Even though he hasn’t won a tournament of any importance in more than a decade, Greg Norman remains one of golf’s most intriguing and powerful personalities. As chairman and CEO of Great White Shark Enterprises, a multi-national corporation that he established in 1993, Norman’s fingerprints are all over the game, most notably in course design, but also in apparel, residential development, wine, beef, restaurants, yachts and more. A member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Norman won 89 tournaments worldwide during his playing career, including 20 PGA Tour titles and two British Opens. His last fling in the competitive spotlight came at the 2008 British Open at Royal Birkdale. Initially, the hoopla had nothing to do with Norman the player, but rather his wedding the month before to former tennis superstar Chris Evert. It made great copy for the tabloids, but then a funny thing happened on the way to the forum – Norman, then 53, had turned back the clock and held a two-shot lead going into the final round. Reality returned the next day and his final-round 77 left him in a tie for third place. Since turning 50 in 2005, Norman has mainly eschewed playing the Champions Tour, making only 11 starts. Of late, Norman has embraced the role of captain of the International Team in its biennial meetings with the U.S. in The Presidents Cup. He did so last year in a losing effort in San Francisco and will reprise the role in 2011 when the event is staged on his home soil of Australia. Since The Presidents Cup began in 1994, the U.S. holds a 6-1-1 edge, with the Internationals’ lone victory coming in 1998 at Royal Melbourne. He will also show up at an occasional European Tour event, such as he did in early September at the Omega European Masters in Switzerland, where he was named an Omega ambassador and where Global Golf Post senior correspondent Lewine Mair caught up with him for this interview.
GGP Have you ever had second thoughts about the Champions Tour or do you simply not have the inclination to compete on a regular basis?
GN I knew from the first time I played on the Champions Tour that it was not for me. The energy just wasn’t there. I’m not a fan of three-round golf and it seemed to me that the senior game was more of a fun deal than anything else. I like to go hard at my golf. Also, I never wanted to be playing week-in, week-out for the rest of my life. In my last few years on the regular tour, there were other things stimulating me rather more than chasing a little white ball. I was bursting with ideas.
GGP We all know about the wines but what about the more recent scheme to introduce Australian beef to the Americans?
GN The beef was an interesting one. I was lucky with the wines, especially the Pinot Grigio, which came out at the same time as the film “Sideways.” As you can imagine, that did a power of good for sales. It was my manager, Bart Collins, who suggested the beef. With my early wines having emanated from South Australia, I wanted to do something for my own state of Queensland. Bart and I were bouncing ideas off each other and he suggested the Wagyu beef. It was the right idea at the right time in that the start of our operation coincided with the era of Mad Cow disease in Europe.
GGP In terms of golf course design, I gather you have put in for a bid for the course in Rio for the 2016 Olympics.
GN Along with a lot of others. It’s something I’m keen to do, quite apart from the fact that it ties in well with my new ambassadorial link with Omega, the Olympic timekeepers. The chances are that my bid is going to be a joint affair with Lorena Ochoa. Lorena is just setting out in the world of course design and is keen to learn, which is fine by me. I have a huge admiration for her, both as player and person, and I think we’ll make for a great partnership. It may be a learning process for her but it can only help our cause that she speaks Spanish and she knows South America.
GGP You are not playing much golf but you are obviously as fit, if not fitter, than golfers 10 and even more years younger. You must work at it pretty hard?
GN I’m fit because I still love to work out. It’s my relief valve at the end of a busy day. I had to do a lot of remedial work after my shoulder operation of 12 months ago but I’m now 90 percent back to full fitness. When I’m at home, I train five days a week, sometimes for as much as two hours. I enjoy every moment of it.
GGP I always felt that the expression “walking on air” summed up how you were feeling when you played at Birkdale in 2008 and led the Open going into the last nine. You had married Chris Evert shortly before and seemed to be in a state of grace on the course as you showed her what you could do.
GN To be honest, everything felt right that week. What I have never mentioned, previously, is that I was on the verge of pulling out on the Friday before. We were staying at Skibo Castle in the North of Scotland and the practice I did there was horrendous. I couldn’t hit the ball at all. I managed to desist from making that phone call and, when I got the clubs out of the car at Birkdale, there was a sea change in how I was feeling. What played up my alley as much as anything was the weather. It was going to eliminate a lot of the field, just as it always does when it’s wet and windy. All through my career, I had practised in impossible conditions in order that I would be able to cope better than the next man. That was one thing at Birkdale which played into my hands, while the course set-up was another. I loved the way the R&A had prepared the links. In fact, I don’t think they have ever done better on that score. I was nice and relaxed by the Thursday and, yes, I wanted to play well in front of Chrissie. I had been keen that she could come and see what I could do. We had some very good conversations about competitive situations and pressure.
GGP I can’t be the only person to have marvelled at the way you captained the Presidents Cup side with such poise immediately after you and Chrissie announced that you were going your separate ways?
GN I just had to get on with it and it wasn’t easy because everyone wanted to know what was going on. I didn’t say then about the break-up and I’ve never said anything since. It may sound odd, but what helped that week was having my arm in a sling. Away from the fact that it was very painful, it helped to deflect attention from the marriage situation.
GGP You played in Europe for years without seeing any Italians other than Costantino Rocca. What do you make of the advance of the Molinari brothers and Matteo Manassero?
GN The game was already beginning to go global back in the 1980s, with the advance of the Japanese the main factor. Now, though, almost every country in the world has taken a shine to the game. So much so that I don’t think the Americans will ever get back to being the powerhouse that they were. In 25 years’ time, the Chinese will be at the top of the heap if they stick to their promise of having as many as three million people playing golf 15 years from now. I’ve just come back from China where I gave a clinic to 37 kids aged between 5 and 15. The questions they asked were such as I’d never heard before. They didn’t want to know about technique. Instead, they were asking about the emotions of the game. Even at that early age they had figured out that this side of the game is arguably the more important.
GGP Had someone put them up to asking such questions?
GN I think it’s in their genes, something to do with the general wisdom of the Orient. If you look at the way they built 4,000 odd miles of Great Wall to keep the Mongolians out all those years ago, you can see that they don’t give in easily. As a people, they are psychologically very strong. The Koreans are making extraordinary headway, too, and, if you drift further down south, you have the Cambodians and the Indians getting stronger by the minute. I can give you another interesting little pointer to the global nature of the game … the other day, I opened a new academy in Myrtle Beach and every student was a Mexican. There wasn’t an American in sight. Going back to the Molinaris, I played with Edoardo over the first two rounds of the Omega European Masters and he was terrific. What he did to get into the Ryder Cup was unbelievable.