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Normans Best Days Seem Far Back

You can always tell who is a good guy on the golf course. A good guy never minds getting embarrassed, even when he is Greg Norman.

Norman, who not so long ago was the greatest golfer on the planet, was giving a clinic for kids this week at his Franklin Templeton Shootout in Naples, Fla. A youngster had a typical ' if somewhat bizarre - childs question: is Norman as good as Happy Gilmore, the fictional character in a movie of the same name? Happys particular gimmick was that he was a big hockey fan, and he would hit the ball with the same run-up and wristy slap-shot style as a hockey player.

Norman was somewhat startled. No, he confessed, he hadnt seen the movie. But then instructor Rick Smith, who was participating in the clinic also, talked Norman into trying a shot or two. Smith teed the ball up on a three-inch tee, then stepped back to let Norman have a go.

Norman tried once, running up to the ball ' and missed. Smith teed the ball up higher. Norman approached again ' and missed. Finally the third time, after Smith teed it higher still, Norman carefully approached and got a piece of the ball, dribbling it 100 yards down the fairway with his driver.

You know, theres only twice in real tournaments (in some 35 years as a professional) that Ive had back-to-back air swings, Norman said later with a laugh. I think I just tied my record! Thats probably why I didnt get picked for the Happy Gilmore movie.

Norman has been one big mass of injuries since about the time Tiger Woods came on the scene. Hes had shoulder injuries, hip surgery ' and untold back problems. Hes 48 years old, too young to be such a walking M.A.S.H. unit, but truth be told, his best golf is long behind him. The latest injury ' the one that will be with him the remainder of his life ' is his back.

This year has been a bad year ' my back has been probably the worst its been, he said. I hope thats not a bad sign. I hope I can find a relief for it ' I dont think I can find an actual cure. I am not going to go and have surgery. Ive just got to find my comfort zone ' I dont know how much I can go out there and play.
Greg was able to play only six times this year. He was forced to withdraw after the first round of The Players Championship, and his inactivity resulted in missed cuts at the PGA Championship and the John Deere Classic. But when he is right, he can still perform at a pretty high standard ' witness his tie for 18th at the British Open.

The lack of good, worthwhile practice is the killer. Normans back just wont stand up to the constant pressure. There was a time that golf was an eight-hour job, even when he was home. Now, its considerably less.

I can probably practice about two to three hours in the morning and then play 18 holes ' if Im lucky, he said.

At times, I just hit balls for about 30 minutes and then go out and play. There are times when the most I can do is chip and putt for two or three hours. Its not the schedule I used to have - but then again, I have to adapt to what Ive got.

If he had it to do over again, would he change the swing, maybe attack the ball with a little less vigor, in order to get a little more functionality out of the spine?

No, he said without hesitation, I dont think so. Its just rotation, thats all it is, and its just a degeneration with it. Some people get it, some people dont. Its just flat-out wear and tear - thats all it is.

He says it without regret. He is a very wealthy man, and ' at least at the moment ' he is ready to move on.

Where am I right now? Probably the best place Ive been in my life, he said. Im very lucky that I have a lot of other things going on in my life.

His businesses include golf course design, apparel, wines, and many others. He just purchased a yacht over 200 feet in length, and a jet and a helicopter await his beck and call. Life has been very good ' and so have the various businesses.

Before long, though, he will have to face reality. How much can he play next season?

Ill probably go through that process over the next couple-three months, he says. Im going on a week-to-week basis - I really cant set a schedule. Its not like Im going to play five weeks in a row. I couldnt commit to five weeks in a row. I will just take it week to week. If I get 10-12 in, Ill be extremely happy.
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