Colorado Springs, Colo. — For a Scottish fortnight, Greg Norman reminded us there really was an era before Tiger Woods said, "Hello, world."
At the British Open at Royal Birkdale, Norman played like he was 35 instead of 53, leading through 54
|Calling the British Open "the toughest consecutive four days of golf I've ever played," Greg Norman - practicing Wednesday - believes the grind can only help him this week. (John Mummert/USGA)
holes before slipping on Sunday and tying for third. Last week at Royal Troon, Norman began slow then charged late to tie for fifth at the Senior British Open.
"I have been disappointed in my two finishes the past two weeks, which is a very good sign," said Norman on the eve of the 29th U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor. "I could have easily said I was happy with third place in the British Open, and quite honestly I was upset and disappointed.
"Same with the Senior British Open. So that's a good sign for me, when I look back on things and I'm not content with the result. I'm thinking, ‘Well, you know, you should have been better. You can improve. You can improve.’ And hopefully I'm going to do that this week."
Despite two consecutive weeks of playing links golf in whipping winds, Norman feels comfortable around the Donald Ross-designed East Course. The difficulty, Norman believes, will be doing the simple math.
"We hit 9-irons at Royal Birkdale," he said. "If you wanted to hit a 9-iron into the wind you'd probably hit it 90 yards. Here, you hit a 9-iron and you hit it 180 yards. So the toughest thing is trusting your calculations. When you've got 183 [yards] downhill, you've almost got to take 20 to 22 percent off the yardage. So you've got to do the calculations in your head, get that figured out and see your shot and then hit it. So it's a lot more mental work here to actually get the calculations right."
Tom Watson, no less an authority on playing major championships at a high competitive level, earlier on Wednesday called Norman the biggest story of the week. This given that Norman missed the entire 2007 PGA and Champions tour and has played in only seven tour events in 2008. In addition to his Scottish success, Norman also tied for sixth at the Senior PGA Championship.
"It's going to be interesting to see," Watson said. "He's a great driver of the golf ball. He should be driving the ball in most every fairway long. He hits the ball very high, so he does have a big advantage doing that. The higher you hit the ball in altitude here, the better, because that ball just keeps on carrying and carrying and carrying."
What should be even more disconcerting for the rest of the 156-player field is how Norman views the status of his own game.
"My game basically improved from the British Open to the Senior British Open," said Norman, who finished fourth in the 2005 Senior Open. "I made this comment at the British Open, the one thing I wasn't really sharp with was my shot-making ability, fading the ball back in the wind and drawing the ball back in the wind. Having had a lot of practice and playing in the conditions [the past two weeks] I've gotten more comfortable doing that."
Norman holds no illusions that he is not the player he once was. In fact, he has no real desire to be The Shark that essentially ruled the world for nearly a decade.
For 331 weeks between September 1986 and April 1998 — including 96 consecutive weeks between June 1995 and April 1997 — Norman sat atop the Official World Golf Ranking. In fact, he still remains 62 weeks ahead of Tiger Woods for most weeks at No. 1.
Along the way, Norman won the bulk of his 78 international victories that included 20 PGA Tour wins and two British Opens — 1986 and 1994. But there were also the numerous major misses that made Norman something of a flawed Woods.
"As I said when I was doing the announcing for ABC [during the British Open], that would have gotten him even if he had won the British Open at Birkdale — all the tournaments that were taken from him and he gave away in major championships," said Watson.
All of that was Norman of an earlier era, though. Behind him, just like the contentious divorce from his wife, Laura, after a 25-year marriage. In June, Norman married Chris Evert, 53, herself a former world No. 1 women’s tennis player.
Since their Bahamas wedding, Norman and Evert have been nearly inseparable. She was seen often walking in the galleries in Scotland. And a lot of Norman’s recent success has been attributed to his fresh outlook.
"It's reflected in my game, but it's more contentment with life," he said. "I know every human being sometimes feels like they're the only one at the end of the branch and nobody else is with them when things are going bad. But when things are going great and you're happy about everything, it permeates through everything you have in life. My golf is where it is now because I love being where I am now.
"The British Open when I played there, I was on my own and I had myself and my wife. I didn't have a coach. I didn't have a sports psychologist. I didn't have a trainer. I've been that way my whole life, do pretty much everything on your own and figure it out yourself. And sometimes you make a lot of mistakes doing it because you don't have that support team that helps you get around those humps and hollows. And I've got one now, and it's a beautiful feeling."
On the strength of his recent play, the PGA of America extended Norman a special exemption into next week’s PGA Championship. He mulled over the invitation, but ultimately turned it down, calling it "one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make in golf."
It is not that Norman no longer has the desire to compete, it’s just that he has other personal and business interests that he finds equally as rewarding. But make no mistake that he has one thing on his mind this week — winning.
"There's no question, I enjoy getting out there and playing well," he said. "I know deep down inside that my game is solid; my game is strong. My head is good. I'm relaxed. I’ve got a great attitude. Everything feels good, and if I don't play well, it doesn't really bother me. But I do want to go out there and perform well. I do want to play well."
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.ussenioropen.com.