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Greg Normans big week starts with a big distraction

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Presidents Cup

SAN FRANCISCO – Greg Norman couldn’t hide the obvious discomfort. He sat at a table Tuesday for the opening press conference at the Presidents Cup, his right arm suspended by a black brace from shoulder surgery a week ago.

As for his heart?

That he will keep to himself.

Norman returns to the spotlight this week as captain of an International team that has never won on American soil. Adding to the attention was his statement four days ago that he has separated from tennis great Chris Evert, his wife of 15 months.

He went public on the eve of his big week because her absence from Harding Park would only lead to speculation. Now that he’s here, Norman was determined to keep his private life just that.

“I’m not going to talk about any of my personal life right now,” Norman said. “The situation right now is we are here for the Presidents Cup, and it’s all about the Presidents Cup, and my guys are in a great state of mind about being positive and getting out there and playing. And come Thursday, they are going to perform. I know they will perform in a positive fashion.”

In one week, the Presidents Cup became about more than just golf.

Along with Norman’s announcement that he has separated from his wife, Kenny Perry arrived in San Francisco needing one big hug from his extended family on the PGA Tour. His mother, Mildred, died Thursday of blood cancer. The funeral was Saturday in Kentucky, and Perry decided to play the Presidents Cup because his family insisted.

“You hate to lose one of your heroes,” Perry said.

Even talking about her before only a half-dozen reporters, he worked hard to keep his emotions in check. He said his goal for the week was “not to bring the team down,” yet he was inspired already by how his teammates have lifted him up.

Emotion has worked its way into the Presidents Cup over the years. Jack Nicklaus was the captain in 2005 the year his 17-month-old grandson drowned in a hot tub. On the eve of the singles matches, the American players presented him an oil portrait of his beloved Jake, and the room filled quickly with tears. The next day, they delivered him the gold cup.

This year, there is trouble in so many corners.

Along with Norman’s marital woes and Perry grieving over his mother, Phil Mickelson remains in the throes of a tough year as his wife and mother recover from breast cancer. It remains doubtful that Amy Mickelson will join the wives this week.

Few other golfers have dealt with as much loss as Norman over the years, mostly inside the ropes. While he is in the Hall of Fame on the strength of some 75 victories around the world and two British Open titles, the Shark is renowned for being the only player in history to lose all four majors in a playoff. Even last year at 53, with Evert at his side on a honeymoon like no other, he was in the lead going to the back nine of the British Open until he stumbled to a tie for third.

Someone suggested that this time, Norman’s team would be there to pick him up.

The first question to Geoff Ogilvy alluded to Norman’s “public announcement” and whether players could sympathize with what he is going through.

“What’s he going through?” Ogilvy said in a subtle challenge to the reporter. Once he forced the reporter to mention the separation, Ogilvy said it was the first time all day he had heard it brought up. Then came a clarification.

“First time I heard of it was when he (Norman) came out of here early on and was wondering why we were all talking about that and not the golf tournament,” Ogilvy said.

“He’s a big boy and he can handle everything that’s going on with his life,” Ogilvy said later. “It has not been discussed until I walked in this tent, and I don’t even think it’s an issue.”

That’s just how Norman wants it.

He is in charge of an eclectic team from eight countries on four continents. That includes 46-year-old Vijay Singh, who already is in the Hall of Fame, and 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan, the youngest player ever in these matches.

They are playing under a fabricated flag – the International team represents every country outside the United States except for those in Europe – and for a captain who still has one of the highest profiles in golf.

Perhaps this is the time for players to rally around a captain.

Norman would have none of it.

“We haven’t even talked about it,” he said. “We talked about my shoulder, absolutely. It’s pretty hard to ignore that. But at the end of the day, somebody’s private life is their private life. They respect that. So they just come in, knowing this is all about the Presidents Cup. This has nothing to do about me. Just because I’m captain of the team, it’s all about the team. And I’m making sure they know that.

“It’s all about the Presidents Cup, not about anything else.”