Normans presence on the world scene in the 1980s and through the first part of the 1990s was electric. He brought a flair and a physicality unmatched by any player and when he flashed those white teeth beneath the brim of his trademark hat he made the guys want to have a beer with him and the ladies want to run away to the Outback with him. But personality alone doesnt ensure entry into golfs loftiest shrine. The record counts. And while Norman let all-time destiny kick him in the groin on far too many occasions, he did bag a pair of British Opens, 18 PGA Tour victories and 56 worldwide. Ultimately, when I take my two boys to the Hall of Fame, I can imagine theyll ask me, Daddy, why did they call that guy the great white shark? I look forward to telling them.
One of Gregs contemporaries, the late, great Payne Stewart, was also rightfully elected to the Hall on 67.5% of the ballots (65% is needed for entry), along with Judy Bell, Karsten Solheim, and the man widely regarded as the first golf professional, Allan Robertson. Donna Caponi was recently elected, while Berhard Langer will defer his induction to 2002 due to a prior commitment. But Novembers ceremony figures to be emotional and star studded.
The memories came rushing back here today as Payne was honored in a moving tribute. Payne thrived on days just like this one, when there was something special in the air, when the golf course was as pure and challenging as this one is, when there was a show to do and not just a round to play. And so we find ourselves missing the high jinx he no doubt would have brought to the clinic, the reverence he would have shown for the great man, Jack Nicklaus, and the course he built. In the right mood, of course, Payne was extraordinary for his quotability and so we can only imagine what he would have said about the gargantuan achievements of Tiger Woods. Or the upcoming Ryder Cup he loved so deeply.
The Memorial Tournament honors Payne Stewart
When he left us inexplicably he was just then growing sagely into the role of fiery elder statesman, the absolute rarity who could draw upon the experience of actually having beaten Tiger Woods in a major championship. Would that Payne Stewart put an arm around Phil Mickelson, or David Duval or Davis Love III and encourage them to keep fighting? Naturally we dont know, but we have a pretty good idea. Because so memorable was the guy that all you have to do is set your mind to thinking about it, and you hear him and clear as day you can see him'the laugh, the Cheshire cat grin, that high pitch twang. We still hear you Payne. We still do.
Tiger Woods recalled his fishing trips to Ireland with Payne. He was always the life of the party, said Tiger. Woods of course is front and center here again at The Memorial. If he prevails, hell be the first since Tom Watson won the Byron from 1978-80 to win the same event three years in a row. That hes been successful at the course Jack built is no surprise. Like Nicklaus, Tigers long, a high ball hitter and fully capable of getting inside the heads of his opponents. Tiger says that Muirfield Village, Cog Hill for The Western, and Firestone set up as well for him as any venues on Tour. Then again, can you name many courses which dont set up well for him?
As for the condition, it is, according to Tiger, perfect. Theyve endured, as they always seem to do, quite a bit of rain here the last several weeks. But the course drains extremely well and the hope is that by moving the event back a week and closer to June, they may escape the kind of wet weather which has plagued this tournament for 33 of the total 100 rounds going back to its inception in 1976.
David Duval would have liked to be here, but a friend is getting married so hes not in the field. Davis Love continues to battle neck problems while Phil Mickelson has decided that he likes playing the week before The U.S. Open, so hell skip Memorial and play Memphis. Had he played here and next week, he wouldve gone seven straight weeks through The U.S. Open.
Even without those heavyweights, this week ranks as one of the most special on Tour. When Scott Hoch was asked if this was one of the best tournaments of the year, he replied, No, its not one of the best, its the best. Very much like the man who hosts it every year, and the man whos won it the last two.