But there he was, and it seemed for all the world like the Norman of old. He birdied the first two holes at Firestone Country Club. He chipped in at the seventh. On the backside it was his putter doing the work. And he finished with a 65. Heads whipped around in a hurry at such a report.
Dont forget that this was the man who held down the top spot on the World Rankings longer than any creature alive, save one Tiger Woods. But this also was the same man who has missed the cut already four times this season. A man who has shot 82 twice this year, who has failed to break par 11 times. He hasnt played enough this season to place in the official rankings (10 times prior to the NEC), but his driving average wouldnt have placed him the top 125. He was one of the worlds most dangerous putters, yet his putting wouldnt have been in the top 150. He was lost, a man 46 years old who looked like all the rest of the mid-40 guys save Scott Hoch. He looked like a boxer who was just hanging on with one hand clutching the ring, just trying to tread water until the Senior Tour.
Then ' this.
One thing about Norman, he has never for a minute lacked confidence. Talk about a man whistling on his way to the gallows! But one reason he has been such a giant in the game is because he was supremely confident, and he was just as much as ever at the NEC.
It doesnt matter the golf course you are playing, he was saying. Youve fixed up a technique in your golf game. I could go play a links course right now and still feel great about it. Its just the fact that I see and feel comfortable again with a golf club in my hand.
One round, or one tournament, doesnt end a slump which has gripped Norman since his last big year in 1997. But this certainly was a headlight peering through the darkness of the tunnel.
Right now, its as confident and good as Ive felt in probably two or three years on the golf course, Norman said. It just feels comfortable again. I still hit the ball long enough and I still have a lot of mental attitude, and so I want to keep on going.
In addition to the shoulder and hip surgeries, both of which sidelined him for about a year, he has been branching out in business. He designs a lot of golf courses. He has a wine business. He has a clothing business. Some whisper that he doesnt have time for practice anymore, not at the age of 46.
Not so, says Norman, who insists his practice hasnt been hampered one bit by his outside businesses.
Ive always been a practicer, he said. Ive always worked out. Ive always practiced at home. Just because I dont play tournament golf doesnt mean I am not practicing. I still play a lot.
Yeah, theres times when I take it off, but I bet I havent gone ' oh, six, seven days without hitting a golf ball this year. Even if I go to the back of my house and hit 150 balls in the river at the end of the day after doing other work, I still do it.
Norman loves the game, after 30 years. He hasnt played enough to get burned out ' a full season for him is 15 events in the U.S., two or three in his native Australia, maybe three or four elsewhere around the world. The last three years, thanks to the surgeries, he has played even less ' he has teed it up in the U.S. a total of 20 times. So he is definitely not over-golfed.
I get just as much satisfaction today as I did back when I was 25, 30, playing the game, he says. But on the other side of the coin, Ive established myself in the business world, where if I ever did decide to stop ' goodbye! And its not going to be a hard goodbye.
Then, he reversed himself a little. It WILL be a hard goodbye when he decides to chunk the clubs in the closet for the final time. He came very close to saying that he will continue playing at least some of the time when he is 55 or 60.
I dont think you can ever retire from this game of golf, he said in a particularly weak moment.
I read about Fred Couples saying hes ready to retire. I said to him on the driving range, You cant retire! How can you retire from the game of golf?
You can retire from hockey, you can retire from the NBA, you can retire from being a quarterback on a football team, you can retire from being a professional tennis player because you cant compete again. But in golf, you can still compete.
Now, if Freddie is ready to retire, he might only play eight tournaments a year, he might enjoy doing that. I would not even call that semi-retirement, because hes still got to practice and hes still got to play. Its an interesting phraseology to try explaining, I suppose.
So the man they call The Shark was back again himself, and he said there isnt anything about the past he would change. Nor is there anything about the future.
You know, if you ever sat down and tried to second-guess your past, then you would be in big trouble, he said at Akron. This means you havent done a good job with it.
I can turn around and look over my shoulder and say Ive done a great job in the past, no matter what the circumstances My past has been a phenomenal past. And I know my future is going to be a very good future, too.
Spoken like a true Greg Norman. In good times, or in what would seem to the rest of us to be bad times, hes always whistling a happy tune.
Ive always felt that when you feel a little bit down, take a look in the rear-view mirror and take a look at whats happened back there. And man, I tell you what, theres a lot of great things and positive things in my life that I would never change for anybody, anybody in this world.
So, Im happy.