Tour and News

Greg Norman: All I Know About Winning in Golf, Business and Life

Photo: Angus Murray

A shark may seem out of place in the mountains, but not when it's Greg Norman, who looks right at home in his rustic, palatial Colorado estate.

The trek to Greg Norman's getaway in northwest Colorado is a roundabout one. The retreat is tucked away in a remote, evergreen-covered corner of this rugged state, an area so isolated that GPS is little help. An unmarked dirt road runs from the highway to his front door, uncoiling like the rattlesnakes that lurk in the brush. Driving for some 30 minutes, you feel lost. Definitely lost. Then his Rocky Mountain Xanadu appears: a 14,000-square-foot "cabin," two miles of fly-fishing nirvana, and wildlife at every turn. Norman's ranch is as beautiful and seemingly as vast as the snowcapped Rockies that encircle it. It's difficult to fathom how he parlayed "only" 20 PGA Tour wins into this.

Of course, the Shark was chasing much more than just trophies. Like Arnold Palmer before him, Greg Norman oozed charisma, both on and off the course. He bestrode fairways with a swashbuckling, take-no-prisoners (and look good doing it) style that made everyone notice. Prize money? That was chump change. Norman saw a worldwide brand as the ultimate reward, and he has gone on to amass a fortune that has been estimated at $400 million. Sure, there were bumps along the road. Take the well-publicized divorce from his first wife in 2006 that halved his assets (au revoir, $103 million); the heartbreaking near misses in eight majors; his clash with the PGA Tour over his World Tour brainchild, which he calls the low point of his career. But you don't become an icon by surrendering to adversity. "Failure makes you stronger," says Norman, 58, now three years into his third marriage (with interior designer Kirsten Kutner, 45). How strong? Great White Shark Enterprises operates 16 profitable ventures in areas ranging from real-estate development to turf research to prime beef sales. Like his ravenous namesake, the Great White Shark is far from satisfied. He's got big plans. Welcome to the success secrets of a man in full -- the guiding thoughts that helped a kid from Mount Isa, Australia, ascend from a $32-a-week job in a pro shop to the pinnacle of the golf world, and build his brand into a booming international business.

Do Your Homework

I became a good businessman because I was a good golfer. Golf taught me how to practice, formulate a strategy and then execute it -- a due-diligence process that also fuels good business decisions. Some people are naturals at business. I'm not, but I had a great education through golf.

Patience Is Underrated

I signed my first contract with Reebok in 1989. Paul Fireman, Reebok's CEO, had a dream for me, but eventually structured the deal so I could function as my own brand. That was huge. The more independent you can be in life, the better. But since I didn't have a lot of marketing or branding knowledge at the time, I was patient. I didn't go for the quick buck. I focused only on how big it could become. I'm lucky in that I have pretty good long-term vision. Why do I have it? I don't know. But here we are decades later -- and I've only reached 20 percent of what this company is capable of achieving.

I was a different person on the course. I wasn't as patient, because I didn't have to be. I knew everything about the game and was super-confident in my abilities. I played by the sword and died by it. Would I have changed some things about my game knowing what success in business has taught me? It's something that I'd consider. But don't get me wrong -- I have zero regrets.

Winning Is About Heart

A lot of people ask how I'd stack up against today's players if I had use of modern equipment. Listen, it's not about the gear. Winning is about what's in your heart and in your head. Equipment dictates how to play the game in an era, but the physical and mental skills are the same. And I had them. I never feared anything or anyone on the course, and I wasn't afraid to fail. So I think I'd do pretty well against Snead, Hogan, Tiger and Phil -- whoever. Tiger's a tough guy, but I was a tough guy on the course, too. I probably would have beat him.

Never Blame Your Tools

The best are always going to be the best, no matter what you chuck in their bag. Send five guys out on Augusta National with hickory-shafted clubs and gutta-percha balls, and the guy with the most talent will always win. Technology allows you to extract certain things from your equipment, but how you extract it is dependent upon your ability to swing the club. Science can only take you so far.

The Secret's in the Shaft

When I was young I read a lot of articles by Ben Hogan. He wrote pages on the stiffness and torque he used in his shafts. I remember thinking, Sh-t! I need to figure this out. I spent a lot of time trying different shafts and, when I found a good match, making sure the spine was set in the same place on every club. I got it right, so I can't figure out why today's pros can't do likewise. Take Rory [McIlory]. It's absurd to say he has gear issues. It's so easy to re-create the same specs and feel from one set to the next. Something else is going on [with him].

Play Within Your Limits

The biggest difference between weekend players and pros? Let's say we're both 100 yards from the pin -- a sand wedge for me and a gap wedge for you. I'll use my pitching wedge and swing at 70 percent. You'll hit your gap wedge at 100 percent. And you'll lose. Weekend players go for broke while pros look for a way to play the minimum.

Play with Precision

When I was playing my best, my caddie, Bruce Edwards, would give me half yardages -- as in, "Greg, you've got 147 and a half yards to the pin." Sounds extreme, but a half-yard is 18 inches, which often means the difference between "good chance" and "no chance" on the ensuing putt. Spend time getting to know your distances and how to be precise with them on the fly. You may not realize it, but the distance you hit the ball changes with the atmosphere. Those humid early-morning rounds? You're going to lose yards. Similarly, the ball will jump when it's hot or dry. Guys can drive it 300 yards today without blinking an eye, but it's still a precision game.

Keep Your Swing Simple

There are a lot of moving parts in the swing, but you can't worry about each and every one. Charlie Earp, my first coach, taught me to always keep the triangle formed by my shoulders and grip in front of my body, from start to finish. If you maintain the triangle as you rotate, everything else falls into place. I've used this tip for 35 years. Hold the triangle, get the club parallel at the top, then let 'er rip (see sequence, below).

Listen to Your Body

The last time you saw me on TV was probably during the 2008 British Open at Royal Birkdale, where I had the 54-hole lead before finishing third. That wasn't the swing you saw in the 1980s and '90s. My stance is wider now, and I stop my backswing short of parallel. I have to. My body can't take the stress of rotating anymore.

I used to be super-flexible -- I could even do splits. It was the source of my power, but it allowed me to overrotate. I developed so many stress fractures in my spine that I ended up needing surgery. Butch Harmon was the one to get me to widen my stance, which automatically limits rotation. I fought him at first, but then listened to what Mother Nature was telling me. And I darn near won that Open.

Golf places severe pressure on your joints, so you either have to take excellent care of your body or find a swing that isn't so taxing. We get older and more frail. That's life.

Find a Confidence Boost

Success breeds success. I started playing golf at age 16, and by the time I was 21 I was competing in professional events. I knew I was good, but I didn't know how good until the 1976 West Lakes Classic, an Australian Tour event held at the Grange G.C. in Adelaide. I was a complete nobody, and the field had Bruce Devlin, Bruce Crampton, David Graham, and a couple of guys from the PGA Tour. By the end of the third round I had a 10-shot lead. That was it for me. I knew right then and there that I could be great. Everyone needs a shot of confidence, and my victory at the Grange -- the first of 89 pro wins -- was it.

Build a Swing Foundation

I went from novice to scratch in two years. I was lucky in that the things I liked to do before I got into golf, mainly surfing, established foundations for my game. Surfing develops your core, lat muscles and shoulders -- the engines of your swing. Plus it gives you balance. When you're riding a wave your proprioceptors [sensory receptors that detect body position] are firing on all cylinders -- you learn balance very quickly. I've talked about how surfing helps your swing with [pro surfer] Kelly Slater. Kelly loves golf, and we agree that surfing makes you a better player. One moment you're perfectly calm waiting for a wave, and the next you're firing up and dropping in, just like when you're on the tee box getting ready to hit a shot. If you don't surf, try swimming. It works.

Use Strategy, Not Emotion

I was an aggressive golfer, but I always knew the stakes. I got a feel for it during the gambling games I got into while training to be a professional under Charlie Earp at Royal Queensland. I was only 20 at the time, and Charlie was paying me $32 a week, so gambling was a necessary second income. I played against a lot of members. During one match, my partner, Cyril King, and I went down $800 after 16 holes. I didn't have $8 to my name, let alone $800, but I knew No. 17 was a par 5 and 18 was a tough par 4 -- a huge advantage for Cyril and me against our older opponents. We went double or nothing, and actually took home money after I finished eagle-birdie. Had 17 been a short par 3 and 18 a manageable par 4? Who knows if we would have doubled-down? But our decision was strategy-based, not an emotional one. Aggressive for sure, but also smart.

Find Your Happy Place

In 1986 I became the first player to win $1 million in a season. Some of the guys thought it was crazy money, but now you get $1 million for winning the Shriners [the Las Vegas Tour event]. So "crazy" is relative, but the Tour has set things up to let even halfway decent players make a comfy living. That was never my style. I saw endorsements, branding and business opportunities as the real trophies, and you can only get them when you're at the very top. The downside to becoming a brand is that everything I say or do gets scrutinized, and it can either hurt or help your business. So I watch my step and watch what I say. It's tough, but I wouldn't change it for the world. That's why I love being here [in Colorado]. I can do the things I like most and, well, disappear.

Broaden Your Horizons

I played professionally for seven years before taking my game to the U.S. I was anxious to play on the PGA Tour, but I felt I needed a world view before I could become dominant. So after playing in Australia, I toured in Asia and then Europe. You learn a lot when you're outside the Western world, the most important thing being how different people perceive you based on their culture, religion and ethics. It's a huge influence on the way I am today. The experience was a force that allowed me to succeed in America. It was a long road, so I consider my win at the 1984 Kemper Open as one of the highlights of my career. I had seen the world, won everywhere I went, and now I was doing it in the States. It was the moment I had officially arrived.

Be Open to New Ideas (Even If They're Not Yours)

The abyss of my professional career was my run-in with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem over the World Tour, my idea for an international series of tournaments. It was a beautiful plan and good for golf. I had the support of numerous marquee players, a lucrative TV contract in place, and most important, I had structured it so that the players owned it. I've always believed that if you help build equity in something, you should receive some of the spoils. Unfortunately, Finchem and the media ripped me to shreds. They said I was trying to ruin the game. It got so bad that a lot of PGA club pros who carried Greg Norman Collection [clothes] began canceling their contracts. I was devastated, but I was so sure of the World Tour's promise that I called each one of them to explain my side of the story, because I was never offered the chance to do so with the PGA Tour. It took weeks. I asked each one to hear me out and draw his own conclusions. Everyone kept their contract. My tour never got off the ground, yet three years later the PGA Tour launched the World Golf Championships. I guess they didn't like the fact that it wasn't their idea.

It's poor policy to slay the dreamer just because he or she came up with a better plan. It's so against how I do things. If you came to me with something great that I had never thought of, I'd say, "Are you okay, or do you want help? Should we joint-venture?" If the answer is "no," I'm still going to support you, because your idea is fantastic. It didn't happen that way with Finchem and, honestly, it's one of the reasons I don't do certain things in golf anymore. I haven't played in a PGA-sanctioned event in 18 months. I don't see a reason to support an entity that tried to destroy my dream.

Find a Family Bond

Fostering common interests makes everything easier. Our family likes to do the same things, and I think that's what keeps us strong. We're big scuba people. My daughter, Morgan, is a master diver. We've been all over the world, and having that time with my kids has been huge. You can't sit around the house and do nothing. And it's not just with your children. My wife, Kiki [Kirsten], loves coming to the ranch as much as I do. Our shared interests make us closer.

A caveat: Let your kids find themselves in sport. You can't smother them like I see a lot of parents do. It's okay to be there on the periphery, but kids should develop on their own. They'll resent you if you play too heavy a hand.

Seize the Day

I've recently launched the Great White Shark Opportunity Fund, an asset-based financing company that helps small businesses. I never imagined doing such a thing, but with some of the things going on economically throughout the world, we saw an opportunity. I could have left it alone, but opportunity may not always be there. You have to at least consider ideas when they come across your desk. At the very least, consider the potential.

My first coach, Charlie Earp, had a phrase: "DIN & DIP." It means "Do It Now and Do It Properly," and it's the best piece of advice that's ever been lent to me or that I've passed along. If you have a task, commit to it, get it done, and then move on to the next challenge.

Think Vertically

My goal is to grow my brand on a global basis. I'm a fan of what Ralph Lauren has done with Polo and the horse logo. He built a brand, then pushed it in every direction. Lauren thinks vertically, and that's what I'm trying to do.

My course-design business holds the key. When someone comes to me with millions or even tens of millions of dollars to design a course as part of a real-estate development or resort, I know I can leverage it by, say, stocking the cellars with my wine, the pro shop with Greg Norman Collection clothing, the kitchen with my Greg Norman Australian Prime steaks. They're already investing in the value of my brand, so why not add some scale to it? I think it's a great model, and with 70 designs under my belt, so far so good.

Leave the Right Legacy

I'd like to see my logo live on in perpetuity after my death. That's the greatest compliment you can have. But my real legacy? It's my kids and my family. They're what's important. What I do outside of them—stuff that I enjoy -- is for me.

Be Happy for Others

I know how hard it is to be successful, so I get elated when others experience it. Like when Adam Scott won the Masters. I was so happy for him that I cried. It comes down to, don't be the jealous guy. Remember, things will outlast you. We're only here for a certain amount of time, so it's important to make decisions that are good for everyone around you, not just you.

Be a Mentor

If somebody asks me for help, I'm going to help them. Years ago back in Australia, Adam Scott came to me with a lot of great questions. Deep questions, like, "What's it like when you get to 40?" I don't lock my door to anybody. And now Adam's off and running, but we still stay in contact. When he won at Augusta National, it felt like I had won! Helping someone achieve their own success is just about the most rewarding thing you can do.

Commit to Golf and Life

Golf teaches you about who you are -- how you deal with failure, how you deal with success, how you deal with humility, how you deal with the public. Most people fail in at least a few areas, so you've got to work at it. I certainly had to. If you truly want to succeed at golf, business, life -- any endeavor -- you have to fully commit to it. It's not enough to only want it. The competition is too heavy. And if you're lucky enough to reach the top of whatever you do, then you actually have to work harder, because everyone underneath is gunning for you. Unfortunately, there's no quit.

Additional reporting by Sean Zak.

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