Date: May 22, 2007
Author: Alistair Hogg

Norman Von Nida: 1914-2007

By Alistair Hogg Australian golfing great Norman Von Nida has passed away peacefully in his Gold Coast nursing home, aged 93. The Sydney born, but Brisbane raised legend shot to prominence when he won the Queensland Amateur as an 18-year old in 1932 and went on to become one of Australia&aposs best professional golfers and most notable coaches. Von Nida won the Australian Open on three occasions and claimed the Australian PGA Championship four times in a career that spanned four decades. The Queenslander became the first Australian to have regular success in the United Kingdom, finishing second on the British Order of Merit in 1946; the first year he competed on the tour. Von Nida returned in 1947 to win seven tournaments, top the OOM and in 1948, win the British Masters. Von Nida&aposs passion for golf started at the tender age of nine when he became a caddy at Royal Queensland Golf Club. He reguarly won the state caddy competition and soon realised his talents were better utilised on the course rather than on the bag. His 1932 Queensland Amateur win was the launching pad for Von Nida&aposs career and he opted to turn professional after not even a year on the amateur circuit. The Queenslander&aposs talents were still developing but it soon became apparent that the kid could play when he defeated US Open Champion Gene Sarazen in a one-off 18-hole match play event. The story goes that the American offered to bet any golfer, any sum of money for a match over 18-holes. Von Nida took him up on the offer and after borrowing his stake from a friend, went on to beat the champ and began to realise what great potential he had. Von Nida started to play professional tournaments in New South Wales as it was where the money and the competition was in that particular era of Australian golf. He won the NSW Open and NSW Pro Championship three times each before making the leap to try his luck overseas. His first sojourn on foreign soil yielded immediate success with back-to-back wins at the Philippines Open in 1938/39. Buoyed by his victories, Von Nida set sail, quite literally, for the United States to compete in the 1939 US Open. The journey took five weeks and Von Nida finished a respectable 10th position in a tournament won by legend Byron Nelson. However, it was other events that week occurring across the Atlantic which would have a far greater impact on the Australian&aposs blossoming career. During the final round at Philadelphia Country Club, England declared war on Germany. With the imminent outbreak of World War II, Von Nida heeded the call from his country and immediately returned home to sign up with the Australian Armed Forces. In the five years he was enlisted in the service, Von Nida did not swing a club. One could be excused for losing their passion for the game, but following the German collapse in 1945 Von Nida returned to the practice fairways, hitting balls with gusto for up to 10 hours a day. His stint in the army had done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for golf and he returned to the course more determined than ever. The following year Von Nida embarked on a journey to England; a journey he undertook every year until 1964. The trip took five weeks and stopped in Cairns, Darwin, Kopeng, Bali, Singapore, Rangoon, Calcutta, Karachi, Bahrain, Cairo and Rome before finally arriving in London. The boom of air travel would later make his overseas travels less arduous. Von Nida won a total of 17 tournaments in the years he spent playing in Europe and also competed in 16 British Opens, but could only manage a third-place finish on two occasions. In 1968, Von Nida was forced to retire after suffering from blurred vision. He was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration, a condition which disables the nerves at the back of the eye. It was sad for a champion of the game to be forced into retirement in this manner, but he did it in style by claiming his final title in his home state; the 1968 Queensland Open. Von Nida&aposs career spanned four decades and included more tournament wins than most modern-day professionals can boast. He played in many countries, with great success and inspired generations of golfers to take up the game. Upon retiring, Von Nida began a career as a golf instructor. He has been coach and mentor for countless young golfers including five-time British Open winner Peter Thomson, former US Masters champion Gary Player and US Open winner David Graham among many, many others. His coaching philosophy was successful, although considered unusual by many. Von Nida believed that there was no theory or textbook method behind the &aposperfect&apos golf swing. Instead, he encouraged players to find a swing that gave them confidence in their own ability. It was a method that evidently found success for many of his students. As a tribute to his contribution to the game, the PGA Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia named its developmental tour after him. The Von Nida Tour was implemented to provide an important &aposathlete pathway&apos for players to gain experience and competition to prepare them for their careers as professional golfers. It was a fitting tribute for a man that did so much to develop the game at all levels. He will be forever remembered as a trailblazer and a pioneer to the game of golf. His contribution to the game in Australia as both a player and a coach will never be forgotten and his legacy will live on throughout the fairways and greens of this country. R.I.P. Norman Von Nida; 1914-2007