SOUTHPORT, England -- How did a 53-year-old guy who doesn’t play much golf contend all weekend at the British Open? Maybe a guy from nearby Liverpool has the answer: All you need is love.
Greg Norman didn’t leave the 18th green of Royal Birkdale with the Claret Jug, but he did walk off with his arm around new wife Chris Evert, which is all he really appears to want these days. As a couple, Norman and Evert are almost beyond affectionate -- they dote on each other like something out of a romance novel. To the point where when Norman says he may have subconsciously lost the British Open because winning would make him spend more time on golf and less time at home with his wife you almost believe him. “What happens if I won, then I might have had to be out here playing golf, and maybe that’s what I didn’t want to do anyway,” Norman said in an outdoor tent near the 18th green over cheers for Padraig Harrington’s trophy presentation ceremony.
His final media conference of his unlikely and redemptive major-championship run this week felt more like the concession speech of a losing politician -- he’s too old to be a competitive athlete, right? -- with the same palpable sense of disappointment and offering of respectful praise to the winner that must feel like chewing glass. Politicians say that nothing hurts like losing an election, by they never blew a six-shot lead on Sunday at the Masters.
“I can stand here now and say, yeah, I’m disappointed,” Norman said. “Where does it rank with those [previous major losses]? Probably not as high as some of the other ones. Quite honestly, I’m sure I surprised a lot of people.”
That’s clearly the understatement of the tournament. His blistering first three rounds in nasty conditions amazed, astonished, shocked and inspired fans, replacing the asterisk some say should be attached to this Tiger-less British Open with an exclamation point.
With him on every shot was his new bride. Evert followed Norman on every shot, standing along the fairway ropes and applauding just like the 200,000 or so other fans who came to Royal Birkdale this week. As each day passed and Norman stayed at or near the top of the leaderboard, he offered more credit to Evert for the balance in his life, his happiness and even his sand saves -- he said his newfound love of tennis gave him the flexibility to execute a particularly nasty bunker shot.
Evert might have even helped him with the mental side of the game. Norman -- whose constant moving on the course befits his nickname -- talked about being patient on the course this week. That’s a theme his wife echoed while watching him play.
“I don’t know much about golf, but I do know about patience,” Evert said. “And this game demands so much patience.”
Norman’s third-place finish qualifies him for next year’s Masters tournament, but he said he’s not ready to commit to playing anything beyond the Senior British Open and the Senior U.S. Open the next two weeks. The hunger just isn’t there anymore, he said.
“I can walk away from here being disappointed, but I can walk away from here with my head held high because I hung in there.”
And we know who he’ll walk away with.
(Photo: John Biever/SI)