Norman '96 and Spieth '16 - the two don't compare

By Joe PosnanskiApril 13, 2016, 1:40 pm

Yes, it’s obvious why people compare Jordan Spieth’s rather unfortunate blow-up on Sunday with what Greg Norman did in 1996. There are so many similarities. Both were shocking collapses. Both happened at Augusta National. Both men plunked a ball in the water at No. 12. Both had huge leads and were devastated after losing the Masters.

But having been there for both disasters – and having thought about it a bit – I realize that the two are completely different. One is just something that happens. The other, well, is a Greek tragedy.

Let's face it: Jordan Spieth’s troubles Sunday were only shocking because he’s Jordan Spieth. If his name had been Jugsy McSquirrelbottom, and he had surprised his way to a big lead going into the back nine on Sunday, we might have expected him to hit the ball in the water twice at No. 12. After all: That's a devastating little hole. Even Nicklaus, in his sweeping run to to glory in 1986, bogeyed No. 12.

You will remember Jean van de Velde. He triple-bogeyed the 72nd hole at the 1999 Open Championship when a double bogey would have won him the claret jug. It was one of the most jolting things I've ever witnessed, no question, but in retrospect was it all that surprising? Van de Velde was Rocky Balboa, an affable and middling pro who, for one brief moment, found himself under the hottest spotlight in golf. Sure, that last hole was crazy. But it was crazier that the guy was in position to win the Open in the first place.

Spieth’s brief but potent three-hole blackout is so common in professional golf we hardly even think about it. Look at Hideki Matsuyama, a fantastic player ranked No. 13 in the world. He was in good position to contend on Sunday. He went bogey-bogey-double bogey on holes 4 through 6 to drop out of contention. That sort of meltdown happens to great players at just about every major championship.

So what made Spieth’s quadruple bogey at No. 12 stand out is that he seemed utterly immune from such things. He almost won the Masters his first time out! He led for seven straight rounds! He was in contention to win all four majors last year! We had come to believe that Spieth invulnerable to pressure and anxiety and golf's gravity. Turns out, unsurprisingly, he’s is not.

What happened to Greg Norman in 1996 is completely different.

One of the most fascinating baseball players ever is Nolan Ryan. This may not sound connected but it is. Ryan is utterly fascinating because he decided early in his career what kind of pitcher he would be and he never, ever backed down from it. Ryan tried to strike out every single hitter he ever faced. Each battle with the hitter was personal to him.  It didn’t matter the score, it didn’t matter the pitch count, it didn’t matter the quality of hitter. You and me. Let’s go.

This stubbornness pushed Ryan to strike out more hitters (5,714) than anyone else ever will. He struck out 300 batters at age 42 – nobody else will ever do that. The stubbornness pushed him to throw seven no-hitters – nobody else will ever do that, either.



But with such singular purpose came unintended consequences. Ryan tried for corners and swings-and-misses, and in doing so he walked 2,795 batters, about 1,000 more than any other pitcher in baseball history. Those walks hurt a lot, especially because Ryan did not particularly care about holding on base runners. They ran at will against him. Ryan was also an error-prone fielder. He always seemed surprised when the ball came back. These seemingly minor flaws made the almost-unhittable Ryan surprisingly beatable in his career. His 292 losses are the most for any pitcher since 1900. Pitcher losses are not a particularly revealing stat but, hey, that’s a lot of losses. Ryan was unable or unwilling to adjust his pitching style so it was less spectacular and perhaps more effective. He made his choice to be awesome.

Norman, I think, made a similar choice. Nobody played a more thrilling or daring brand of golf than Norman. He was the Shark. He hunted for eagles. He hunted for birdies. There wasn’t a flagstick out of his reach. There wasn’t a bunker he couldn’t fly over. Year after year, all around the world, Norman would show up and dazzle everyone with the most majestic and awe-inspiring shots in the game. He was the player who left other players gasping.

Take the second round at Turnberry at the 1986 Open Championship. The conditions were pretty brutal; Norman himself had called the course “humiliating” just one day earlier. Put this way: Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, who had played their famous Duel in the Sun here just a few years earlier, both shot over par. Norman shot 63 – he had a putt on the final hole to shoot a major-championship-record 62. He missed a couple of other putts or he might have shot 60. Numerous players, including Watson and Nick Price, would call it the greatest exhibition of golf they had ever seen, at least until Tiger Woods came along more than a decade later.

Norman had that kind of talent, and he flaunted it. He attacked relentlessly. He would talk every now and again of dialing it back, but like the scorpion in the story, going at flags was just in his nature. And it led to a beautiful career. Norman won 85 times around the world. He had two glorious Open Championship victories, the first a runaway, the last a tour de force against a star-studded leaderboard at Royal St. George’s. There he shot a final-round 64, leaving a jaw-dropped Gene Sarazen to say, “I never thought I’d see golf played like that.” Norman became the most famous player in the world, an international superstar, a hugely rich entrepreneur and the one every kid wanted to become.

And the unintended consequences? Right: Norman kept losing in heartbreaking ways at major championships. In 1984, he sank a ridiculously long putt at the U.S. Open to reach a playoff with Fuzzy Zoeller. He lost the playoff by eight shots.

In 1986, it’s easy to forget, he was tied with Nicklaus for the lead, and he hit a perfect drive on 18. He went for the birdie because he’s Greg Norman. He pushed his approach into the gallery and bogeyed the hole to lose. “He wanted to make history,” his caddie Pete Bender would tell Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly. “He wasn’t going to go for the middle of the green.”

He was leading the 1986 U.S. Open by a shot when hecklers called him choker and got under his skin. He walked over to them and challenged them to show up after the round. They did not, but Norman was toast and shot 75 on the last day to fall off the leaderboard.  Two months later, at the PGA Championship, he shot 76 on the last day and lost when Bob Tway made up a four-shot deficit and dropped a bunker shot from what would be known as Tway's Trap.

On and on it goes. At the 1987 Masters, Norman got beat when Larry Mize chipped in from 140 feet away in the playoff. In 1989, Norman was tied for the lead in Augusta and he bogeyed the 18th hole again. Same year, he made it into an Open Championship playoff with Mark Calcavecchia and Wayne Grady and, on the fourth hole, he hit it into a bunker, then another bunker, then out of bounds. He never finished the hole. Calcavecchia won the four-hole playoff with scores of 4-3-3-3. Norman’s score officially is 3-3-4-x.

In 1990 at the Open Championship, Norman shot 12 under the first two days and was tied with Nick Faldo for the lead. On Saturday, he shot a 76.

“Disastrous,” Faldo called it.

In 1993, just a few weeks after his titanic performance at Royal St. George’s, he lost a playoff to Paul Azinger at the PGA Championship, giving Norman the unfortunate distinction of being the only man who has ever lost all four major championships in a playoff. Like Ryan’s walk record, nobody will ever touch that record.

Norman turned 40 in 1995 and was reborn as a player after working with Butch Harmon. That was the year that many people called him the greatest driver of the ball the game had yet seen. But still he could not quite compose himself and win at the majors. At the Masters, he was in position to make a run at Ben Crenshaw when he went for birdie at 17 (of course) and was over aggressive (of course) and spun the ball back off the green, making bogey. At the U.S. Open, he led going into the final day and then shot a 73, allowing Corey Pavin to come from off the pace to take it away from him.

All of this is an important backdrop for the 1996 calamity. With Spieth, we just couldn't imagine him blowing it. With Norman, we could not imagine him winning it. But for the first three days, Norman played almost surreal golf. He tied the Masters record with a 63 on Thursday, making him the only players to shoot 63s at two different major championships. He increased his lead to four shots the second day and to six shots going into Sunday. It was all over as this Cincinnati columnist wrote for that Sunday morning:

“Norman has turned the Masters into a White Shark music video. He leads the one-man, off-Broadway production by six shots and nobody is in second place.”

“You know,” says Nick Faldo, the leading candidate for finishing second, “anything’s possible.”

“People always say that, but you know, not anything is possible. Norman is focused. This tournament is over, history, done.”

Ha ha, what a goofball … oh, wait, that was me. Well, it did seem over, even with Norman’s history. He had done a lot of losing in the big tournaments, but he had never botched a six-shot lead at the Masters. It did not even seem in the realm of possibility. This was going to be the day of justice for Norman’s career. He would finally win the most glamorous tournament, and he would win it Norman style, pulling away, the first Australian to win the Masters, the culmination of a death-defying career of shooting at pins.

And maybe that’s why it didn’t happen. Maybe he wanted it too much. Maybe there was just too much scarring. Whatever, he looked out of sorts from the start, bogeying the first hole. By the time he made the turn, his lead over Faldo was just two shots. Then came the back nine, and Faldo did what Faldo was famous for doing – he went par-par-par on the first three killer holes of the second nine. Norman went bogey, bogey, double bogey, the last of those a water ball on the 12th hole. The groans rumbled. Faldo went to the 13th hole leading by two shots. The last few holes for Norman were agony ... for him and everyone watching.

It’s tempting to say the Norman was never the same after that, but it isn’t quite right. He was 41 years old, remember, so the sun was setting anyway. He had five more top-10 finishes at major championships. He even led the Masters one more time on a Sunday in 1999.

So, it’s not really right to compare Spieth’s struggles on Sunday with Norman in 1996. Spieth is 22, and he has played Augusta about as well as anyone, and he just had one of the greatest years in recent history. He says it will be tough to recover, and I’m sure he will have a few sleepless hours when he thinks about the 12th hole, but every great player has those sorts of regrets. You imagine that he will be fine.

Norman in 1996, meanwhile, was the climax of an operatic golfing life. He tried to birdie the world. It brought him a lot of victories. It brought him a lot of heartache, too.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 3, Tiger Woods

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:45 pm

After returning to competition at the Hero World Challenge in December 2016, Woods started the new year with an ambitious slate of tournament starts as he eyed his first full season since 2013. But he made it only three rounds, looking rusty en route to a missed cut at Torrey Pines before withdrawing abruptly in Dubai.

The “spasms” that led to that withdrawal turned out to be something far more serious, as Woods underwent his fourth and most invasive back surgery in April, a lumbar fusion. It brought with it an extensive rehabilitation, and at the Presidents Cup in September Woods humored the prospect that he might never again play competitive golf.

At Liberty National he also faced some scrutiny for an off-course incident from months prior. In May he was arrested for suspicion of DUI, an incident that produced a startling roadside video of an intoxicated Woods struggling to follow instructions from the arresting officer after driving erratically.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


While he was not drinking at the time, Woods was found to have a mix of several prescription medications in his system, including multiple painkillers. He checked himself into a private drug treatment program in July to address his dependency issues, and in October he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.

But the incident was barely a memory when Woods again made a return to competition in the Bahamas at the tournament he hosts. This time around he exceeded nearly every expectation, twice shooting 4-under 68 while tying for ninth among the 18-man field. Having re-tooled his swing following fusion surgery, Woods appeared relaxed, happy and healthy while briefly taking the lead during the tournament’s second round.

What lies ahead for Woods in 2018 remains uncertain, as the stop-and-start nature of this past season serves as a cautionary tale. But after a harrowing arrest and another serious surgery, he seems once again focused on his game, intent on chasing down a new crop of elite talent, some of whom are barely more than half his age.

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Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

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Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Article: Woods pleads in court guilty to reckless driving


Woods goes from unsure of his pro golf future to resuming full golf activities

Article: Doctor clears Woods for full golf activity six months after back surgery

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Woods out and about in 2017

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Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

NBC Sports' Coverage of LPGA Tour in 2017 Most-Viewed Season Ever for NBC Sports

By Golf Channel Public RelationsDecember 13, 2017, 8:45 pm

NBC Sports’ LPGA Tour Coverage Ties 2013 for Most-Watched Year Since 2011

NBC and Golf Channel Boast Top-6 Most-Watched Women’s Golf Telecasts in 2017

Beginning with the dramatic playoff finish at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic in January and concluding with Lexi Thompson winning the $1 million Race to the CME Globe, nearly 22 million viewers tuned in to LPGA Tour coverage across Golf Channel and NBC in 2017. This makes 2017 the most-viewed LPGA Tour season across NBC Sports since Golf Channel joined the NBC Sports Group in 2011. Additionally, 2017 tied 2013 as the LPGA Tour’s most-watched year across NBC Sports since 2011. Coverage drew an average of 221,000 viewers per telecast in 2017 (+24% vs. 2016), according to data released by The Nielsen Company.

NBC SPORTS GROUP CLAIMS TOP-6 MOST-WATCHED WOMEN’S GOLF TELECASTS IN ‘17

For the first time ever in televised women’s golf, Sunday’s final round of the RICOH Women’s British Open (Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 1.1 million viewers) delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast of the year. NBC’s Saturday (Day 2) coverage of the Solheim Cup in August placed second with 968,000 viewers, followed by Sunday’s Solheim Cup coverage on NBC with 946,000 viewers. Golf Channel’s live coverage of Sunday’s final day of the Solheim Cup drew 795,000 viewers, the most-watched women’s golf event on cable in eight years.

Rank

Network

Event

Day

Avg. Viewers P2+

1

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Sunday

1,100,526

2

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Saturday

968,202

3

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

946,387

4

NBC

KPMG WOMEN'S PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday

839,983

5

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Saturday

808,578

6

GOLF

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

795,000

ADDITIONAL VIEWERSHIP MILESTONES FOR WOMEN’S GOLF IN 2017

  • ANA Inspiration - The LPGA’s first major championship delivered thefifth most-watched LPGA final round in Golf Channel history with 551,000 viewers when So Yeon Ryu defeated Lexi Thompson in a playoff following Thompson being assessed a four-stroke penalty earlier in the final round.
  • KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – The LPGA’s second major was seen by 6.6 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the largest audience for the event on record (2006-17). Sunday’s final round on NBC, which saw Danielle Kang win her first LPGA Tour event over defending champion Brooke Henderson, also was the most-watched telecast in the event’s history with 840,000 average viewers.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – NBC’s Sunday coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast in 2017 (.78 U.S. HH rating, 1.1 million viewers). In total, 7 million unique viewers tuned in to coverage across Golf Channel and NBC, the most-watched RICOH Women’s British Open in the past 10 years and the most-watched among the five women’s major championships in 2017.
  • Solheim Cup – Seen by a total audience of 7.3 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the Solheim Cup posted the largest total audience for women’s golf since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open on ESPN/NBC. Golf Channel’s live coverage of the final day drew 795,000 average viewers, becoming the most-watched women’s golf telecast on cable in the last eight years, since the final day of the 2009 Solheim Cup.

GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL POSTS RECORD STREAMING CONSUMPTION

Golf Channel Digital posted record numbers of LPGA streaming consumption with 11.9 million live minutes streamed across LPGA Tour telecasts in 2017 (+563% vs. 2016).

  • Solheim Cup – Three-day coverage of the Solheim Cup saw 6.3 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports’ Digital platforms, trailing only the 2016 Rio Olympics (9 million) as the most-ever for a women’s golf event airing on Golf Channel / NBC.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – Four-day coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open saw 2 million minutes streamed, +773% vs. 2016.

NBC Sports Group combined to air 31 LPGA Tour events in 2017 and a total of 420 hours of coverage, the most in LPGA history. The exclusive cable home to the LPGA Tour, Golf Channel aired coverage of four of five women’s major championships in 2017, with three majors also airing on NBC: the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, RICOH Women’s British Open and The Evian Championship. The biennial Solheim Cup also returned to network television for the first time in 15 years with weekend coverage on NBC.

Source: Nielsen 2017 Live+Same Day DVR vs. prior available data. Persons 2+ avg 000’s and/or Persons 2+ reach w/six-minute qualifier. Digital Metrics from Adobe Reports & Analytics. Details available.

Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.

Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.

“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.