Greg Norman: What Could Have Been…

Those who watched the Shark Shootout presented by Merrill Lynch this weekend were treated with a rare glimpse of Greg Norman. A blast from the past if you will – or a return to competition of one of the game’s all-time dynamic figures. Granted, The Shark Shootout is a team event with a format that would never be mistaken for the Ryder Cup — but don’t kid yourself — Norman was grinding to win. And it was fun to watch. Sadly however, in an all too familiar classic Greg Norman scenario, a lesser pro (Woody Austin) made a great shot on the last hole to nip him by one. Make no mistake, I take nothing away from Woody Austin. He’s a great player — but in historical terms — he’s no Greg Norman. But wasn’t that always the way with Greg?

I got into an argument a few months back with a friend and fellow golf professional about Greg Norman. His contention was Greg was always overrated and never won enough. My contention was Greg was underrated and never won enough. I also said Greg Norman should go down in history as one of the all-time best players. Of course, this made my friend chuckle — but allow me to make Greg’s case.

First, think of one memorable tournament during Greg Norman’s prime that he did not play a factor. I think you would be hard pressed to come up with one — let alone many. Simply, he was always in contention in big events — and always had a chance to win. Basically, from 1984 – 1996, if there was a major tournament — Norman had a chance to win.

First, let’s talk about the Masters.

Norman had 8 top-five finishes and no victories. In 1986, he bogeyed the 18th hole to miss a playoff by one. In 1987, in a playoff, Larry Mize made a miraculous chip to beat him by one. In 1988 and 89, he again had chances to win on the back nine, only to finish 5th and 3rd. And of course who could forget the collapse of 1996 where Norman’s back-nine meltdown opened the door for Nick Faldo’s 3rd Green Jacket.

Next, let’s talk about the U.S. Open.

Norman had 5 top-ten finishes and no victories. In 1984, he lost a playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller. In 1995, he again played poorly on the back nine, which allowed Corey Pavin to win his first major.

Next, the British Open.

Norman had 9 top-ten finishes and 2 victories (1986 and 1993). Although clearly his best “major results”, he could have and should have won again in 1989. He lost a playoff to Mark Calcavecchia and never hit one bad shot. He birdied the first two playoff holes. Made a bogey on the 3rd playoff hole with a shot that flew right over the flag and a chip that lipped out. And made an “X” on the last playoff hole by driving the ball straight down the middle 345 yards into a small pot bunker. This of course after shooting 64 to get into the playoff.

Next, the PGA Championship.

Norman had 5 top-five finishes and no victories. He lost in 1986 to Bob Tway’s miraculous holed bunker shot on the 72nd hole. In 1993, he lost in a playoff to Paul Azinger after “lipping” out putt after putt in overtime. He should have won both of these events as he was clearly the better player and did nothing to lose either.

If you’re keeping track — this is a playoff loss in each major championship. For the record, Greg Norman is the only person to ever lose all four major championships in a playoff.

So, Norman has two major victories, which for most players would be wonderful — but for Greg, it is a complete and utter disappointment. Here is my concern as it relates to Greg Norman. I’m worried that in 50 years, as people are looking at the golf record books — they will see this guy named Greg Norman with 20 PGA Tour wins, 14 European wins and 2 Majors. They’ll think — here was a pretty good player. Yet, they’ll have no idea how close he was to being known as the greatest player ever. So — here is my argument for that outlandish statement.

If you give Greg Norman two shots a year from 1984 — 1996 to use anyway he wants — and let him use them as a mulligan or take them away from one of his competitors — his record would be unbelievable. I know, I know — that’s not golf. We can make that argument with a lot of people. It’s the day of the event that matters. But — Greg Norman is such a special case — I believe he deserves special examination.

So, back to my argument. Give Greg two shots a year and what happens?

Well, he wins 2 Masters, 2 U.S. Opens, 3 British Opens, 3 PGA Championships and a plethora of other PGA Tour events. Important PGA Tour events. Remember Robert Gamez at Bay Hill? Or David Frost in New Orleans? Or how about Mark McCumber in San Francisco? These are just a few of the guys who holed out improbable shots on 18 to beat Greg Norman.

Okay, so now, if you give Greg the two shot a year — you’ve got a player with 10 majors, 30 PGA Tour wins, 20 European Tour wins, 33 Australian wins and 22 other world-wide victories. And a player with this record during the booming “television” age — may just be considered one of, if not the best player ever. Definitely in the top 3 all-time. Of course realistically, the argument of the best player ever is going to be a moot point by the time Tiger Woods is done being — well Tiger Woods.

But my point remains the same. Greg Norman’s legacy should not just be the record books. It should be all he did to lift the game to unprecedented worldwide heights right after a definite lull in the sport. It should be his then unprecedented run as the number one ranked player in the world. It should be the way he played the game — never out of a tournament — no matter where he began on Sunday. I used to love — pre-Internet age — to turn on the television Sunday to see highlights of Norman shooting 30 on the front 9 to get back in the tournament. To me, Tiger has yet to be as exciting as Greg Norman was. Yes, he’s better — much better when it comes to winning — but not more exciting. Plus, Norman’s skills should go down with the all-time best.

Norman was probably the best driver of the golf ball ever. He is among the top-five long iron and fairway wood players ever. I would put his overall short game among the top-five ever. He was a great pressure putter. Simply, there was nothing he couldn’t do. Norman had only two problems. One, he had a flaw in his iron swing that caused a “way right” miss under pressure. Two, he had a mind that wouldn’t let him admit this flaw to himself. He would only try to hit great shots under pressure — and never played it safe. If he didn’t have the second problem — there is no telling how many times he would have won.

Yes, this was a Greg Norman rant. But – after watching him on television today, I realized something significant. I missed him. I miss watching and wondering what was going to happen. Today, as lucky as we are to watch Tiger Woods — we know what’s going to happen. If Tiger’s leading — Tiger’s winning. With Greg, he could birdie holes 10-17 to tie the lead and then make a double on 18. It’s exciting when the best player in the world plays this way. I suppose that’s why so many people love to watch Phil Mickelson today – or Arnold Palmer in his prime.

Anyway, if you’re ever on the course or a pub somewhere and someone starts bad mouthing Greg Norman — stick up for him. They probably have no idea how close he was to being one of the best ever.

8 Responses to “Greg Norman: What Could Have Been…”

  1. Marcus says:

    I agree with some points, He will be forgetten as far as all time greats. He was the best player with the worst record but he is not even top 10 of all time. whether you finish top ten in major or Make a playoff it doesnt matter, when comparing career records only the Wins matter. Yes he was snake bitten in a few of them but if he won those it would bring his total too 5, which is good but there are piles of players with 2 majors. He is The WORST underachiever of all time and it wasnt just getting snake bitten, how many times did he bogey the last few holes to get into playoff, it was equally his fault as well as competitors. If he could have managed a course better he would have won alot more, Far to aggressive when he had a 3 or 4 shot lead. Great player? yes. All Time top 3? PFFFFF Not even maybe. What about ben hogan, arnold palmer, seve??

  2. […] is also well-known for his near-misses at majors, having completed a Grand Slam of almost winning the US Masters, US Open, British Open and US PGA […]

  3. Ron says:

    You could not have said it better, Norman had one of the pureist Golf Swings on the tour and I believe it holds true today. No one could strick the ball like he could. I had the chance to meet Greg and visit with him at a Scramble event in ark. This was a couple of weeks before he won the British Open I believe in 1993 or 1994. He was a Gentleman on and off the course. He beat Larry Bird, Evone Lyndal and Wayne Gretzkeys scramble team against his one ball that weekend. It was great.

  4. Mark says:

    An excellent article! I have to say I have been a Greg Norman fan for many years and he is without question one of the greatest golfers of all time. Nobody has ever brought such excitment and charisma to a golf course.

    There was just something special that this guy had and I still keep track of him even now that he is making up the numbers. This guy is one of the greatest talents to ever play the game. In fact in terms of talent he is up there with tiger woods and nicklaus. This guy could do anything with a golf ball and his ball striking was impeccable.

    There will never be a better driver of the golf ball. I miss Greg on the course. will never forget his peformance at the players championship in 1994 and the Open in 1993. Not to mention watching that round of 63 at Augusta in 96′ (still the course record today shared with Nick Price)

    Now that he is not at Augusta, there is something sadly missing, in my view it will never be the same again.

    Greg Normans legend will live forever in my eyes, a champion you have to admire and appreciate, not to mention his professionalism and the way he handled defeat.

    Greg……….I salute you

  5. Max says:

    What an excellent review! You have heightened my appreciation of this phenomenal, charismatic player.

  6. larry says:

    Being an AUSSIE and a avid Greg Norman supporter, I agree with everything you said about THE GREAT WHITE SHARK. I sat and watched every major that the shark played and felt his disappointment when he powered on the back 9 only to just miss the cake. I still can’t believe the shot Larry Mize played when chipped and run that shot at the masters with norman on the green in 2 and mize, if he misses the hole he’s off the green and game over. BOB TWAY’S up and in from the bunker when he short sided himself and yes i know they practice all the time, but to me that was a bullsh#t shot which norman would never recover from. those stats on Norman with 2 shots a year are just unbelievable, but there was one stat you forgot to mention being the length of time the SHARK was world NUMBER 1 for and that being 331 weeks thats over six years and only passed by the man of the moment TIGER WOODS. Thanks mate Larry.

  7. John Till says:

    You could not have put it better. I agree no one in the game today excites me like Greg Norman did, he had that special something that only a handful of spotsman have.

    I have argued the way you have for years.

    Keep up the good work!

    Kind regards

    John Till

Leave a Reply