On Sunday night, wearing the green jacket Greg Norman never got to wear, Adam Scott talked emotionally about the influence Norman had on his career and his life.
“He inspired a nation of golfers, anyone near to my age, younger or older.” he said, his voice filled with emotion and exhaustion less than an hour after he had become the 2013 Masters champion. “He’s an icon in Australia not only because he was the best player in the world but because of the way he handled himself with so much grace through the years. He was incredible to have as a role model.
“Part of this is for him. I drew on him today. He’s given me a lot of time and he’s given me inspiration and belief through the years.”
As Scott was saying those words, Norman was celebrating Scott’s victory with his son Gregory at his home in Florida.
“I shed more than a few tears,” he said Monday morning. “Gregory and I watched all day. At one point I was so amped up I had to go to the gym to work up a sweat. When Adam made the putt at 18 and I thought he had won I was on my knees crying because I thought an Aussie had finally won the Masters.
“Then Angel (Cabrera) hit that amazing shot and I thought, ‘are the golf gods ever going to let an Aussie win?’ I’m not sure I could have taken it for much longer if Adam hadn’t made that putt at 18. What a moment that was.”
It can be argued that Norman’s most remarkable moment of grace came 17 years ago, sitting in the exact same place where Scott was sitting on Sunday evening. He had just blown a six-shot lead on the last day of the 1996 Masters, shooting 78 while Nick Faldo shot 67 to blow by him and beat him by five shots.
Norman sat and answered every question that day. He never snapped at anyone, he never squirmed or asked that the session be cut short. Sadly, the one quote that people remember from that press conference is when he said he was consoled by the fact that he had just completed a $40 million business deal.
Except that’s not what happened.
Half-joking, half trying to ease the tension, the late, great Furman Bisher of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said to Norman, “Well, Greg, at least you made 40 million dollars this week.”
Norman forced a laugh and shook his head. “You’re right Furman,” he said. “I guess I can console myself with that.”
To everyone in the room, Norman’s point was clear: No amount of money was consolation for losing the Masters. But people reading the transcript didn’t see his face or hear his voice and thought he was being serious.
Sunday morning, before the leaders teed off, Norman was being serious when he said he believed Scott would win.
“I honestly think this is his time,” he said. “Most of the great players have to lose majors before they win them. I think Adam’s experience there two years ago (when Charl Schwartzel blew past everyone with four closing birdies to win, leaving Scott tied for second with fellow Australian Jason Day) and at Lytham (when he bogeyed the last four holes last year to lose the British Open to Ernie Els by a shot) will help him down the stretch.”
He paused. “I like the look I’ve seen in his eyes all week. I think he’s ready to do something special today. I truly hope he wins. He’s a wonderful guy.”
To some degree that has been the knock on Scott: too wonderful a guy; no killer instinct. Sunday, when he had to make killer putts, he made them – especially the last one on the second playoff hole to beat Cabrera.
“I knew that was really my chance,” he said, pausing to smile. “It was getting too dark to play any more. I had to finish it.”
When he did, millions of Australians, watching on a Monday morning, were undoubtedly cheering and crying at once. None more so than the Australian living in Florida who inspired all three Australians – Scott, Day and Mark Leishman – who were on the leaderboard.
Norman won two majors – the 1986 and 1993 Open Championships. He is probably remembered more, though, for the majors he didn’t win, most notably here in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in on him on the second playoff hole (the 11th in those days) and in 1996 when Faldo caught him or he came back to Faldo – depending on your point of view.
Scott’s loss at Lytham was as memorably sad as any of Norman’s losses in majors. He played superbly for 68 holes and stood on the 15th tee on Sunday afternoon with a three-shot lead on Ernie Els. The only reason Els was that close was that he had managed to shoot a 32 in difficult conditions on the back nine.
Scott would have won the tournament if he had played the last four holes in 2 over par. He would have been in a playoff if he had been 3 over par. He did neither, making four straight bogeys, his last putt on 18 for par and a playoff just sliding past the hole from 8 feet away.
Sunday, he was resolute down the stretch, making a 25-footer that he thought for a moment had made him the champion on 18, then making the winner on No. 10 – the same hole where the last three Masters playoffs have been decided.
Scott feathered – his word – a gorgeous 6-iron from the fairway to about 12 feet after Cabrera had hit his second shot to about 18 feet. As he walked down the hill to the green, Cabrera turned and gave Scott a thumbs-up. Scott waved and returned the gesture. Given the tension of the moment, it was a remarkable gesture by Cabrera and by Scott too.
After Scott had made the winning putt, Cabrera hugged him and told him, “I’m happy for you. You deserve this. I knew you were eventually going to win one. It was just a matter of time.”
Although Cabrera’s English is limited and Scott’s Spanish is more limited, the two men have become friends through the years having played against one another and together as teammates on Presidents Cup teams.
In 2009, when Scott’s game was at a nadir, he played with Cabrera on the International team in the Presidents Cup that was held in San Francisco. Scott remembers Cabrera calling him aside to talk one day.
“Angel is a great man and I’ve gotten to know him a fair bit through the years,” he said. “He said a great thing to me in 2009 at the Presidents Cup before we all left. I was a captain’s pick there and my form was struggling but he pulled me aside and said, ‘You’re a great, great player.' That’s something I didn’t forget. He’s a great guy and that was a really nice gesture going down 10.”
Scott was on that Presidents Cup team because the captain that year believed he could still compete against the world’s best players even though he’d had the worst year of his career.
That captain was Greg Norman.