Of course Greg Norman is having the time of his life. Why wouldn’t he be? Competing at the highest professional level of a sport is invigorating, adrenaline-pumping and exciting. Doing it at 53 is even better. Is there any better feeling in golf than preparing and giving it your all and… coming close?
In that regard, perhaps it isn’t a surprise that Norman will take a pass on teeing it up in next week’s PGA Championship, which would’ve meant playing four weeks in a row. He made the announcement on Monday. Norman was invited to join the field to play in the year’s fourth major for the first time since 2003 because of his inspiring third-place finish at Royal Birkdale in the British Open.
“While I truly appreciate the PGA extending me an exemption for this year’s PGA Championship, I have elected to decline in favor of adhering to the professional and personal commitments I made prior to The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale,” Norman said on his Web site.
Norman has looked like the rejuvenated Shark of old during two weeks of superlative golf in the British Isles. Maybe you can credit his new wife, tennis legend Chris Evert, or maybe it’s just Norman’s competitive fire, the same fire he has used off the links to smartly build a corporate empire.
The problem is, in 2008 Norman has also looked a little too much like the Shark of old. There was the Senior PGA Championship at Oak Hill in May, the only legitimate major championship on the Champions Tour schedule. He played well there on an overly tough setup and made three swashbuckling birdies on the back nine on Sunday to make a run at the leaders, narrowly missing a short pitch shot for eagle at the par-5 13th. After closing to within one shot of leader Jay Haas with two holes to go, Norman bailed his tee shot into the trees on the right at the 17th, took three more shots from the rough to get on the green and suffered a crushing double bogey. Another errant tee shot at 18 cost him another bogey and dropped him to sixth place.
It was a bitter finish to what had been, until then, an energizing week. The crowds couldn’t get enough of back-in-the-hunt Norman as everyone came to the same realization: Golf has missed Norman, his flair, his go-for-broke style and his shotmaking.
His appearance and his good play gave fans and other Senior tourists hope that maybe Norman would be encouraged to play a little more Senior golf. Norman shot that idea down moments after his disappointing finish at Oak Hill. “This might make me go the other way,” he said hoarsely. “It takes a lot out of you.”
The British Open was actually honeymoon week for Norman and Evert, and the Shark promptly became the big story when he played his way onto the top of the leader board. Incredibly, he battled fierce winds and rain and took a two-shot lead into the final round. Then, his hopes were dashed again when he straggled home in 77 strokes while Padraig Harrington blistered Birkdale’s back nine for a 32 and a second straight Open title.
Another third-round major lead, another defeat. That blow wasn’t crushing like some of the others — Larry Mize’s chip-in at Augusta, Nick Faldo’s big comeback at Augusta, Bob Tway’s bunker shot at the PGA Championship. This time, Norman wasn’t expected to win, wasn’t supposed to win. Not as a potential member of AARP, anyway.
“Am I disappointed? Yes, of course,” Norman said at Birkdale. “I’m sure I surprised a lot of people, but I can walk away with my head held high.”
He said then that he planned to play the Senior Opens the next two weeks — last week’s British Senior at Royal Troon and the U.S. Senior this week in Colorado Springs — and no more. So it was no surprise that he opted to skip the PGA at Oakland Hills. He had foreshadowed the future with this post-British comment: “Do I have to go work on something? Not really, because I’m not planning on playing too much golf.”
Norman talked about how happy he was with his life and the balance he had in it. He plays when he wants and practices when he feels like it. Golf no longer rules his life and he’s fine with that. Four weeks in row, all of them major championships on their respective tours, would have been too much.
The Senior British was simply another disappointment. An opening 75 left him far back in the pack but he once again displayed the knack for handling windy, links-style golf that won him two British Open championships. A final-round 68 lifted him into a tie for fifth. Again, no crushing defeat but again, a lingering disappointment. At least one that might’ve lingered for a younger, more ambitious Shark. But not for this man.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, my enjoyment the last two weeks has been 10,” Norman said at Troon. “The only thing I haven’t enjoyed is my scoring. I’m going back to the U.S. now to see what the golfing gods dish out to me over there.”
Accepting a spot in the PGA would’ve meant playing golf for a fourth consecutive week in three different countries on two continents across a spread of seven time zones (from Colorado to the U.K.). He’s had hip surgery, back surgery and shoulder surgery, among other things. And he’s got a day job now, running his many businesses. Plus, oh yeah, he’s enjoying playing tennis with his wife.
Four straight weeks of competitive golf? Norman remains larger than life at 53 but hey, he’s only human. Besides, there’s always the Masters in April. He’ll be getting an invitation. Turning down that one won’t be so simple.