Norman Golf Course Design,paws through a shoulder bag at his booted feet.
"Ready,Greg?" The voice comes from the cockpit.
"Yeah,mate!" The engines roar, the plane surges, the grassy verge becomes a blur.A minute later the G 550 soars into cotton-ball clouds above the terra-cottaroofs of The Mar-a-Lago Club, banking south over the graduated blues of theAtlantic.
Evert hasdeployed a lap blanket. "I was up late helping my son write afive-paragraph essay," she says, smothering a yawn. A printed itinerarycommands her attention for a minute or so. "What is this?" She looksup. "'Small speech by Chris Evert.'"
"Shouldn't bemore than 10 minutes," Norman says, turning the pages of his newspaper. Acareful reader, he subscribes to Financial Times, USA Today, TIME and Newsweek,and most days he peruses the online editions of The Wall Street Journal and TheSydney Morning Herald. His reading informs his small talk—as now, when heshares an item about coastal flooding in the Maldives, or a minute later, whenhe says, "Here's an amazing statistic I've heard: China has to employ anadditional 15 million people a year just to keep up with thebirthrate."
Norman's abilityto compartmentalize is a continuing source of amazement to Evert. "Greg canrun all his businesses and still play great golf," she says. "I had tojust play tennis. I couldn't have my fingers in a lot of different pies."She is quick to add that the G 550—which Norman bashers disparage as the aerialcounterpart to Aussie Rules, the 228-foot luxury yacht he sold in 2004 for arumored $77 million—is no flashy indulgence but rather an essential tool thatallows him to conduct business on a global scale.
Not that herfirst flight to Australia on Air Norman didn't leave her starry-eyed. "Youget on the plane," she recalls with a smile. "A flight attendant servesyou the best food, you have all these movies to watch, and then you walkback"—she hoists a thumb toward the back-cabin seating—"and they've puta king-sized mattress on the table. So we're in a king-sized bed going toAustralia!" She tilts her head and rests a cheek on steepled hands. "Islept eight hours, and for the first time in my life I arrived in Australiawith no jet lag." (The next day Evert will worry that her description ofthe plane as "a perk of marriage to Greg" might sound crass."That's his business jet," she says, stopping short of providing fuelreceipts and expense logs. "When I do my own stuff, I flycommercial.")
For the youngEvert, the distinction between business and pleasure was always clear."Chris was an implacable opponent, and she didn't choke," says onetennis insider. "Chris on the court was all business," echoes another.One time, after Evert had won a match 6--0, 6--0, a smiling reporter asked herif she couldn't have let her victim win just one teeny-tiny game. Evert'sshocked response: "No!" But she was no Iron Maiden after dark.High-spirited and flirty, Evert enchanted some of the 1970s' most eligiblebachelors, including—in alphabetical order—10-time Grand Slam champ andmixed-doubles partner Jimmy Connors (to whom she was invitations-stampedengaged), British pop star Adam Faith, presidential scion Jack Ford, tennisstar Vitas Gerulaitis and actor Burt Reynolds.
The young Norman,oddly enough, was Evert's opposite—flamboyant in public, introverted by nature.Raised in Townsville, Queensland, on the apron of Australia's Great BarrierReef, he grew up riding horses on the beach and spearfishing in Nelley Bay. Hedidn't become a brand until a Friday morning in 1981, when he woke up to aheadline in The Augusta Chronicle: GREAT WHITE SHARK LEADS MASTERS. Intuitingthat his striking appearance and Aussie accent could set him apart, Normanbegan to work the media and play to the galleries.
"Gregunderstood how golf should be promoted," says Australian broadcaster GraemeAgars. "I reckon he drew a hundred thousand people one day at theAustralian Masters." But the radio man didn't fully appreciate Norman'sappeal until one day at the Taiheiyo Masters, when he noticed a young Japanesewoman walking behind the Shark while making rubbing gestures. "She wasrubbing his aura," Agars recalls with awe.
Norman's familylife, on the other hand, excited little interest. He met flight attendant LauraAndrassy in 1979, and they dated for two years before tying the knot. Their25-year marriage produced a daughter (Morgan-Leigh, now 26 and dating golferSergio García), a son (Gregory Jr., 23) and an air of marital stability thatheld up until four years ago when, Norman says, Andrassy asked for adivorce.
The plane banksand a dark landmass fills the windows.
"I wastelling Chrissie that the Dominican Republic has 15,000 golfers and 35,000tennis players," Norman says, shifting in his chair. "That'ssurprising, isn't it?"
IT'S 11:40 a.m.,Atlantic time, when the famous couple scrambles out of a chartered helicopter,crouching beneath the decelerating rotors. They have landed on a paradise shoreof palms and gentle breakers, a place for lovers to oil up and sizzle in thesun—only not today, because the site is overrun with growling front loaders,banging dump trucks and beeping backhoes, along with a small army of sweaty,muscled men who seem bent on moving rocks and sand from the shore over to adistant riverbank, and vice versa. A TV crew and a backpedaling knot ofphotographers and reporters greet the Shark and his bride, who have donnedsocks and sneakers.
Norman hasdesigned more than 70 golf courses on six continents, so he knows the drill. Hevoices his pleasure at being back in the Dominican Republic, explains that thebillion-dollar Costa Blanca development will offer residents a pleasing mix ofcondo towers and fairway villas, plus a mega-yacht marina and a Chris EvertTennis Center. He expresses confidence that his Costa Blanca course, nine holesof which are already roughed in, will rival any tropical track in the world forbeauty while providing a challenging but fair test to golfers of all skilllevels. The Shark then gives Evert an off-to-work kiss and strides to the westwith McCoy and a work-booted foreman, while Evert heads north with thewhite-shirted developers and their aides—causing panic among the journos asthey weigh which celebrity to follow.
Those who pursueEvert wind up on a dusty stretch of landfill by the river, where Steve Ankrom,Costa Blanca's sales veep, points to an imagined tennis clubhouse and 10imagined courts. He wants her recommendation for the residential component.Town houses? Cottages? "Off the top of my head, tennis villas are a bigthing," she replies, trying to picture a garden complex with balconiesoverlooking a yacht harbor. "Two or three bedrooms, that comes tomind." Court types? "Kids like to play on the hard courts, and a lot oftournaments are on hard. Obviously, clay is easier on the body for the clubplayer and older person."
Ankrom has to benervous—this is November 2008, when the market for leisure properties iscollapsing like a house of CDOs—but he expresses an almost religious faith thatNorman and Evert will fulfill his dreams. "It's all about branding," hesays, gazing at the distant silhouette of the Shark, unmistakable at 200 yards."With so many big projects in the world, you've got to set yourselfapart."
The sun is nearits zenith by the time Norman finishes his site visit. The helicopter's nexttouchdown is just up the coast, at the Metro Country Club, where a hotel suitehas been reserved for the sweaty couple. After a quick shower and a change intoresort casual, the twosome saunters onto the clubhouse veranda, where a crowdhas gathered for their press conference. Norman speaks first, trading eightswith his interpreter, and then Evert takes over. "Buenos dias," shesays, and then in English, "I'll translate for people who don't understandSpanish," giving the Shark a sideways glance. He grins.
During theQ&A, Evert is asked to compare Norman's tennis with her golf game."Greg's been playing for two years," she replies. "He's very quickon his feet, he has great hand-eye coordination and he's very competitive. Sohe's picked up tennis very quickly." She adds, "I don't play golf, butwait till I do!" It's a spunky line, but in private Evert will admit thatshe was embarrassed years ago when she topped her ball off the 1st tee at apro-am. "I can't simply dabble in something," she says after the pressconference. "But Greg"—and here she gives the Shark another one ofthose I-could-eat-you-for-breakfast looks—"is exceptional."
That pastweekend, in fact, Norman played in his first tennis pro-am, a charity match for5,000 spectators at the Delray Beach (Fla.) Tennis Center. (The Shark andJustin Gimelstob defeated Evert and comedian Billy Crystal 7--5.) The next dayNorman partnered with Greg Jr., a professional kiteboarder who will caddie forhis father at the Masters, at the ADT Skills Challenge in Aventura, Fla. TheShark won the putting and short-pitching categories with hole outs and thenwatched Junior steal the finale by hitting a 111-yard pitching wedge to withinan inch of the hole.
"How'd itgo?" Evert asked afterward.
"We won theevent. We won $290,000."
"Oh. Niceweekend, honey."
Telling thestory, Evert rolls her eyes.
Upstairs, in theclub's cigar room, Norman spends a few minutes with an architect looking overcondo drawings spread out on the pool table. He then grabs a plate of fingersandwiches and sits next to Evert on a love seat. The room is divided bygender, the well-coiffed damas clustered around the tennis star, the prosperouscaballeros leaning in to audit the Shark.
Norman announcesto one of the men, "If I got another boat, it would be a 65- or 70-footer.You can go anywhere in the world."
Evert says to oneof the women, "Nobody's ever done this in tennis before, and it was Greg'sidea. He said, 'Why don't tennis players do developments?'"
A woman asks,"Do either of you have grandchildren?"
Evert, takenaback, starts to laugh. "That's the first time I've ever been asked thatquestion!" She turns to Norman, who returns her smile.
DO THE Shark andChrissie have the right to be happy? When banks are failing? When workers arelosing their jobs? When hospitality tents are doling out Doritos and softdrinks instead of lobster and Chardonnay? Should fiftysomething lovers beallowed to glow?
Strict moralistswill look at the circumstances of their initial attraction—the messyentanglement of a wealthy sportsman with the wife of a good friend, Andy Mill;the Madison County--style longings of a hausfrau with three school-agechildren—and deliver a swift verdict of no. To bolster their case, the scoldsneed only point to the postseparation remarks of Laura Andrassy, who told anAustralian newspaper that Evert had been "aggressive" in pursuit of herhusband of 25 years ("In front of me, like I didn't exist") and thatNorman's quest for superstardom in both golf and business had left her feeling"like a single mom."
On the otherhand, don't we believe in Love Conquers All? Listen to Norman: "She makesme feel alive again." Listen to Evert: "We're better peopletogether." Listen to Diderot: Only passions, great passions, can elevatethe soul to great things.
Or simply leanback in your recliner and click the remote. On March 1 Norman and Evertappeared on Australia's 60 Minutes to deny that they had nuked two healthymarriages to be together. "[Laura and I] were seeing a marriage counselorfor years and years and years," Norman told reporter Eddie McGuire."It's a two-way street. It's never just a one-way street." As for thepair's 30-year acquaintanceship, Evert acknowledged the occasionalflirtation—"There was always a little spark"—but insisted it wentnowhere. "There wasn't any physical relationship between us," saidNorman. "I mean, I can put my hand on my heart and swear that over my mumand dad's life and my kids' life." Evert, meanwhile, told McGuire thatAndrassy's accusations came "from a place of pain," adding that,"You can't control full-blown falling in love. You can't control it."Later, Evert added, "I think everybody has moved on except for oneperson."
They all, sheseemed to be admitting, had reached the age where you stare at sunsets a littlelonger.
"Chrissielikes to do things with me," Norman says, kicking off his shoes as N1GNbreaks through the clouds over Santo Domingo. "One of the greatestcompliments a spouse can give you is to simply say, 'Hey, can I come with you?Hey, let's go for a hike in the Tibetan mountains.' My ex-wife never gave methat." He, in turn, had made the common male mistake of thinking thathaving President Clinton and his bodyguards as houseguests at your JupiterIsland estate would make up for the missed dinners and parent-teacherconferences. "You give up a lot to achieve your goals, and you do a lot ofthings for the wrong reasons." Norman rubs his forehead. "Marriages dogrow apart."
The cabinattendant has put out platters of fresh fruit and warm cookies, so the barefootlovers pad down the aisle and slide onto an upholstered bench, sitting so closeas to look conjoined. "Nothing's been difficult," Evert says, referringto the postdivorce relocation of Norman to her red-roofed hacienda in the poloprecincts of western Boca Raton. "We live very well and very easilytogether. It would have been uncomfortable if my boys"—Alex, 17, Nicky, 14,and Colton, 12—"had been resistant, but Greg has been wonderful with them.Even Andy tells the kids, 'I'm your father, but you're lucky to haveGreg.'"
Norman has alsobeen accepted by his new father-in-law, Jimmy Evert, who retired after nearlyfive decades of coaching tennis at Fort Lauderdale's Holiday Park. "I wasbowled over when Chris's dad asked me to look after her finances," Normansays. "That was one of the biggest compliments I've ever gotten." Asfor rumors that their wedding was boycotted by several PGA Tour wives as a showof sympathy for Laura, Norman says, "I only had two real strong push-backs.One was a golf friend." He shrugs. "Maybe they're jealous."
The Shark looksat Evert, who has taken up his right hand and is gently cracking his knuckles."At the end of the day," he says, "my friends know how happy Iam."
A HAPPY GREGNORMAN is dangerous," Graeme Agars said last fall.
The Sharkchuckled when a reporter shared the d word with him. It took him back to themid-'90s, when his name on a leader board triggered the throbbing DUM-dum,DUM-dum, DUM-dum of Jaws. Or maybe it took him back to last July at RoyalBirkdale, where his final-round pursuit of Padraig Harrington kept fans on sixcontinents glued to their sets. It wasn't until the Irishman hit a for-the-agesfive-wood and eagled the 71st hole that the royal engraver could safely reachfor the claret jug.
"I alwaysbelieved I still had it in me," Norman said.
Now he istraining for the Masters as if it were a title bout. He pushes paper andbuttons at his West Palm Beach headquarters from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., spendsthe afternoon practicing at any one of several golf clubs and then gets readyfor dinner by giving his core and lungs a thorough workout in the home gym."It takes six to eight weeks to get strong again," he said after arecent spot of tennis with Evert on their private court. "But what arefreshing feeling it is. Whether I play good golf is almostimmaterial."
And almostimpossible to predict. Norman is eight years older than the oldest Masterswinner (Jack Nicklaus, 46), and Augusta National is 510 yards longer than itwas in 1996, and 165 yards longer than at his last appearance, a 36th in 2002.He has new equipment, having signed an endorsement deal with TaylorMade just aweek ago, but has played in only three full-field events since last summer,missing the cut at the Johnnie Walker Classic and finishing 36th at the CapCana Championship (a Champions tour event) and 70th at the Shell Houston Open,his final warmup for the Masters.
In the meantimeit's full speed ahead for the Norman-Evert love train. She says, "I justlove the guy and respect him so much." He says, "I was searching untilChris came into my life." Ralph Waldo Emerson says, The only true gift is aportion of yourself. As you read this, some Hollywood studio head is probablygreen-lighting a script.
"We stillhave things apart," Evert said recently, watching a lithe European girlreturn serves at the Evert Academy. "I have the tennis side of my life. Butit's fun to introduce Greg to my world, and it's fun for him to introduce me tohis world." Both their worlds, she didn't have to add, were walled gardensin which an Adam and an Eve could reach for apples by day and snuggle bynight.
"I don't knowhow it works in Hollywood," John Evert said later, watching his sistertrade volleys with a pigtailed ingenue. "But I can tell you how it's goingto work with Greg and Chrissie. Their bond is only going to get stronger andbetter each day." He shrugged. "It makes me feel good."
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