Norman’s return to Masters becomes a lovefest

  Augusta – We hold a special place in our hearts for the lovable losers. The Chicago Cubs. The Jamaican bobsled team. Wile E. Coyote, who for some realize never realizes that the fuse extending from the Acme TNT is wrapped around his big toe.

  To label Greg Norman a lovable loser might seem like overstatement because, well, he has won over $16 million playing golf, runs several successful businesses and is married to Chris Evert. But at the Masters, his identity is more closely associated with meltdowns than successes. Golfers just don’t finish second three times in the same tournament and nose-dive from six ahead to five behind on Sunday without resembling some exploding cartoon figure.

Greg Norman was met by an adoring fan base in his return to the Masters and shot 2-under par.

Greg Norman was met by an adoring fan base in his return to the Masters and shot a 70.

But something weird happened Thursday. Returning to his personal azalea-lined Hades, Norman was embraced by fans like the family Labrador who had gone missing for seven years. His traveling gallery probably was surpassed only by Tiger Woods’, and that’s as close as any mortal gets.

  As Gregory Norman, son and caddy for the 54-year-old, put it: “Everywhere, there’s always been people who have supported him. But it seemed like everyone was supporting him here.”

  And Norman reciprocated. He put up a red number.

  Shooting his first Masters round since 2002, he fired a 2-under-70, despite leaving a few birdies on the greens. It was tied for the second-lowest Thursday score in his 23 Masters, behind only the 63 he fired in 1996 (when he led after three rounds, and we don’t have to talk about the rest).

  “Hey, everybody loves me,” Norman cracked later. “Nothing wrong with that, is there?”

  He referenced having fun at golf again. He reflected how going through a divorce for three years drained him. He talked about how special it was to have Evert, whom he married last June, follow him around the course. It was she who encouraged him to play in the Masters after he qualified with his third-place finish at the British.

  “I saw her about seven times,” he said. “I know exactly where she is. And I know her voice, too.”

  Evert caddied for her husband in the par-3 Wednesday. But she seemed intent on keeping a lower profile when the tournament opened. When asked if she agreed with Gregory Norman’s comment, “We got a feel for the crowds – all of the love out there, we felt it,” Evert responded: “Yes – and deservedly so.”

  But she otherwise was reticent to speak. “This is Greg’s time,” she said. “This is his week.”

  Norman has been amused by his sudden universal popularity. Earlier in the week, he noted: “Friends have flown in from Australia to come watch me play and they never did that in the ’80s and ’90s.”

  He didn’t play like his age or an extended absentee. He birdied three holes and bogeyed only one. He was strong and accurate off the tee, and with his second shots. His 2-under easily could’ve been a 6-under. But he missed potential birdie putts on the first three holes (all four-to-10 feet) and another on 18.

  But Norman remained at ease afterward. He freely spoke again of mistakes. He has answered every question about the past, explaining: “If you let the demons take control of you, then you’re never going to do your job properly.”

  He looked around Thursday. He noticed some of the same fans sitting in the same places as years past. He took note of their reactions to him.

  “When I come here, people probably feel for me, some of the things that have happened,” he said. And they’re all on his side.

7 comments Add your comment

falcon21

April 9th, 2009
11:50 pm

Greg Norman is a class act and one of the greatest golfers ever. Pot luck kept him from winning the Masters and the other golfer will tell you that. Good luck Greg, I and many other fans would love too see you win!!!

PMC

April 10th, 2009
12:02 am

Is he really a loser though? I mean, yeah there have been golf course disapointments… but geez the guy has a super yacht an incredibly successful clothing line. Sure I wish he’d won just once, so he could come back every year as well as he’s played. Disapointing plays on Sunday sure, but the guy was bested by absolute luck with Larry Mize, the best ever at the time Jack Nicklaus and the consistancy of Nick Faldo. He holds the low round (63) at the masters he just did it on the wrong day.

Reebok

April 10th, 2009
7:50 am

he’s not going to win the Masters, now or ever, but he’s certainly no loser. with yesterday’s round, Norman should have assured himself of making the cut and playing the full 4 days, and that’a a great accomplishment for a 54-year-old part-timer. enjoy yourself, greg!

shortcircuit

April 10th, 2009
9:14 am

He is not one of the all time greats but is a good one and he always will be a class act.

Tech82

April 10th, 2009
9:50 am

Interesting piece of trivia – Greg Norman is the only professional golfer to have lost all four majors in a playoff. He was within an eyelash of winning the career grand slam but instead, will forever be remembered for having his heart ripped out by the likes of Mize, Azinger, Tway, Frost, Gamez… (No, they didn’t all beat him in a major, but they all beat him in spectacular fashion).

My Eyes on Mize

April 10th, 2009
10:08 am

I third the class act comment with regard to Norman. I don’t think enough is made on how harsh the spotlight can be and all the demands on players like the Shark and Tiger. I greatly admire the way they handle themselves and represent the game.

P.S. Tech82, some more Norman trivia — didn’t he lead every major in ‘86 after 54 holes (only to win the British Open that year)?

BugKiller

April 10th, 2009
10:54 am

Jeff,

You forgot to mention that before Tiger Woods, Norman pulled in by far the most money in endorsements, which accounts for far more than the 16 million he’s made playing golf.

When I was younger, I always liked The Shark (probably because I liked sharks, Jaws was my favorite movie, and you gotta admit, it is the coolest nickname in all of golf, sorry, Jack) more than any other golfer.

Norman has something that most all of the other golfers playing right now lack: personality on the course.

Woods doesn’t have that. He connects with us much like Peyton Manning does, through his hilarious or heart-tugging commercials.

But Norman has always been personable on the course. Kind of like Phil. He makes eye contact with his gallery. He shakes hands. He’s a great on-course ambassador for his sport.

When he hangs it up and heads full time to the Champions Tour, golf will have lost yet another irreplaceable legend.