Cool-sounding nickname from a predatory animal? Got it.
Packed and worshipful galleries? Uh-huh.
Pretty blonde wife? Yup.
Thursday’s opening round of the British Open reminded fans that golf does have someone like Tiger Woods, it’s just that Greg Norman doesn’t play much anymore.
Now 53, Norman’s more of a businessman than a professional golfer. That’s a businessman in the Jay-Z sense (“I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man,”), considering Greg Norman’s financial interests, which include wine, golf courses and residential developments, contribute to a fortune estimated at $500 million.
Norman’s also been more likely to make the gossip page than the sports page. In recent days he’s been in the papers for his divorce settlement (his ex-wife took home a $103 million), getting busted for talking on his cell phone while driving, and of course his recent marriage to tennis star Chris Evert.
However, he captured some of the old British Open magic Thursday, posting an even-par round that left him just a stroke off the lead in the event where he won his two majors. To watch Norman stride across the fairways, greeting photographers and reporters like old friends, and looking as cool in black as Johnny Cash, you’d think it was 1993 again. He really is like a shark, always circling around and always apart. In the Royal Birkdale galleries there was a sense of “Wow! I never thought I’d see this again” and in the press tent writers were dusting off their “Norman Invasion” headlines.
“The game is still there,” said Evert, who followed Norman’s entire round with the fans, navigating through crowds that got heavier and louder as Norman posted par after par with a mix of solid driving and great short-game shots, including landing a 30-yard bunker shot eight feet from the pin onto the tricked-up 17th green. He sank the birdie putt, unleashing the day’s largest crowd roar.
A knockout at 53, Evert said she thought that Norman was playing well because he had such low expectations. While many Tour wives are happy to watch from the clubhouse, Evert said she follows all of Norman’s rounds in person. The two smile at each other, but Evert stays outside the ropes. The two respect official boundaries as much as a married couple on visiting day at the state prison.
“I play every shot with him,” she said, adding that golf is fun to follow in person because “it’s the one sports where fans get off their butts and get a good workout.”
The affection between the two is obvious, and Norman credited Evert for creating balance in his life; his improved play is a by-product of that.
“When you’re relaxed and you’re happy, then everything else is a little easier,” Norman said. “Even when I go out there and practice, I practice with a little bit more intensity over a shorter period of time because I’m looking forward to going home.”
Practice is the main reason you don’t see him at many senior events, Norman said, because his injuries make it too difficult to spend the time at the range he’d need to compete.
“I’m probably one of the ones [who didn’t expect me to play this well],” Norman said. “I don’t practice. I don’t play much. But there’s something about this event that stimulates you.
“Like coming down 18 after five and a half hours of golf, the way people receive you, you don’t get that anywhere else in the world. It’s a phenomenal experience and it gives you a little more juice than what you normally would have,” Norman said.
His expectations for this British Open, however, remain low, he said. Playing golf may be like riding a bike, but Norman pointed out that when you ride a bike for the first time in a while, you’re a little wobbly. Asked why he wouldn’t have one more major run in him, Norman smiled.
“I’m not even going to put my head in that position,” he said. “If I give myself a chance at the end of the tournament, either nine holes or six holes or 18 holes and I feel pretty good about my chances then you start to think about it. But you don’t sit here on Thursday afternoon and think, ‘OK, Sunday is around the corner and I’m there.’ It’s not the case.”