Greg Norman, the 45-year-old entrepreneur, has committed himself
to a one-year extension through the 2001 season. After that, he
says, he's through with tournament golf. "I have eight majors
left in which I can be truly competitive," Norman said at last
week's Doral-Ryder Open, in which he finished 12th, 10 shots
behind winner Jim Furyk. "After that I'm 47, and I don't want to
be out here slugging my brains out."
Back in 1993 Norman said that this season would be the epilogue
of his seven-year plan as a full-time golfer, but his timetable
was disrupted in April 1998, when a surgeon arthroscopically
shrank and tightened the capsule around Norman's left shoulder
with a newfangled heat probe. Norman says the operation was
successful on a couple of levels: His left shoulder is now
stronger than his right, and his leave of absence from the game
also proved to be a shot in the arm for his many businesses.
"Especially during those eight months from the surgery to the
time I started hitting balls again, I could focus on my
businesses and establish things," Norman says. "Now I can tell my
people in the office, 'Don't expect to see me around a lot.' I'm
at the stage where I know I have two years left, and I can enjoy
golf a little more than in the past."
The odds are against Norman's adding to the two majors (1986 and
'93 British Opens) he has won. Since the Masters began in 1934,
only four players 45 and over have won a major, the last being
Hale Irwin in the '90 U.S. Open. The track records of men
Norman's age are not promising in regular Tour events, either.
Tom Watson won twice after he turned 45, and Irwin's three
victories amount to a middle-aged Triple Crown. "It all depends
on what you want to be," says Jack Nicklaus, who in 1986, at 46,
became the oldest winner of the Masters, the major Norman wants
most of all. "At 45 you're doing a lot more in your life than
just playing golf. Talent-wise, Greg is still capable of playing
his best golf."
Norman believes that he's in far better shape for this year's
Masters than he was in '99, when he was recovering from the
surgery yet still finished third. He was on the fringes of
contention at Doral, going five under through 11 holes last
Saturday to pull within four strokes of the lead before deflating
with consecutive bogeys. "I'm hitting the ball as far as ever,"
he says. "I just need a little bit of tweaking."
Norman takes a supplement, glucosamine/chondroitin, to relieve
arthritis in his joints, but his passion for exercise keeps him
in better shape than most of his younger rivals. He is aging as
elegantly as Cary Grant. "I reckon he has the body of a
33-year-old," says his friend Nick Price. "He's swinging better
now than ever.
The guy has the physical ability to win a major when he's 50--if
he wants to." "He's been playing competitively for 25 or 30
years," says Steve Elkington. "It's just a matter of whether he
still wants to commit himself."
Norman admits he's struggling in one area: He has trouble
concentrating on the course. "If I didn't want to play, I
wouldn't be out there," he says. "It's just a lot harder for me
to get locked in. I've got to get myself into the competitive
flow--push myself through the barrier. There are times when
instead of pulling the club out of the bag, I'm spending too much
time looking at things around me."
Does Mr. Type A Personality mean to say he's actually taking the
time to enjoy himself inside the ropes? "Naw," he says, his eyes
rolling back in derision. "I'm looking at the design strategy of
the course. I'm thinking, If it were me, I'd have done this or
done that. I'm wondering what's wrong with the grass."
Fascinating, isn't it, that golf's biggest daredevil has become
one of its most productive businessmen. Over the last two years
Norman has entrenched himself as a supplier of products serving
most aspects of a golfer's life. He sells the equipment, the
clothing, the course and even the roof over the golfer's head
(for those willing to spend $1.8 million on a house in a gated
community). Greg Norman Turf Company manufactures the GN-1 strain
of grass that is used on numerous courses. His company also
provided the fields on which part of the 1999 World Series
(Atlanta's Turner Field) and the '99 Super Bowl (Pro Player
Stadium in Miami) were held and on which the 2000 Olympics
(Olympic Stadium in Sydney) will take place. Norman, by the way,
will carry the torch on the morning of the opening ceremonies of
the Sydney Games.
Last week, as the other players headed from the practice green
to Doral's clubhouse, they couldn't help notice the retail store
next door bearing Norman's name. At first glance the store,
which opened only last week, looks like an enormous mausoleum,
but inside are hundreds of products carrying the ubiquitous
shark logo--even bottles of wine from Greg Norman Estates in the
Coonawarra region of his native Australia. The '96
Cabernet-Merlot is "ripe and supple, with a chocolate and
tobacco edge to the lovely berry, currant and herb flavors that
linger through the silky finish," according to Wine Spectator,
which rated Norman's Cabernet-Merlot among the top 100 wines of
'99. At $15 a bottle, it's also cheaper than one of his
trademark hats. "I don't know much about wine, but it's
fantastic," says Billy Andrade. "Brad Faxon brought a bottle of
the red to a meeting, and everybody liked it."
How could someone who has suffered so many horrendous defeats on
the golf course make so many excellent decisions in the
boardroom? Norman insists his failures have helped make him a
rich man. Would he be as intriguing a character if he hadn't
suffered so outrageously? Norman's customers know exactly what he
stands for. Last summer he launched a commercial Web site,
shark.com, with a motto--Attack life--that certainly seems
appropriate when it comes to Norman, for better or for worse.
"By losing that Masters, I became more popular than if I had won
it," Norman says of the 1996 tournament, during which he
squandered a six-stroke lead over Nick Faldo on the final 18
holes. "If I had won that Masters, well, everybody is expecting
me to win it. By losing the Masters, and the way I accepted it, I
kept the fans I had and gained some new ones. That had a huge
effect on everything I've done in business. Of course," he adds,
"I'd love to have that Masters, but...."
Norman chuckles, as if he were opening one of the cash registers
at his shop next door.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL UPHILL CLIMB Norman moved up the leader board during Saturday's round, but by Sunday night had fallen back to 12th.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL FURIOUS FINISH Furyk, six down, won with five birdies on the final seven holes.
"After [the 2001 season] I'm 47," Norman says, "and I don't want
to be out here slugging my brains out."