Date: November 16, 2006
Author: John Huggan

Shark attacks

By John Huggan Like the man himself, I was slightly surprised when I saw the posters advertising this MSF Australian Open. There, front and centre amidst the likes of US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, PGA Tour champion Adam Scott and defending champion Robert Allenby, was a 51-year old who hasn&apost won a tournament in almost a decade and barely plays golf these days. Upon further reflection, however, Greg Norman deserves nothing less and probably lots more than star billing amongst Australia&aposs rising young bucks. This, after all, is a man who has been ranked the game s best player, has won two major championships and 86 events around the world and has been the face of Aussie golf almost since the day he turned professional 30 years ago. Arguments no doubt rage on this subject, but if five-time Open champion Peter Thomson is not the greatest-ever Australian golfer, then there is only one other candidate. Although Norman is far from perfect – who is, in golfing terms? – it has always struck this observer as rather odd that his stellar career has not received more plaudits in the land of his birth. Indeed, every time I see the phrase, &aposnever a hero in your home town&apos, I think of the Great White Shark. The doubts and the criticisms stem, it seems to me, from frustration. That such a talented player could and should have won more of golf&aposs four most important events is not in doubt. Quite apart from the high-profile losses to the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Larry Mize and Nick Faldo in the 1986, 1987 and 1996 Masters, to Bob Tway in the 1986 US PGA and to Fuzzy Zoeller in the 1984 US Open, Norman had a better-than-fair chance to win major titles over a period of 15 years or so. In a sport where most stars burn out in less than a decade, his consistently high level of performance is something he – and all Australians – should long be proud of. My initial exposure to the Norman phenomenon came as far back as 1977. Watching a long-forgotten and now defunct European Tour event, the Martini International, at Blairgowrie in Scotland, I came across this enormous white-haired young man who was bashing the ball, it seemed to me, miles down the fairway. Right from the first minute, I could not take my eyes off him, his swashbuckling swing or his mind-boggling shots. That he won the event – his first victory in Europe – by five effortless strokes came as no surprise, such was his dominance of what passed for his competition. It was obvious even then, at the age of 22, that he was destined for the very top of the game. Since that tournament, of course, Norman has come and gone a long way in a gentile sport he often turned into a war between himself and the golf course. And being a Norman fan has never been a simple matter. The gap between success and failure for a man who knew how to play only at full-throttle was never less than vast. In retrospect, that was his downfall at times. Maybe the 3-wood or 1-iron into the fairway would have made more sense at times. Maybe a club less and an easier swing would have helped. But that would not have been true to his attacking instincts and so, at the end of a storied career, is a moot point. Norman&aposs game, of course, has not just been about statistics, or winning and losing. His charismatic presence goes way beyond what did and did not happen on the course. Ask the aforementioned Ogilvy, Scott and Allenby who was their hero and one of the biggest influences on their early careers in golf and the chorus is uniform and loud: “Greg Norman”. When he arrived in Sydney the other day, Greg talked of how &aposhonoured&apos he was to see his image up there alongside the stars of the 21st century. Which is fair enough. But he was being unnecessarily modest. For there can be little doubt that his own ability to put &aposbums on seats&apos has hardly waned, even if he is, at best, a part-time performer these days. So, if you get the chance, pop along to Royal Sydney over the next few days and watch the man in action. You may not get many more opportunities and, whatever else it may be, his play will never be dull. He&aposll make something happen for you – he always has.