Diplomacy with a Democrat

By Rich LernerJanuary 16, 2012, 7:40 pm

Greg Norman still fits comfortably into the Hugo Boss Stovepipe jeans he bought more than 30 years ago. At age 56, Norman sports the same 32-inch waist. When he revealed this during a recent Golf Channel Academy taping at his Medalist Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., I thought, 'This is the point in the show where wives turn to their husbands, pat their bellies and say, ‘I still love you honey.’'

When Norman tees it up this week at the Humana Challenge, fans will likely remark, as they often do, that he looks the same as he did when he first arrived in the U.S. It was 1976, in the California desert at Mission Hills. Greg teamed with Bob Shearer to play the World Cup.

He fondly recalled his first, first-class flight on Pan Am from Sydney to Los Angeles. From Palm Springs he traveled north to Carmel to play Pebble Beach and Spyglass for the first time. He hung out at Sadie’s, a local watering hole in Carmel and later went to Pasadena to see the Raiders beat the Vikings in the Super Bowl. That’s a strong introductory to the United States.

Norman always knew how to mix a good time with hard work. “I estimate that I’ve hit between 800 and a 1,000 balls a day in my prime so I’m guessing it’s about 4 1/2 million balls that I’ve hit in my lifetime,” he said.

They were hit with purpose. “When I practiced at Royal Queensland Golf Club, growing up there was a tree right in the middle of the driving range,” he said. “And I used to practice trimming up the branches and that taught me ball flight. It was my way of having fun, avoiding boredom.”

As an assistant pro at Royal Queensland, Norman also learned how to make a driver out of a block of wood, to mill a laminated piece of wood, put on the face and sole plates, insert the shaft in and then whip it all up. The knowledge proved useful. “About every month I’d have to repair my driver,” he explained. “I’ll never forget when I went to Palm Springs in ’76 to play that World Cup, my club head speed was measured at 128. So my persimmon driver was getting a pounding, always falling apart.”

Jeff Sluman, in the grill room at Medalist days before he’d leave to start his Champions Tour season in Hawaii, said of Norman, “He’s the greatest driver of the ball with a wooden club ever.”

Nearby, Olin Browne added that “Hogan was pretty good, Nicklaus was pretty good and Greg was certainly in that echelon.”

This week, while his contemporaries will be in Hawaii, Norman will rekindle the good memories of that first trip to Palm Springs 35 years ago when he wielded that old persimmon MacGregor M-83.

Still a box-office draw in the titanium era, Norman answered the call to play in La Quinta from President Bill Clinton, the maestro of the second act now spearheading one for the Humana Challenge, formerly the Bob Hope Classic.

Norman and the former President forged a lasting though unlikely friendship during Mr. Clinton’s first term in the 1990s.

“I received a call from the White House saying the President is going to be in Australia,” he said. “Would you be interested in playing golf with him? This is where I learned a huge lesson in life, that you never pre-judge someone from what they say or your views of what that person represents.”

Norman concedes he did not like the Democratic direction. “I’m a Republican through and through and believe in free market enterprise. So I called up President Bush (41) and I said, ‘Mr. President, I’ve been asked by the White House  to play with President Clinton. To be honest, I don’t like his political standing.’ And President Bush said, ‘Greg, I’m going to give you one piece of advice. You respect the office of the President of the United States. If he asked you to play you go play golf.’”

Norman heeded the advice and set up a round at his favorite course in Australia, New South Wales. “All of a sudden my guard’s down,” he recounted. “And this conversation on life opened up and all of a sudden I see the President of the United States as I would you and I sitting down and talking. And I said, ‘Greg, don’t ever again pre-judge.’” 

“I truly believe this tournament will be resurrected because of his passion for the game. You don’t find many people like him in the world.” Norman and President Clinton are expected to be paired together this Saturday.

After the Humana Challenge, Norman will head to Rio for his January 31st presentation to the Olympic Committee. He’s one of eight design finalists, saying that “whoever gets the nod will do a great job with the routing.”

“Of course, if you win the bid it’s not just winning the bid to build and design the golf course. You’re actually carrying the baton for the game of golf for years because golf is only in for 2016. It’s not yet guaranteed for 2020. So there’s great responsibility, whichever designer is chosen. You’re not just an architect, you’re an ambassador.”

Norman’s ready to take his swing, full bore, as he’s always done, the waistline and the ambition unchanged.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.