Greg Norman Speaks! The Shark on the U.S. Open, FOX Sports and Finding Your Happy Place
Nearly two decades removed from his last PGA Tour victory, golf icon Greg Norman is back where be belongs: in the spotlight.
As lead golf analyst for Fox Sports, the 60-year-old will call the shots at this year’s U.S. Open. To be sure, Norman still matters—and not just because he’s climbing into the TV booth. Great White Shark Enterprises is booming ($300 million in revenues last year), and with a mind as sharp as a shark tooth, the outspoken Aussie has a lot to say about, well, almost everything. The two-time major champion (and eight-time major runner-up) reveals how he’ll change broadcast golf, why you won’t miss Johnny in the U.S. Open booth (“Our team is fresh”), what he learned from his major heartache (“Destiny plays a role”), and why the Shark is bullish on the game’s future. Read on for lessons in life and links from a man who has seen, and done, it all.
Greg Norman’s estate on slender Jupiter Island in Hobe Sound, Florida., is more than a home—it’s a sanctuary. Guarded by the Intracoastal Waterway on the west and the surging Atlantic on the east, it’s absurdly private and stunningly gorgeous. At ease in this palm-studded Shangri-la, Norman was anything but private on a sunny Friday morning in April, when he opened up on a range of topics as wide as his Australian homeland.
Caution: Shark in the water!
Speak Your Truth
I’ve always told the truth. Being honest protects you, not only from the slings of others, but also from yourself. Everything I’ve ever said I felt was right, so I have no regrets. Expect the same when I’m in the broadcast booth—I’ll call it as I see it. The only thing I have to protect is the sanctity of the U.S. Open. I won’t care if I ruffle feathers, as long as it’s true.
Keep Your Cool
One day as a kid, I had a pretty bad wipeout while surfing in Australia. In those days, boards didn’t have leashes, and mine carried on toward the shore, leaving me bobbing in the surf. I was pretty far out in the water and completely exhausted. I remember thinking, Uh-oh. This could be it. The only rescue plan I could muster was to stay calm and conserve as much energy as possible. It took me a while, but I finally made it to safety.
It was the first—the only, really—near-death experience I’ve faced. It taught me a lot. For every tough situation I’ve faced since, I assess where I’m at, where I need to go, and how to get there, and then do it as calmly as possible. It’s easy to panic, but calmly assessing whether the situation is “really bad” or just “bad” usually leads to an appropriate solution.
Find Your Happy Place
In 1991, at the peak of my career, I purchased my home in Hobe Sound, Florida (above). Everything I’ve put on this property is what I needed at the time, and when I was home, I stayed home. I have a full gym. I have a tennis court. I dock my boat off my backyard and have access to the beach, which is where I feel most at home.
I’m lucky to be able to afford these luxuries, but that’s not the point. You need an escape. You can even find it in a hobby. Personally, I needed a space to get away from the rat race that golf can be sometimes. For a professional, there’s more work than just playing the game; there’s the media, interviews, sponsorship dinners, people looking to do business with you, charity endeavors, and a ton of travel. I loved it, but that atmosphere, tension and noise was almost too much to take. I named my home “Tranquility” for that very reason.
Expect the Unexpected...
I’ve been operating a chain saw for more than 30 years, and at my ranch in Colorado I use one that’s at least four-feet long. Then, last September, I darn near severed my left hand pruning trees around my yard in Florida with a tiny, 10-inch blade. You just never know.
...especially when the President is visitingThe chain-saw injury hurt more, but the effects of President Clinton falling on my left knee after he tripped coming down some steps at my home back in 1997 will never go away. I won two Tour events following the accident, but my knee’s still a little tweaked.
Speaking of Presidents…
I’ve played with George H.W. Bush, in addition to President Clinton, and have attended Wounded Warrior events with George W. Bush. You’d be surprised—a round with the commander in chief is like any other. There’s just a lot more people around.
I haven’t played with President Obama. If the White House called up and asked me if I would, I’d respect the presidency of the United States and I’d play. But I don’t sit around, “I’d love to play with President Obama.” Honestly, I’d be happier playing with my son and daughter, or one of my friends here on the island.
In 1986, I held the 54-hole lead in every major. Even at the top of my game I knew there was more I could learn. I was constantly bending Jack Nicklaus’s ear, or asking Ray Floyd this and that—not just about golf, but life. I got on well with former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, and I sought counsel from him as well. People like Jack, Ray and Mr. Hawke get to high places for a reason, so why not tap into their experience? I live a few doors up from Tiger Woods, and it’s well documented how he’s never reached out to me. That’s his prerogative, and I’m certainly not going to force my experiences on him, even though I know they could help. Everybody has the right to choose what to do with their life and how they want to live it. Unfortunately, the world is full of people who think they have it figured out, and most of them don’t.
How You Can Grow Golf
This one’s simple: Introduce the game to at least one person you know, whether it’s a child, a co-worker or a spouse. That’s a grass-roots movement. I thank my mother for getting me into golf. I was 16, and my family had just moved from a town in Queensland to Brisbane. I hadn’t made any new friends yet, and I was a little lonely. My mother played golf, and one day she asked me to caddie for her. Now, Mom was only 5’3” and 100 pounds soaking wet, but she was a three-handicap and could play! I played four holes with her clubs while she had tea in the clubhouse following her round. I was hooked. Within a few weeks I established a proud handicap of 27. A year and a half later, I was scratch.
Agony At Augusta
Most people think I agonize about my loss to Nick Faldo in 1996 more than any Masters, but finishing runner-up to Jack Nicklaus in 1986 stung more. I chalk up my final-round 78 against Nick to simply a bad day on the course, and he was terrific on Sunday. He shot 67. And Larry Mize’s chip-in on the second playoff hole in 1987 was a once-in-a-lifetime shot. But even though Jack stormed to a back-nine 30 in 1986 on Sunday and had the crowd in a frenzy, all I had to do was par the 18th to tie him, or birdie it to win. I made bogey. I’ve suffered some bad breaks in majors, but that one’s on me.
Any loss is self-inflicted to a degree, but you can’t control everything. A few months after the ’86 Masters, Bob Tway holed a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to beat me by a stroke at the PGA Championship. Then Mize chipped in the following spring at Augusta. In 1990, I lost at Bay Hill when Robert Gamez eagled from the fairway on the 72nd hole, and a month later David Frost holed a bunker shot on 18 on Sunday to steal the USF&G Championship [now the Zurich Classic]. For a while, I thought, “What did I do to deserve this?” I mean, I wasn’t coming up short in these situations; I was either tied or in the lead. I now realize that they had nothing to do with me. They happened. Destiny plays a role in everything.
If I could change one thing about being Greg Norman...
...I’d be a bit easier on myself. I really push things—sometimes too hard—when I want something to happen. When I have a vision about a business idea, I accelerate it—fast. Even though I can see 200 years into Great White Shark Enterprises’ future, the board is more like, “Whoa, Greg! Slow down.” I have to remind myself that there’s a process to achieving goals, even when the prize is right in front of my face. That’s the art of doing business, and it’s really tough for a guy like me. But if business was easy, everybody would be doing it.
The Good and Bad of Money
The best thing it can buy is security. One thing that money cannot buy is happiness. Wealth and joy don’t always go hand in hand.
The Swing I Would Steal
If I could have had anyone else’s swing, I would have taken Tom Weiskopf’s, circa the 1970s. Tom was the best long-iron player ever. From the modern era, I’d go with Henrik Stenson. I love watching him hit irons. At impact, his shots just sound different than everybody else’s. A lot of people said that about my impact when I was playing, but Henrik’s contact is even better than mine was. Pure power and compression. He can pick the ball clean or drive through it at will. But I wouldn’t trade my short game for either of theirs, and in part, I have Seve Ballesteros to thank for that.
Seve’s Olympian Feat
I was lucky to call Seve Ballesteros a friend. Apart from playing practice rounds together as much as we could, I’d help him with his driving—he was horrifically wild!—and he’d teach me about the short game, especially early in our careers. He was a great teacher, and I owe him a lot. Our friendship hit a bit of a bump when we were trading off being the No. 1 player in the world between 1986 and 1989.
We were both so competitive, but we survived that. Seve was the greatest—equal to Arnold Palmer in terms of charisma, character and what he did for golf. By just being Seve, he opened up the global game, almost single-handedly. When the first ball in modern Olympic history is struck next summer in Rio, we should all look to the heavens and say, “Thank you, Seve.” He got people thinking about the Olympics. He’d say, “Greg, we have to do this. Help me!” And he was constantly in the ear of I.O.C. president and fellow Spaniard Juan Antonio Samaranch. Anyone who says so-and-so is responsible for getting golf in the Olympics isn’t telling the truth. It was Seve.
What I’ll Bring to the Broadcast Booth
I don’t normally watch golf on TV, but since getting the job as lead analyst for Fox Sports’s golf telecasts alongside Joe Buck, I’ve been watching a lot. I do it with the sound off. I look at the screen and think, “What would I say if I saw that during the U.S. Open?” I’m getting a lot of intel on certain players by speaking with their coaches. I want to be able to broadcast the truth and some valuable insight, not just speculation and opinion. There’s enough of that on TV already.
I respect the USGA’s decision to leave a long-standing and valuable partner in NBC and go with Fox for its major telecasts. It’s a step out of the box, and Fox has been extremely successful in delivering new ways to view sport. Our team has to be careful, though. There’s a traditional element to golf that can’t be ignored, but nobody’s going to deny the power of technology, social media and instant access. The goal is to merge the old and the new. I’ve never called a major, and neither has Joe. Our producer, Mark Loomis, was formerly of the MLB Network. Our team is fresh. We’re yet to be programmed. That’s what viewers will find exciting.
USGA vs. the PGA Tour
More corporations should back the USGA, because its events—all 15 of them, including the six broadcast by Fox—are the ones that inspire new players. For example, it’s Father’s Day, and a man and his son are watching the U.S. Open, America’s national championship. There’s so much drama and nostalgia, and the kid gets whacked in the forehead about how great the game is, and suddenly he’s a participant. That probably doesn’t happen if they’re watching the Frys.com Open, because the PGA Tour is mostly about the Tour. Out there, it’s churn-and-burn—a new show every week. It’s more corporate-oriented, because the PGA Tour’s main responsibility is to its members, which are the players. At least the Tour has made the decision to work with the USGA and other entities to grow the game, but I think it can do more.
And here’s another thing about the Tour...
The Wolves of Ball Street
Golfers—all professional athletes—are recession-proof. Even in bad downturns, we still make good money. Our fans? Most are not recession-proof, but they still have to pay top dollar to watch us. I don’t see the Tour making events more affordable to attend when people’s money runs tight. I’ve been through five or six recessions in my career, but I never took notice. I just said, “Okay, I’m going to play 26 tournaments and I’m going to win X of them and earn X number of dollars in prize money.” It’s not greed, but there’s a tinge of obtuseness, and I regret that. I’m older now, and I know better, so there’s a little regret. Today’s players deserve everything they get, but they need to know how great they have it compared to most of the good folks who pay good money to watch live golf. The same goes for the Tour itself.
Golf’s Future is Bright
Between 2011 and 2014, there was a 33 percent increase in junior golfers in the U.S. The National Golf Foundation also reports that the number of junior girls jumped 80 percent during the same period. These seem like positive strides to me, so let’s stop talking about how the game is in a tailspin, and let’s build on the numbers—or forget participation data altogether. They’re just a response to the economy, anyway. In my prime, from the mid-1980s to the mid-’90s, the economy was rocking, and golf spiked. These days, the economy isn’t that great, despite what you hear. Golf lives and dies on disposable income. Any efforts to “grow the game” have to start with making it more affordable.
My involvement advising the Chinese national team in prepping for the 2016 Olympics will prove good for golf. It’s not about Greg Norman. I see the potential for developing at least 25 million new golfers. What equipment manufacturer will balk at that? The USGA and the pro tours won’t. Everyone will benefit. Let’s just figure out how we can get it done.
Why Rory Will Rule
I held the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for 331 weeks. Tiger held the top spot for 683 weeks. Rory McIlroy is into the 80s, and he’s the next guy to be a dominant No. 1. Apologies to Rickie, Bubba and Jordan, but Rory’s the guy. The game-changer. He has all of the physical tools of a great player, plus the intangibles—the mind, the desire. He also takes care of his business internally, which is smart, and he’s learned what to say and do—and what not to. How great can he be? His ceiling is sky high.
Why Tiger Won’t
Last summer, I commented that Tiger Woods would never win another major. I still believe this to be true. He simply has too many distractions, and don’t underestimate the stress of his breakup with Lindsey Vonn. She seemed to be a stabilizing influence for Tiger during their time together. It’s just another readjustment for Woods, and the readjustments are starting to pile up. It’ll be tough.
Calling It a Career
As an elite athlete, you never think, “This is the end.” But as performers, we’re simply pass-through entities. We have a life cycle. Some prolong it more than others, but inevitably a younger, hungrier and less-intimidated player comes along to upstage you. Looking back on my career, I see how it happened to me, and to be honest, I love watching the evolution of the game and its players over time. In life and sport, the cycle is unstoppable.
I haven’t played in a major since 2012. I’m not saying I’m done competing, but I’ve made a conscious effort to gracefully move into the twilight of my career without fanfare. I don’t want to tour the world or sit on the Swilcan Bridge at St. Andrews and say, “Thank you, everybody. Here I am. Good-bye.” I never saw myself as a ceremonial golfer. Nor did I think it was right for an older guy to take up a spot in the field and deny a young kid the experience to compete in a major. I’m okay. I’ve been there and done that.