Date: September 11, 2013
Author: Peter Stone /

Behind the scenes – A Shark’s tale: Part 2

I must admit now I am curious as to what Greg Norman had screwed up or, to the contrary, done exceedingly well that day he stood in front of the mirror alongside me at the hand basin in the locker-room at Kingston Heath in his birthday suit. Now, I realise I must have missed something that day, 15 or so years ago, in around 40 years of Shark watching after his revelation in part two of the ABC s Australian Story episode on him. After a brief re-cap of part one, Norman was on screen saying: I always looked myself in the mirror, to this day I still do, and not cleaning your teeth, not preening, brushing your hair or making yourself look good but actually standing there if you want to do it bare-arsed naked, do it bare-arsed naked.” Stand there and look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself two or three questions about something you may have screwed up that day. You look at the mirror and tell (ask) yourself, What did you do wrong that day or (was it) something you have been proud of? Through the years, Norman has always been good for a quote. His press conferences were always a little bit like feeding the chooks give the assembled hacks something they can write about. In the early 1990 s when Craig Parry was playing exceptionally well, he asked me why he never seemed to get much exposure in the papers. Basically he was bland in press conferences and I said: Always come with a talking point thought in your mind to grab attention. He took the advice on board and the result was he, too, became extremely quotable and one of the most popular players, not only with the media but the Australian public. But, let s get back to Norman. President Bill Clinton spoke of his round of golf with the Shark at the NSW Golf Club on the afternoon of the opening day of the 1996 Australian Open at The Australian. Norman carded a first round 67 and headed out La Perouse to meet up with Clinton. The US Secret Service approved a few days earlier to be in attendance and I was the lone Australian golf writer among the caravan of political journalists. It was stuff straight from the movies with the suited Secret Service agents, earpieces attached, not watching Clinton s quite ordinary swing, but every bush that moved. Clinton told the Australian Story he duck-hooked his opening tee shot on the short part four out-of-bounds. What he didn t say was Norman immediately said: Hey Tony (Navarro, his caddie), go and get another dozen balls from the pro-shop. I d left the reporting duties for the Sydney Morning Herald that day in the capable hands of Mike Cowley and he wrote of Tiger Woods opening 79 in his first tournament round ever in Australia for the sports pages while I was up front telling our readers how the suited guys even followed their boss into the scrub for a call of nature. Norman, the Republican, duly won his fifth Australian Open that year after playing golf with a Democrat President and formed a firm friendship that lasts to this day. Woods recovered with rounds of 72-71-70 to finish tied fifth, 12 shots behind Norman. Part two quite rightly gave due attention to the business empire Norman forged under the banner of Great White Shark Enterprises. TV is vision and words with very little room for the in-depth behind-the scenes stuff. Norman was making the management company IMG millions of dollars as a result of its percentage of off-course endorsement deals and Norman wanted to control his own business destiny and also diversify as a living brand. He told IMG s vice president Hughes Norton and then Australasian boss James Erskine of his decision in his Sydney hotel room in 1993 and that he was taking with him Frank Williams who d sold his ownership of the Australian Masters to IMG and then joined the management company in 1988. Norton and Erskine, who subsequently also left IMG to form his own highly successful Sports and Entertainment Limited company, were devastated. One of the cash cows was departing and it was acrimonious. That spilled out early the following year at the Australian Masters, a tournament Norman was synonymous with, having won it six times between 1981 and 1990. I was out on the Huntingdale course watching Norman play a practice round when he beckoned me across. In short, he said: This tournament has lost its atmosphere, lost its magic. There, presented on a platter by the Shark was a back page headline and one hell of a stink. Erskine, in his press conference the following day, thundered back in Norman s presence: What do you want, gold loo paper on your private jet? A young Ernie Els who was also part of the press conference watched on in bewilderment about what head stumbled into in a foreign land. Was this the way they do things in Australia? The Australian Masters, I once wrote specifically in relation to John Daly when he first played in 1992, was the Melbourne Cup of golf, a tournament for those with no interest in golf, save for one week, where they came to get drunk. I wrote Daly might well feel quite at home which did not go down well with a number of Huntingdale officials. Norman developed a close friendship with Kerry Packer that later had its golfing triumph when they combined to win the Pebble Beach pro-am on the USPGA Tour in 1992. He asked Packer for some business advice in the mid-1980s Son, you keep out of my business and I ll keep out of yours, Packer replied. Packer died in late December 2005, and there was a story to be written about his involvement in golf, as the primary sponsor of the Australian Open between 1975 and 1978 and his association with Norman. It was just a few days after the Australian PGA announced its Golfer of the Century that was Norman ahead of five-times British Open Champion. I d written that I disagreed, and that Thommo should have been the man, but didn t even think of that when I telephoned Norman for comment on Packer s death at 6 am the morning after Packer s death. Greg, Peter Stone here. What s all that sh** you wrote that Thomson should have been Golfer of the Century rather than me? he thundered back. A vigorous argument followed, loud enough to wake my wife a couple of rooms away in our home. When the Shark settled, he was generous in his words about Packer- Kerry has been very open and about being there for me, just as he is for cricketers and all other sportsmen and women. He’s been great to everyone like that, he said. Clearly part of his life had gone missing with Packer s death. But, my conversation with Norman that day clearly belies his statement in part one of the Australian Story when he said: I have no ego. Why else bring up the Golfer of the Century debate if he didn t? I can also point you to his comments after winning his 1996 British Open. He said he was in awe of himself, especially after his second round 63 around the Turnberry layout. Then, again, in 1993 after winning The Open at Royal George s he used the exact same words again. Ego. Yes of course it was but we were in awe of him as well for so often had he promised but not delivered. His third wife Kristen Kiki told Australian Story the Shark has a wicked sense of humour and there is certainly truth in that. Frank Williams will use capital letters to say exactly the same. There was the time when Norman, in his helicopter, flew over Williams home in Florida with a spotlight directed on the house and a loud hailer in hand Drug raid, drug raid, Norman called from the hovering helicopter. Williams neighbours began to wonder exactly who the hell they were living next door to. Williams decided to get square by asking Norman when he was playing a skins game at Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast when, with Norman fitted with a TV microphone while playing, Williams asked Norman to sign a glove for Boris Yelstsin – we re building a golf course for him. **** Boris Yeltsin, Norman replied, refusing to sign. The media, filled in that the TV microphone was off at the time, asked the Shark in his press conference afterwards why head told the Russian president to go forth. Norman immediately twigged, He d been set up. Norman s payback came a couple of years later. It was at the Australian Masters cocktail party when four uniformed police officers arrived and said: Frank Williams, we have a warrant for your arrest from Scotland Yard for your arrest concerning the illegal transfer of money and money laundering. The plods hauled Williams off to the cells at the Carlton police station, and asked him to remove his belt, saying, We never know in your position what people might do. Williams was locked up and the handed a note Paybacks are hell, you ******. Love Greg. All that said but so much more to write about Greg Norman, about accompanying him on a shark fishing expedition to Port Lincoln in South Australia, of being telephoned by Norman at home one evening when the course superintendent at Kingston Heath, Graeme Grant, bit back to cause a media explosion over Norman s remark the course had been tricked up for the 1996 Australian Open. Norman wanted guidance on how to quell the media pack that was all over the story; we talked in through the following day at his own tournament, The Greg Norman Holden Invitational, at The Lakes in Sydney. There are so many stories, so much drama to write of that Norman said in the Australian Story he wants no more of. Another thing the Shark said was: Some people think I m very standoffish but once I have you in my inner circle I m an extremely loyal guy but once you cross that line of loyalty and go to the other side I m very quick to cut people out of my life because I have no time for it. I have always regarded Greg Norman as a friend and written glowingly of his deeds through the years, but there have been times when professionalism to one s craft calls for tough yarns as well. Some folk have called me a Norman sycophant, and expression I reject totally. Here for I ve told a few tales, and expressed a few views, of a near working lifetime writing about the man. Should I be cut from that inner circle, so be it. With that, I ll just end with the words of our Masters Champion Adam Scott who said: (Greg) was one guy who inspired a national of golfers. And, I ll add, Greg Norman was a golfer who brought exhilaration, excitement plus more than his share of utter sadness to a nation of golfers and non-golfers through an extraordinary, and at times, sensational career.