Victories May Come and Go but Never Another Norman

By George WhiteMarch 8, 2001, 5:00 pm
I spoke recently with a friend who covers the U.S. tour for the Australian Associated Press. I happened to remark that Australian golf is on the rise with youths Aaron Baddeley and Adam Scott playing so well. Maybe so, the friend replied, but there will never be as much interest in anyone in Australia as there was in Greg Norman.
'There will never be another like Norman,' said Andrew Both, who at times has been the subject of Norman's ire so he can't be dismissed as just another 'Greg Groupie.' 'I don't care how much they win. Norman has got something that no one else has. He wins - and loses - so spectacularly. He has a certain charisma that just can't be matched anywhere else.'
I had to agree with that remark. Norman has won 18 times on the PGA Tour, a fairly large number, though nowhere near what his reputation would suggest. He has won a couple of British Opens. But as much as he's won, he's much more famous for his losses.
His loss to Bob Tway's bunker shot at the '86 PGA, Larry Mize's 140-foot chip-in in the '87 Masters, Nick Faldo overcoming his six-shot lead on the final day to win the '96 Masters; the 140-yard hole-out by Robert Gamez to win the 1990 Bay Hill, David Frost's bunker hole-out to win New Orleans in 1990. Norman has lost playoffs for all four majors. I mean, that's losing in spectacular fashion.
A shot here, a shot there, and Norman could have won 30 tournaments and 10 majors. Easily. The tongue-wagging has been going on for years now. He's 46 now, starting yet another comeback, but no one outside of Eldrick T. Woods gets as much pub as him - still. The hair is no longer that silver blond, the face is marked now with a few senior-citizen lines - but he is still Norman.
Norman is recovering from hip surgery, which you may have heard about. This in addition to shoulder surgery, a problem back, I don't know what all. He hasn't been right the last four years. But - he's still Norman.
He says he feels great now. Okay. But with all the other businesses he has going, with all the balls he has in the air, winning at age 46 may be difficult. Indeed, getting out there and playing may be difficult.
'That is very true,' Norman said last week at Doral. 'To get back and be the competitor is the hardest part.
'Because you remember how well you played at certain times when you were at your peak, and you sometimes push yourself to get back there too quickly, because you know what you can do.'
The other aspect of coming back is his family. He has an 18-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. His daughter is about to go to college. His son is in the prime of his school years. Norman has had three years to basically stay home and watch them grow up. Though the doctor says he can now resume a regular playing schedule, I'm not so sure he will want to do that.
'When you get away from it and you spend time with your family and kids, you go, 'Whoa, I really don't want to go back in it,'' he said. 'Now you get this split in your emotions and feelings because of your family. As much as your family supports you, they'd rather have you home because they enjoy you being home.
'If you look at (Mark) O'Meara and those guys who feel that way, their kids are getting to that age where they are growing. Nick Price is another one. We talk about it, when your kids enjoy starting to do things that you enjoy doing and they go with you, whether it's fishing, diving, skiing or whatever it is. You want to spend more time with them. So it gets harder and harder to get away from them.'
He is talking about playing five weeks in a row starting with Bay Hill, but you wonder how long he will hold out. 'Hotels - I hate them,' he said emphatically. 'I don't care whether you are staying in the best in the world or renting a house, they are all the same. That to me is the grind, getting on an airplane and flying to Australia. It doesn't excite me the way it did three or four years ago.'
And yet, he is STILL Norman. Yeah, there's a little bit of swagger, a little bit of ego, a little self-belief. There's a part of him that will forever be in the middle of the fairway, forever be coming down 18 with the crowd's applause ringing in the ears.
'I have talked it over with my family,' he said. 'They have accepted the fact that I am excited again, and they like to see me get out there and play. They know this is pretty much the decision factor. How what happens over the next couple of years will determine my mindset for the last couple of years before I am 50.
'If it all goes well, you never know. If it goes good, you do know. So .'
So that's it. He's got more wealth than he ever could have dreamed. He's got a jet. He's about to take delivery on a 250-foot yacht - that's only 50 feet short of a football field. He has Ferraris and motorcycles and SUVs. He's got a sod business, a wine business, a clothing business, and a golf course design business. Everything you could possibly dream of, he possesses.
Aaron Baddeley and Adam Scott may indeed win more golf tournaments, especially if Norman finds that this home life suits him just fine. But never again will there be such an icon who has won so sparingly.
Though he did win his share, he did lose spectacularly, and at the biggest events in golf. He will be the object of conversations long after he sinks his last putt. He is - truly - one of a kind.
Getty Images

Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

Getty Images

Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

Getty Images

Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

Getty Images

Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.