Heartache and Happiness

By Rich LernerApril 7, 2009, 4:00 pm
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AUGUSTA, Ga. ' For years there was an explanation floating around as to why Greg Norman was subjected to so much punishment from the golfing gods, or whatever forces conspire to produce the outcomes of major championships. It said that you will have the good looks, the vast fortune, the life, but in return you must suffer in some way.
 
That suffering was both painful and poignant at the Masters, the one major, above all, he seemed so well-suited to win.
 
I reflect on the fact I havent won it, he said. I talk to Chrissie about it a lot. This golf course really suits my game and I went there every year feeling great about it.
 
Hale Irwin, who ran down a charging Shark to win the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah, added, With Greg as long as he was, as well as he played, youd have to bet hed win a Masters.
 
He should have won all of them, Raymond Floyd stated flatly.
 
It came out like sand just dropping through my hand, Norman said. Its hard to explain. I dont know how to grasp it sometimes. You just put it down to the golf and I made some mistakes and others made some great shots.
 
Lee Trevino offered another explanation.
 
The only thing that bothered me about Norman, he told me, is that I thought he had gears and I thought he an A game, B game, C game and when you get to a major and your A game is not working, you got to go to your C game. The hell with the full 8-iron, lets take a 6 and punch it. Or lets take a 7 instead of an 8 or whatever. He always had a foot on the pedal and if its not working thats what happened, it didnt work for him.
 
I told Norman what Trevino said.
 
Would I go back and change my game, the way I used to play now that I know how I played? Yes I would have, he said in a rather stunning admission. But in that moment my psyche never allowed me to do that. You know, Im an Aussie, a go get em Aussie. Whatever it is, we gotta get you.
 
And yet in the next breath, Norman reveals that lack of conviction, in his own game, not lack of restraint hurt him, in 1986 with a chance to tie or even beat Jack on the final hole.
 
There you go, I wasnt aggressive, he said. I went conservative. I hit a 4-iron when my first thought was 'hit a high 5-iron.' I had 183 yards, I think, uphill. Just smash a 5-iron and I said 'no just back off and try to hit a 4-iron in there.' '
 
Norman blew it wider than wide right. The legend of Jack in 86 was cemented.
 
I mean, he made these great birdies coming down the stretch, recalls Jack. And then he hit the worst iron that Im sure hes ever hit in his life on 18. Greg should have won more. Some of it was because of him. Some of it was because of other people.
 
Like Larry Mize who in 1987 at the Masters became the first in a long line of Greg Norman tormenters.
 
In 1996, Norman beat himself. Holding a six-shot lead heading to the final round, he shot 78 ' as sad a Sunday as Augustas ever seen. It sparked an outpouring of sympathy and respect.
 
Suddenly hundreds of thousands of e-mails and letters poured in from people saying you changed my approach about what Im going to teach my kid about winning, about losing, the way you handled yourself, I got a huge lift out of that, he said.
 
To me, I won a tournament of life in a lot of ways and my public perception from that Monday onwards was different than that Sunday before. Augusta did some unique and weird things for me over my life and it probably will continue to do so.
 
In 1999 Norman again threatened to push aside all those ignominious moments, but fell just short of Jose Maria Olazabal.
 
Then last summer at the British Open, Norman created the rarest of later in life chances, the chance to dynamite a legacy without doing something unsavory as Roger Clemens, Pete Rose and Marion Jones did. Birkdale would be proper payback for all the cruel lashings he endured.
 
And though he didnt win, Norman did burnish his reputation as a baby boomer icon, a symbol for a generation and its quest for youth.
 
Everywhere I go, he said with obvious excitement, people tell me that I did it for the 50-plus year-olds. They tell me I rejuvenated them and proved theres no mountain too high to climb. And given the financial climate were in right now, people are looking for a happy hook to hang their hat on. Baby boomers are getting killed and their retirement funds are disappearing, so when you hear that Ive given them happiness I feel like I have to go back and work hard and I have to go fight for it.
 
Just how did he do it? First, Normans no ordinary 54-year-old ' he's in better shape than men half his age. Second, he was, and is, in love.
 
At Birkdale, he said, I just got off a wedding and a honeymoon and I was very relaxed.
 
We really had no expectations, Chris Evert told me last month. I think it was a testament to just how talented he really is.
 
And so at a time when most men are happy to be playing a friendly game of tennis ' and based on what I saw when he played with Chris at her academy in Florida, Greg can serve and volley very well ' hes attempting to again defy the odds. Could he win the Masters?
 
If I manage myself well and right and play like I did at the British Open, why not?
 
Raymond Floyd disagrees. Even if he plays like he did the first three days at the British Open, he wont win because the guys are just too good now. Someone will be better.
 
I also want to keep my expectations under control, Norman added. I really would love to just go through the whole four days and quietly get better each day.
 
Norman will not have the benefit of coming in under the radar as he did at the British Open. And hes insistent that hes returning to the Masters not for any payback because he knows it just doesnt work that way.
 
That hes back at all, trying again at the scene of so much heartbreak, is reward enough.
 
I reflect over Augusta and I still classify it as my favorite golf tournament of all time, he said.
 
Whether its Friday or Sunday, Norman will enjoy the walk up 18 to the applause of the patrons here. And while it may not carry the weight those moments did for Palmer and Nicklaus, the air figures to be thick with emotion.
 

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