SAN FRANCISCO – There’s nobody like Greg Norman in golf.
You can’t really compare him with any other player who ever lived, and there may never be another like him.
Tiger Woods is compared with Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and even Bobby Jones. If Woods surpasses Nicklaus’ mark of 18 professional major championship titles, he will be remembered as the greatest player who ever lived.
But if major championships are the true measure of greatness, nobody has reached the level Norman has, though Norman’s greatness is of a nature nobody cares to know.
Nobody knows the great misfortune, great disappointment, great heartache and great joy Norman has experienced in golf’s grandest events.
Norman, 54, brings spectacular success and spectacular scars to the Presidents Cup as captain of the International squad.
So much is being made of Michael Jordan’s presence on the American side, the confidence and swagger the NBA Hall of Famer brings. Norman, though, brings just as much Hall of Fame fight and ambition, just not as many glorious triumphs.
Golf fans know the Aussie’s story, his rise to fame as the Shark, winner of 70 international titles and 20 PGA Tour titles but just two major championships. They know all his monumental losses, so stunning in nature they almost overshadow his enormous success.
As driven as Norman has been, we’ll remember most how that ambition was denied, how the golf gods denied him what he wanted most.
We’ll remember him flat on his back off Augusta National’s 15th green after nearly holing out, his hands over his hat after blowing a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo at the ’96 Masters. We’ll remember that he never won the championship he most wanted to win, how Larry Mize beat him in a playoff, chipping in at Augusta National in ‘87. And we will remember how golf didn’t reserve its cruelest blows for only the Masters. Norman is the guy who led all four majors after 54 holes in the “Saturday Slam” of 1986 and yet only won the British Open that year. He’s the only player to lose all four majors in playoffs.
All of those losses left scars.
With the Presidents Cup about to begin, Norman sports a new scar, we suspect, something deeper than the one that came with his recent shoulder surgery.
As usual, Norman’s heart is the story in another big event.
If he arrived with it broken again, he isn’t showing us. Norman isn’t talking about his separation from his wife, tennis’ great Chris Evert, after 15 months of marriage. He announced the split last week, and he isn’t talking about it this week.
“I’m not going to make any comment on that,” Norman said.
It’s human to want to know what happened. Norman, after all, made a big deal about how much Evert meant to his re-emergence at last year’s British Open, where he nearly became the oldest winner of a major championship with his new wife as his inspiration. It’s completely understandable that he doesn’t want private problems to become public issues this week. It’s even noble that he’s determined not to let them interfere with a world-class event.
Norman is in control this week. That’s the message his players are getting on the eve of the Presidents Cup.
“He's in a good frame of mind,” said fellow Aussie Adam Scott, one of Norman’s players. “He's got his arm in a sling, but it's been really good. I think he's genuinely enjoying the experience, which is great for us to see. I think he's bringing a lot of energy to the team, as well. His approach to the game was always so aggressive, and he's bringing that out in us. He's here to win, and he's trying to get us to feel the exact same way.”
Norman is a control freak.
Whether it’s his game, golf course architecture, turf grass, wine-making, club making, clothing or any of the other businesses in his empire, he’s no figurehead. He’s always been smart about his business, inquisitive and demanding and in charge of details.
If a captain’s personality rubs off on his team, it will be interesting to see what rubs off on the Internationals this week.
Which element of Norman’s personality will win the day? The man whose thorough preparation and intense attention to detail pushed him to so much success? Or the man who wanted it all too much, whose ambition sometimes got in the way?
Norman is emphasizing the importance of sportsmanship this week, but he wants to win. He hates that the Internationals have been so awful in foursomes and revealed Wednesday that he sent out questionnaires to his players in an effort to find a winning foursomes formula.
“I e-mailed all my team members confidentially,” Norman said. “I’m the only one who got the response. I asked six very pointed questions.”
Norman wouldn’t divulge what those questions are, but . . .
“The answers to these questions helped me formulate and understand the mindset of this eclectic group of international players,” Norman said.
Frank Nobilo, Norman’s assistant captain, says there’s a specific formula in the works.
“There’s a couple of things that maybe we will reveal at the end of the week if we are successful,” Nobilo said. “It’s attention to detail more than anything.”
The Internationals didn’t win a single foursomes match at the last Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal. They were 0-10-1 in foursomes.
Like most captains, Norman will be a genius when it’s all over, or a dunce. There seems to be nothing in between at these international team events.
If the Internationals win and Scott plays well, Norman will be remembered for a smart and gutsy move naming the slumping Aussie as a captain’s pick. The same applies to Norman’s naming 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa of Japan as his other pick despite Ishikawa’s limited international professional experience. If Norman’s foursomes plan works, it will be remembered as brilliant strategy.
They are all bold moves, but we expect nothing less of Norman.
Win or lose, Norman will put up an ambitious and memorable Hall-of-Fame fight. Nobody, after all, knows greatness quite like Norman.