"I am a winner," Greg Norman told us. "I just didn't win today."
Those two sentences could serve as title and subtitle for
Norman's autobiography, should he ever decide to write one. They
could work equally well if he ever pens a self-improvement book
along the lines of his beloved Zen and the Martial Arts. On
either dust jacket, I AM a Winner should appear in straw-colored
type, matching the golfer's famous hair. I Just Didn't Win Today
should lurk in crimson overlay, at the bottom of the cover, down
among the shadows.
"I AM a winner. I just didn't win today." It was the sort of
self-affirming statement Saturday Night Live's Stuart Smalley
used to deliver into a mirror, smiling stiffly, as if to
convince his own countenance.
But Norman doesn't need a mirror as long as he has the final
rounds of major championships to hold up for inspection. On
Sunday evening it was the Shark's practiced fortitude up for
display at the Augusta National Golf Club, where he had once
again los-, make that "failed to win," a tournament that seemed
to be in his grasp. Over and over, he tried to convince a crowd
of skeptical reporters that he was not shattered by his
final-round 78. A six-shot lead that became a five-stroke loss
was not, as he put it, "the end of the world for me."
You had to concede the point. So gifted a player is Norman--head
and hat above everyone else, if you believe many of his PGA Tour
peers--that he could well win this week's Tour stop on Hilton
Head Island, or the Memorial in May, or any of the three majors
still to be played in 1996. He has bounced back before. In 1987
Norman was so devastated by a Masters loss to Larry Mize, who
sank a 140-foot chip shot to settle their sudden-death playoff,
that hours later, in the darkness before dawn, he went out on
the beach behind his Florida home, listened to the pounding surf
and sobbed. After that misfortune, his second straight
last-minute disappointment at Augusta, it was written that
Norman might never recover. Yet he went on to win his second
British Open in 1993, the Players Championship in 1994, PGA Tour
money titles in '90 and '95, and a few Dorals, Memorials and
whatnots here and there, as well. "[One] thing I pride myself on
is not living in the past," he said a few years back. "Whether
I've played exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly, I've
always been able to proceed as if nothing has happened."
But we, his public, are well aware that something has
happened...and happened...and happened. With guilty pleasure we
call him Gag Norman. Spotting a Heimlich maneuver poster by the
swinging doors in a restaurant, we tell the waiter to cover it
up "because Greg Norman is coming." At the same time, we hail
the Shark for his sportsmanship. No modern sports hero has taken
it so often on the chin and still held that chin up.
The scales of judgment, for sports figures, teeter erratically,
influenced by unseen thumbs. At the 1989 British Open at Royal
Troon, Norman came from seven shots behind, birdieing the first
six holes, chipping in at 17 and shooting a final-round 64, to
force a playoff with Mark Calcavecchia and Wayne Grady. He then
birdied the first two holes of the Open's first-ever four-hole
playoff. The stuff of legends? No. Norman bogeyed the third hole
and then shocked the Scots with a bunker-to-bunker-to-clubhouse
tureen fusillade on the final hole. He took an X, handing the
title to Calcavecchia. It was as if the golf gods had decreed
that play could not end until Norman embarrassed himself.
Now, with this latest debacle, it is clear that we will remember
Greg Norman as golf's most enduring, and endearing, also-ran. He
has lost playoffs in all four majors, has 29 second-place
finishes to 16 Tour wins. At 41 he is already trapped in amber.
He is a cautionary specimen, to be exhibited alongside Boston
Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner (grounder through the legs,
1986 World Series), Buffalo Bills placekicker Scott Norwood
(missed field goal, Super Bowl XXV) and all those other athletes
whose achievements are forever obscured due to some episode of
"I AM a winner," he told us on Sunday evening. "I just didn't
Unfortunately for Greg Norman, it was the one day he had to win.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [Greg Norman kneeling]