The Great White Shark recently celebrated his 60th birthday. He wanted to mark the occasion by doing something special and so he decided he would swim underneath the Antarctic ice cap. “The water is gin clear, and the sound of the whales and other marine life is extraordinary,” Norman says. “I’ve heard that if you look up at the 60 feet of ice above you, it’s a beautiful blue.”
It also happens to be extremely dangerous. Tied to a rope, you have to jump into the water through a small hole drilled into the ice and return to the surface before the hole freezes over again – otherwise you get trapped underneath. But sharks don’t think about danger.
Unfortunately, the boat Norman was going to charter couldn’t accommodate his entourage and so instead, the Aussie celebrated hitting 60, quietly at home, with a small party of 75 or 80 friends.
“I will eventually do it, though,” he says. “It’s on my bucket list.”
It is churlish, but appropriate, to mention that there have been several things on Norman’s bucket list he wasn’t able to achieve during his golfing career. Like winning a Green Jacket, for example. Norman says that when he is pushing up daisies, he would like to be remembered as the man who spread the gospel of golf to all corners of the earth. He points out that, in the early 1990s, he was one of the first professionals to conduct a golf clinic in China – which now has close to 30 million golfers. However, he is more likely to be remembered for very different reasons.
In particular, Norman’s inability to win the Masters must pierce his skin like a harpoon every April. On the Tuesday before the Tournament each year, all of the previous winners assemble for the Champions dinner. Outside, a lonely Shark is left circling in the cold water, able only to think about what might have been.
Norman’s ‘near misses’ with majors are legendary and unique. It’s no exaggeration to say that had luck not deserted him at vital moments, the Great White Shark could easily have eight or nine to his name instead of just the 1986 and 1993 Open Championships. Given the pain the memories of those close calls in the game’s premier events must evoke, it’s ironic that Golf World meets Norman at ‘Tranquility’, his home in Jupiter Island, Florida since 1991. Its name hints at peace and contentment, and as you survey the grounds it’s very easy to see why.
Set in over eight acres, Norman’s sprawling home boasts all the trappings of a man who spent 331 consecutive weeks as world number one and who was nicknamed ‘Hollywood’ by his PGA Tour colleagues back in the ’80s and early ’90s when he was the biggest draw in the game. A series of outbuildings house a home gym and a movie theatre. A golf hole looks out onto the beautiful Hobe Sound and a couple of huge yachts. On the other side of the house is a tennis court and pavillion, the venue for our interview. Ironically, but very tastefully, it is surrounded by azaleas.
Ahead of time, The Shark approached, almost unnoticed, down the meandering drive. He was all smiles. The passing of years may have made Norman longer in the tooth; but those same teeth are still incredibly white.
As we talked he relaxed, and answered questions with amazing honesty and candour. We covered a whole range of subjects, including his agonising collapses, his astonishing business acumen, his thoughts on the afterlife, his relationship with Sir Nick Faldo and his new career as a presenter with Fox Sports. But we started by asking him a very easy opener...
Golf World: Do you actually feel 60?
Greg Norman: No. I feel good. I feel fitter now than I have ever felt before in my life. I feel 45. I work out in the gym for two hours at a time, three or four days a week.
Are you slowing down at all?
No. There is going to come a time when I don’t want to put in the hours. But, by then, I will have the right people in place. I love working with my wife. She is an interior designer, and we now have a new division in the company. In our design business, we do the architectural services – designing clubhouses or villas – and she does the interiors.
Do you think two majors is a fair reflection of how much talent you had? I mean, Andy North won two...
No. Look, there were plenty of occasions when I had the chance to win majors. Sometimes, other players did things to win. Other times, I screwed up. But that’s golf. These things happen.
Come on, Greg. They happened more to you than anyone else in the history of the game. Bob Tway, Larry Mize and Robert Gamez, for example, all holed miracle shots to beat you.
That’s true. And who knows why that’s the case. I call it ‘destiny’. Everything happens for a reason in this life. I believe that. I really do. I don’t know why it happens. But it does.
Are you religious or spiritual?
I believe there is something, I’m not sure what it is. Call it a superpower, if you want. There is some energy out there, which makes these things happen.
At the 1984 US Open, at Winged Foot, you shoot 276 – a score good enough to have won all but four of the 83 previous US Opens. But Fuzzy Zoeller matches that score, and goes on to beat you in the play-off. What are your memories?
I drove the ball beautifully that week. I holed a very long putt on the last green, in regulation, probably a 40-footer. That’s when Fuzzy, playing in the group behind me, got his white hanky out, and waved it as if surrendering. Even he thought I had won. He assumed that putt was for a birdie. It wasn’t. It was for a par.
In 1986, you led all four majors after three rounds, but only won one of them – the Open at Turnberry. Tell us about the 1986 Masters?
I was a shot in the lead on Saturday night, but had a horrible start on Sunday. In fact, I was nowhere on the leaderboard, and Jack [Nicklaus] playing ahead of me, was doing his stuff, making birdies, and the crowds were going nuts. Then I made four birdies in a row from the 14th, and found myself on the 18th tee, level with Nicklaus; needing a birdie to beat him.
What were you thinking, after a great drive, as you stood in the 18th fairway with a 4-iron, 175 yards out?
I had 179 yards actually! The pin was in an unusual spot for a Sunday – right at the back. Steve [Williams – Norman’s caddie] wanted me to hit a 5-iron, but I thought I needed to hit the 4 to get up the step in the green. I wish I’d hit the 5. That’s destiny, right there! What was it that made Jack win? He was 46 and everything that could have gone wrong for him at that time, had gone wrong. He was close to bankruptcy, for example. Everything happens for a reason.
That same year, at the US PGA at Inverness, Ohio, you have a four-shot lead going into the final round. After one hole, the heavens open, play is abandoned until Monday and the course changes completely. From being hard and fast it becomes very soft. In that final round, you’re level with Bob Tway and your approach to the 18th green would have nestled beside the flag 24 hours earlier. But because of the soft conditions, it stops on the front fringe…
Yes, but once he’s gone in the bunker, I’m thinking he’s got a really horrible shot. It would have been even tougher if it had been dry, but he’d completely short-sided himself. There was no way he could stop it close. Even he said, at the time, he wasn’t trying to make it, but just get it reasonably close. But it hit the flag hard, and disappeared. That was a big shock.
Eight months later, at the next major, the ’87 Masters, is that déjà vu?
I had a putt to win on the 72nd hole in regulation, and I still don’t know how that putt stayed out! It did absolutely everything, but drop. And so, we go to a play-off. On the 11th [the second play-off hole] after Seve has made a bogey at the 10th, I am on the fringe, and I know he [Mize] is in real trouble. That’s just not where you want to be, in that valley, down on the right. It’s an impossible shot. When he hit his chip, and it was rolling across the green, I was looking down at my ball. And then, I heard this amazing roar. I have never heard a noise that loud on a golf course, before or since. Now, instead of thinking I can two-putt for victory, I need to hole it. And, of course, I didn’t.
At the 1989 Open at Royal Troon, you make six consecutive birdies in a final- round 64 and find yourself in a play-off with Wayne Grady and Mark Calcavecchia. You birdie the 1st hole while the other two make pars. In previous years, this would have meant you’d won the Claret Jug. But this was the year the R&A decided to introduce the first ever four-hole play-off. Destiny?
For whatever reason, it wasn’t meant to be. I get to the final hole of the play-off still a shot ahead, and hit the most perfect drive. I still don’t know how it reached the fairway bunker. It pitched on a downslope and just ran and ran, right up against the face. As I’m over the ball in that bunker, I have to back off. They had the TVs on in the big hotel, to the right of that fairway. The windows were open, because of the hot weather. And I could hear Peter Alliss describing the shot I had in front of me! After that, things went from bad to worse.
Then, the PGA returns to Inverness in 1993. After what happened to you there with Tway in ’86, presumably you thought you had a score to settle?
I don’t remember much about that week, but I do remember the first hole of the play-off [with Paul Azinger]. My putt to win did an incredible horseshoe around the hole. Azinger said afterwards it was one of the nastiest lipouts he’d ever seen!
Then, the famous one, the ’96 Masters, with Faldo? You’re sitting on a six-shot lead on Saturday night…
Yeah. I was in the locker room in the clubhouse, after the third round, when Peter Dobereiner, who used to write for your magazine, came in. “Even you can’t screw this one up, Greg!” he said as he walked by. In those days, I had this imaginary little man in my head who I used to talk to; and he used to talk back to me. He told me to get that thought out of my head, immediately! “Rip it up and throw it away”, he said. But I couldn’t. In that final round, the shot that changed things was my approach to the 9th. That came within a couple of feet of being very good; but after that I was always struggling.
Is there any truth that Faldo had a bit of a jinx over you – dating back to the 1990 Open? Was there any scar tissue when it came to playing with him?
No. Not at all. I was always very good at recovering from moments like that. I could put that sort of thing out my mind very quickly. Faldo was tough to play with; he just did his own thing. I never understood why, if your playing partner hits a good shot, you can’t say, “Nice shot”. But that was just the way Faldo played.
What did Nick say to you during your hug on the 18th green?
He just said: “Don’t let the bastards get you down” – talking about the press. I got some incredible letters after that week. More than I’d ever got before. It was very moving. Everything happens for a reason!
Twelve years later, now aged 53, you are standing on the 16th green, at the 2008 Open, at Royal Birkdale, in the final round. You still think you can win, right?
I did. But earlier than that, we came off the 9th green, and I was still a shot in the lead. Then we had a 40-minute wait before we could hit our tee shots at the 10th. I was playing really well at that point, and I wanted to keep playing, of course. But then, suddenly, you find yourself in a goldfish bowl, with everyone looking at you; and you have to just sit there and wait. But, despite all that, I was still in with a chance, as I was putting on the 16th. I still truly believed I could win the golf tournament. It was a great feeling.
Then Padraig [Harrington] hit this shot from the fairway, on the par-5 17th, which was one of the best shots I’ve seen anyone play, in my life! I was standing on the other side of the fairway, and
I couldn’t believe the club he had pulled out. I couldn’t believe he was going for the green, off a downhill lie. That changed my mind-set; because I didn’t have a great lie in the semi-rough. He dictated the terms by hitting such a great shot.
If you had won just half of the majors we’ve mentioned – and there are others we haven’t – your career would have been very different indeed...
It would. But I really don’t spend a lot of time looking back. I would rather look forward. What happens happens. Like I said, I believe in destiny. You learn a lot more when things go wrong than when they go right.
Do you think you would have been as successful in business if you had won nine or 10 majors?
I don’t know. Difficult to say.
What is business like right now?
It’s good, actually. Money is moving again. We’ve weathered the storm, and things are turning around. I’d say we’ve only reached about 20 per cent of our potential at Great White Shark Enterprises.
Your company has 20 fully or partially- owned divisions – from course design, grass, event management and apparel to real estate, wine and GPS Technology. Which element do you get most enjoyment from?
Probably my golf course design business. I like that you’re actually creating something. We’ve built 95 courses around the world with 42 currently under contract and 22 under development. People are building golf courses again. The negative trend we’ve had in the US of courses shutting down is flat-lining. Next year, more courses will open than close.
When we last talked, four years ago, you said that of all the courses you had built, you were most proud of Doonbeg in Ireland. Now that Donald Trump has bought Doonbeg, is that still the case?
I’m incredibly disappointed he’s not using us [to modify the golf course]. After all we’ve done there, all the site visits, and the way we worked with the environmentalists all the time, no-one else knows more about that place than we do. I think our name is going to come off it now. It’s incredibly disappointing. You won’t hear me talking much about it from now on.
What about Trump’s other recent purchase – Turnberry? Given you won the Open there, why didn’t you buy that?
We looked at it. We looked at it for a long time. But there were one or two things which didn’t make it sensible.
Your company posted $300m in revenues in 2014. Is money a motivator?
No. Never has been. It’s more to do with the opportunities and the jobs you are giving to people. I’m a great believer that happiness comes from within; and you’re the only one who can create that happiness. Success doesn’t create happiness. Happiness creates success. I know a lot of successful, wealthy people who are totally miserable. And I know a lot of people with no money who are the happiest people in the world.
How did the nickname ‘Great White Shark’ come about?
At the first Masters I ever played, in 1981, I was leading after the first round. In my press conference, no-one knew who I was but they wanted to know more about me. They asked what I enjoyed doing, and I mentioned I sometimes went fishing for sharks. The next morning, the headline in the paper was ‘Great White Shark leads Masters’. That was cool. Before that, I was the ‘Golden Bear Cub’, but I didn’t want a name off the back of someone else. I wanted to be my own entity.
Tell us about your Fox Sports contract?
They’ve hired me as a lead analyst on four events this year – the US Open, the Women’s US Open, the Senior Open and the Amateur. They phoned me the moment they signed their 12-year contract with the USGA. I went out to Chambers Bay with the entire team, in April. We sat down with Mike Davis to understand what goes on behind the scenes, with course set-up, adapting to potential weather conditions etc. Mike is doing a terrific job at the USGA, and I’m really excited to be working with them. They’ve stepped out of the box, with a gutsy move, going to Fox; and they’re going to make an impact.
Why didn’t you play The Open at St Andrews?
I had one of my Fox weeks a couple of weeks before, so I didn’t have enough time to practise, and so on. I don’t want to take a tee time from some young guy who would get a kick out of the experience.
In your garden, you have an American and an Australian flag, alongside each other. Given how long you’ve spent in America, do you feel a bit American?
No. I feel 100 per cent Australian. Always have. Always will. I’m just lucky enough to live here. I go back home to Australia between four and six times a year.
Is there a part of you that would like to live there permanently?
Absolutely. But my business is here. I’d have to uproot everything. And America’s tax laws make it very difficult for me to do so, unless I want to pay an awful lot of tax.
Is golf in a healthy place right now?
I love where the professional game is at the moment. It reminds me of the mid ’80s and early ’90s where – no matter where you went – you had 12 or 15 players who could beat your ass. That was the unique feature of our era. It wasn’t an era of domination, like you had with Jack or Arnold. Instead, there was myself and Seve and Faldo and Langer and Couples and Woosie and Price and Lyle etc. We could all beat each other. The game is moving towards that again. Rory and Jordan are leading it, and they’re two fantastic leaders for the game. For the next 10, they will set new standards. Come back in 10 years and see if I’m not right…
That’s a date Greg. We will. So, finally, do you have any regrets in life?
None. I’ve always lived to seize the moment. What’s done is done. Whatever you can do from this moment on is up to you…
And with that, the Shark says his goodbyes and disappears back into the world of big business and Gulfstream jets. Who knows what the next 10 years hold for Norman. What is certain, though, is that the Australian will spend more time moving forward, rather than looking back.
After all, that’s something sharks have to do to stay alive