PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club

Golf Digest Logo My Shot

For tales of near missses, Greg Norman is the man to see

By Guy Yocom Photos by Dom Furore
October 22, 2008

Editor's Note: This my shot interview first ran in the April 2004 issue of Golf Digest

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As a young man I used to have a dream where I was stuck in the corner of a room, a big boulder was rolling toward me, and there was nowhere to go. I'd wake up and think, Maybe that boulder represents the world, and it's getting bigger, and there are all kinds of opportunity coming my way. Then I'd think, Maybe that boulder is the world, and it's going to smash me to death. I stopped having the dream by working so hard during the day that I couldn't dream at night — or at least couldn't remember the dream when I woke up.

I used to be in awe of Seve Ballesteros and the way he'd deliberately hook or slice the ball 60 yards. He was the best shotmaker I ever saw. We'll never see the likes of him again, because the equipment won't allow it. It's very hard to make the modern ball curve. You've heard this before, usually from a 70-year-old guy who you think is just pining for the good old days. But I'm telling you, equipment has made the game less spectacular to watch.

Most amateurs would die to be able to spin the ball backward, but for a pro there's no problem as frustrating as spinning the ball too much. During the mid-'80s I played the Tour Edition ball, which spun like no ball before or since. The third hole at Augusta National was a nightmare for me. There just was no place to land the ball and keep it on the green. Once, not knowing what else to do, I landed my ball on the right side of the green and spun it sideways 90 feet to the left, to where the pin was. The Tour Edition helped me win the 1986 British Open at Turnberry, because the greens were like rocks, and it was the only ball that would hold. But it killed me in majors in America, including more than one Masters, because the damn thing spun so much.

I'm in a helicopter with my wife just west of Sydney. It's a hot day, we've got a full passenger load, and we're full of fuel. We came in too hot speed-wise for a tight landing zone near some apple trees. Suddenly alarms went off as the pilot tried to correct his mistake. The tail rotor hit the ground, and he tried to pull back, which lurched us forward into the apple orchard. At the last minute he reduced power and dropped us on the ground. It felt like when I landed on an aircraft carrier. Laura was stunned; I was furious. I really lit into that pilot, who didn't seem to comprehend how close we'd come to buying the farm.

If we're three-dimensional figures and throw a two-dimensional shadow, why aren't we the shadow of the fourth dimension? What I'm saying is, had I died in that helicopter crash, there's another life after this one.

Steve Elkington and I had just finished dinner with our hosts at a restaurant in Portland a while back. We're walking to our cars, and a group of guys recognize us and start giving us a hard time. I've been in that situation before, and the best thing to do is walk away. Steve, though, held his ground. Unlike a lot of guys in that situation, he was ready to get it on. We finally got everybody in the car, and we peeled out of there. Now the guys follow us down the freeway and start throwing beer bottles at the car. We finally ditched them. It was an exciting night for our hosts. That's all they talked about the rest of our stay. I had a hard time making them believe that I get this stuff from time to time. I don't know what it is. Maybe people don't like the way I look.

Don't piss off a kangaroo. He'll stand on his tail and kick hell out of you with his big feet, which have huge toenails. Don't fool with a koala bear, either. You look at one and want to put him next to your pillow, but climb a tree and mess with him and you've got a problem. Sharks you already know about.

You don't know pain until you've had the bends. Not long ago I was scuba diving 88 feet under the surface, chasing a fish, and caught my regulator on an overhanging rock. It was punctured, and I didn't know it. Suddenly I'm in big trouble. I either had to find my buddy or ascend fast, or I'd suffocate. I chose the ascent, but knowing that air in my lungs would expand as I went up. I made it out and into the boat just in time. Lying there, it felt like someone put my joints in a vice. It was a mild case of the bends, but even then it was almost more than I could bear.

That huge power outage in the Northeast last year hit during the PGA at Oak Hill. I had just come off the golf course. The house I was staying in had no power for hours. It was so peaceful. We found some candles and improvised dinner. We left the house on a quest for ice to keep our beer cold; we laughed and felt satisfied when we found some. The best part was, my cell phone didn't work. It was like camping out. I loved it.

You may remember when Bruce Edwards left Tom Watson for a time and came to work for me. We became very close friends, which happens more rarely than you might think. Caddie-player relationships tend to run their course, however, and Bruce and I knew exactly when that point had come. It was a Friday at Milwaukee. I'd had a bad run of playing and was mad at myself and getting short-tempered with Bruce. Standing in the car-park area, we looked at each other and knew what the other guy was thinking. Bruce said, "Maybe we should go our separate ways." I told him I agreed, and we both shed some tears. Bruce went back to Tom, and I think there was a happy destiny in that, because with all Bruce is going through, there is no better man to be there for him than Tom.

My exposure to some of the best financial minds in the world taught me one thing: Never put your money at risk. When you sign your name on the bottom line, make sure you aren't the guarantor of anything. Invest in things where, in a worst-case scenario, you don't get the return you hoped for, but still get a return.

Tiger is almost halfway to Jack's record in the majors. I've got a feeling the second half will be much harder than the first. See, great players have always appeared every 10 years. Arnold Palmer is 10 years older than Jack, who's 10 years older than Watson. Bobby Jones was 10 years older than Nelson, Hogan and Snead, who were the same age. Somewhere there's a kid—maybe several of them—exactly 10 years younger than Tiger, who's 28. They're working hard on their games and dreaming of nothing else but being the best. In five years they're going to make it very, very hard for Tiger. Will he break the record? Time will tell.

Some players have good hand/eye coordination. Others have feel. My strength was a sense of where I am in space and a feel for the things around me. Depth perception, sensing where the wind is coming from and how hard it's blowing, how firm a green is just by looking at it, that sort of thing. You can spin me around in a dark room, and when you stop I can tell you which way north is. When I hunt or fish in the wild or go scuba diving, I have no apprehension about my surroundings. When you play with someone who seems to be a "natural," they often have this sense.

I wouldn't mind seeing the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup joined into a truly international three-way competition. But the PGA Tour, which controls the Presidents Cup, would have to concede some control, and the people there don't want to give up control of anything. I found that out when I tried to start a form of the World Golf Championships. I was knocked down by the PGA Tour and told it would be bad for golf, only to watch the people there create the very thing I had in mind. With the PGA Tour, it's all about control.

Bob Tway holing it from the bunker, I could live with. It was a shot that a good pro holes fairly often. Robert Gamez and David Frost holing out to beat me, they hurt, but I got over them. The one that killed me inside was Larry Mize's chip at the Masters. That was destiny saying, You aren't going to win this tournament.

In high school the teacher would give us the cane. If you got out of line, out would come the bamboo cane, five feet long. They made you hold out your hands, and whack! The number of whacks depended on the severity of the offense. Man, did that smart. I don't look back on it as being particularly barbaric. It was fair, effective discipline.

When I turn 50 I might play in the senior majors, but that's it. One reason I developed outside business interests was so I wouldn't be dependent on playing to make a living. And it might be a moot point—the Champions Tour might not even exist by the time I turn 50.

I was for Casey Martin, big time. The PGA Tour blew it, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer blew it. I thought it was disgraceful. They forgot to ask themselves one question: What if he were my own son?

Some golfers are consistently lucky. They hit their ball in the trees, and as you help them look for it, you get the feeling you'll not only find the ball, but they'll have a good lie and an opening. Sure enough, they do. The luckiest golfer I've known is Freddie Couples. Ask Fred; he'll admit he's lucky. My luck is average, with a couple of the bad breaks happening at crucial times.

I can still win a major. I'll try like heck to get to the Masters this year, and if that doesn't work out I'll try to pre-qualify for the U.S. Open, because Shinnecock Hills is my favorite golf course. My best chance will always be at the British Open.

The best ball flight in golf is a power fade. A draw-type swing with the face a shade open at impact. My whole career I aimed at the left edge of the rough and swung as hard as I could. I never worried about the ball going left. I've had my problems, but driving the ball long and straight has never been one of them.

I don't like to guarantee anything—that it won't rain tomorrow, that the new washing machine won't break down the next time I use it or that I'll hole a six-inch putt. The only guarantee I make is that I'll follow through on a commitment I've made. Even that's dangerous, because I might not wake up tomorrow.