Date: September 09, 2013
Author: Peter Stone /

Behind the scenes – A Shark’s tale: Part 1

In the first of a two-part series, columnist Peter Stone reveals some of his best and often unheard stories about the Great White Shark… I have great admiration for the ABC s Australian Story for it presents beautifully crafted television with insights into the famous and not so famous. Invariably the series tugs at the heartstrings as they take you inside the world of the subject involved. That said, I found episodes on Greg Norman (the second episode which airs tonight) somewhat disappointing, indeed lame in part, because it really revealed nothing new about the flamboyant, charismatic even, man every Australian figuratively lived and died for while following his career. Shakespeare, had he been still with us, would surely have made Norman one of the many tragically even fatally flawed characters of his plays. Australian Story obviously had the full co-operation of the Shark and his immediate circle of family and friends and one can only think there may have been a certain sanitation process involved. Some years back, Norman, it s understood, vowed never again to give a one-on-one interview with a television reporter unless it went to air live and thus not subject to editing and the cutting room floor after giving a trusted friend a lengthy interview for one of the weeknight TV current affairs programmes that was reduced to just a few minutes concentrating on his wealth. So, before giving this website s readers a few Shark yarns rarely told and certainly not covered by Australian Story, what have we learnt so far? Perhaps the most astonishing revelation was his statement that he has no ego . Of course he does. Everyone has one. At the golf club to which I belong you leave it at the front door as, otherwise, it will be (verbally) kicked out of you the moment you step foot in the clubhouse. That s the way it should be, not just golfers but for those from any walk of life who share a common interest. Walter Hagen did have a massive ego, saying whenever he walked into the locker-room before a tournament who s going to run second this week whilst for the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and, yes, Norman it wasn t (or isn t in Woods case) stated directly but rather in their bearing. But, more of his ego – or lack of it – later in my version of Australian Story Greg Norman. The Shark told TV viewers he wants no more drama . Well, it is indisputable that much of the drama he’s been involved in through his career has been of his own creation. Read on for a few instances of that. One cat that was let out of the bag in Episode One was the interview with Norman s sister, Janis, who whenever we ve crossed paths through the years while following her brother on the golf course through his career struck me as a good, down-to-earth person. Janis said there was no warmth from Norman s second wife Chris Evert whenever she came visiting Australia on holidays with the Shark and didn t try to embrace us as a family . She revealed her husband Jimmy told her at the wedding of her brother to Evert, referred to as the Ice Maiden during her tennis career, that the marriage wouldn t last two years I ll give it two years but it didn t even last two years. It lasted 18 months (15 actually) – then Jimmy won all the bets. On hearing the marriage was over, Janis said: Hallelujah. Norman s first marriage was to American Laura Andrassy, a union of 25 years that ended in 2006, a story I broke in the Sydney Morning Herald under a curfew imposed by Norman that I readily agreed to. It was in early May, 2006 when I was told by a couple of contacts in the golfing world that Norman and Laura were getting divorced a settlement figure of $400 million was mentioned and I took the bull by the horns or Shark by the teeth if you will and rang him on his US cell phone. There was no easy way to pose the question I ve been told your marriage is stuffed. Where the hell did you hear that from? he thundered back, with a few expletives thrown in. We talked it through. He agreed I d write the story but imposed a few conditions. Firstly, he was coming to Australia within days for two weeks of golf course design business and catching up with his family to tell them his marriage was over plus a Golf Australia launch of that year s Australian Open championship. Norman asked that the story not be published until the morning after he had boarded his private jet the previous evening to return to the US so he would be out of contact for 20 or so hours when the proverbial hit the fan. Secondly, he asked that I read the story back to him after I d written it and put it in cold storage until he left so he would know what I d written and what quotes I d used when the inevitable questions came from other reporters. Thirdly, he asked that any divorce settlement figure not be in the first few paragraphs of the story. Newspaper sub-editors through the years have had an insatiable appetite for a sensational headline, even in a respected journal such as the SMH. All three conditions were entirely reasonable and I agreed. At the open launch when he still had a few days remaining in Australia, he asked: Have you written the story yet? No, I replied. Damn it, I ve lost a bet with Bart (Collins, his right hand man in Great White Shark Enterprises). A couple of days later I rang him on his Australian mobile to read him the story Is it an inconvenient time? I asked. It was. He was driving with his son Gregory somewhere in the Gold Coast hinterland and could he call me back. When he did, the only change he made was to the paragraphs concerning the possible settlement. I d written: It is believed the settlement may cost Norman as much as $400 million. Bloody hell, that s a bit high, he said. Okay, I ll halve it, I replied. In fact, it was halved again by the lawyers for Norman and Laura, and the reported settlement was $100 million. In Australian Story, the story of how Norman met Laura was repeated that she was an American Airlines stewardess and, when he set eyes on her, he said that s the girl I m going to marry. Well, I reckon I can trump that. My first meeting with Norman was during the 1972 Australian Amateur championship and interstate amateur teams series in Brisbane. He was 17, but a strapping big lad with the blond mane, and pretty damn sure of himself even then. I m going to win a million dollars and I m going to marry an American girl, he declared to anyone who cared to listen. In 1973, he played his first Australian Open at Royal Queensland and he began with rounds of 71-76-71 and was drawn with Terry Gale, the one of the leading amateurs in the land, and the as yet unnamed Shark wanted to beat Gale for the leading amateur trophy. He had a mate, Roger Dwyer, caddying for him, and Dwyer had left the pull buggy unattended on side of the green while Norman played a bunker shot from the opposite side of the green. He caught the bunker shot a touch thin and his ball raced across the green to strike the buggy. It was a two-shot penalty. He ran up an eight on the hole and fronted his mate demanding to know why head been so stupid. Dwyer was devastated but said to Norman: One day you re going to be a great player. Rome wasn t built in a day, and you ll have many more bad breaks. I m sorry. Tears welled in Norman s eyes, and he buried his head in a towel to hide them. He shot a 77 to finish runner-up to Gale for the amateur trophy, but how prophetic Dwyer s words were to be. Talk to Larry Mize and Bob Tway, as the Australian Story did, and their freak shots to thrust a gaffer in Norman s heart, but not the 1996 Masters when Norman took a six-shot lead into the final round. You have to call it one of the greatest chokes in golf. He shot a final round 78 to finish runner-up to his nemesis Nick Faldo who fired a near faultless 67. Norman, in his book The Way of the Shark, wrote: I blew a six-shot lead on the final day. I was heart-broken at first. But the aftermath of that entire episode moved me so deeply that I came to realise that there was much more to life than winning golf tournaments (that) negative experience changed my life made me a better man. I d telephoned Norman s parents Merv and Toini asking if I could fly to Brisbane to sit through the final round with them on television to write a piece for the SMH. Toini, ever polite and courteous, declined, saying: I m sorry. This one is for us. They went for a long drive to clear their heads and be alone with their thoughts went an entire nation shed tears for Norman, but several hours later gave me a call to talk of their utter devastation. No doubt we ll hear more of that tonight when the second of the Australian Story goes to air. Hopefully it has a little more meat but, regardless, I ll give you the second part of my many recollections of the life and times of one Greg Norman, aka the Shark. Part 2 of Peter Stone&aposs Greg Norman story will appear on Wednesday