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Shark's lark: Is Pebble Beach-playing Greg Norman showing a lighter side with Chris Evert?

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
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Greg Norman's intensity is no joke. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

Greg Norman returns to competition this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Norman seems to have a hand in everything, including golf course design at new tracks like Blue Shark in the Bahamas. But all anyone wants to know about these days is his engagement to tennis icon Chris Evert.

NASSAU, Bahamas - Looking at the photographer crouched on the fairway in front of him working that publicity shot, Greg Norman grins.

"If you're going to stay there, you'd better spread your legs," Norman says, taking a swift practice swing with his 3-iron.

Suddenly realizing he's in The Shark's shot path, the photographer sprints off like he's Britney Spears being chased by the paparazzi. Norman chuckles.

"Either you don't trust me, or you like what you got there," he yells to the retreating back.

Greg Norman the cutup? Who knew?

The former No. 1 player in the world used to stalk down fairways with his blonde hair blowing in the breeze, sometimes becoming undone by the sheer force of his own intensity (see 1996 Masters). But these days, even as Norman returns to PGA Tour competition in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am this week (as a favor to his son, who will play with him) and the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico next week (as a favor to a golf course he designed which will host the event), the Shark's more into flashing smiles than fangs.

It's all amateur psychology - the new great American celebrity pastime - but with the equally intense Chris Evert as his fiancée and a contentious divorce still playing out, Norman seems to have somehow found relaxation. Or at least his version of it.

Which happens to be waking up in Florida one morning, flying to Cozumel, Mexico, on his private jet, then jetting from Mexico to a preview day for his new Bahamas course, Blue Shark Golf Club, playing three holes and jetting off again. All before noon.

No one ever really thought Greg Norman had ice water in his veins. But who knew they flowed with Red Bull?

"The schedule he keeps is incredible," said Mark Young, a Canadian-based real estate consultant who's worked with Norman on several course design projects. "Most people couldn't do it for a day. He does it every day."

Norman doesn't stand for ceremony. Or wait for limos either. He hops into a mini van to get to the Blue Shark course quicker. They do have the stretch Hummer there idling in time for his departure.

It doesn't seem to matter to Norman whether his ride is mom-worthy or P. Diddy worthy - as long as he gets in and out fast.

He dismisses his own golf game at almost any opportunity.

"My tennis game is improving," Norman quips. "My golf game, my shot making, is not what it was."

It's obvious the Shark's been practicing hard though. He's not going to stand for embarrassing his old dominant self even if he's playing Pebble on the same weekend he's turning 53.

When Norman sticks a 255-yard second shot on Blue Shark's par-5 10th on the green, you can tell he's pleased, even if it is just a course-promoting press event. When he's faced with a tough 3-iron into a brisk Bahamian wind on No. 12, he blurts out, "I've got to hit the crap out of this."

And he does.

Norman isn't delusional enough to think he can challenge this generation of players (or at least not enough to admit it). But he still only cares about playing the best. Your chances of seeing him out on the Senior, er Champions Tour, for more than one major every few years are about as good as the shot that he'll write a love poem to his ex-wife.

"It just doesn't interest me to be honest," Norman says. "I have some friends out there and they tell me how the galleries just aren't there, that it's something of an artificial environment. Plus, I want to be able to be home on the weekends."

Ask him if that's because of a certain someone whose old dress hangs in the Tennis Hall of Fame and Norman will smile.

"She travels as much as I do," he says. "She's in Dubai, Europe, you name it. Resorts are looking for more amenities than just golf and her expertise is in demand."

Love's great and all. But sometimes it sounds like the Evert-Norman union is a merger of multi-national corporations rather than the result of any Jane Austen-like pining. Microsoft and Yahoo anyone?

The Greg Norman nobody knows?

Greg Norman's always made it exceedingly easy to make fun of him. He's just so earnest. The autographed copies of his business motivational book/autobiography delivered to reporters on the Blue Shark tour didn't help. "The Way Of The Shark" is full of cheesy stories seemingly selected to make Norman look good.

It only mentions that Masters collapse as a way to illustrate resiliency, like it's all part of the Shark grand plan or something.

It doesn't help that Norman jets in and out of the Blue Shark preview so quickly either, that he spends much more time talking to the project's money men in a back room than he deigns to give reporters. It's easy to see Norman as a primma donna who still expects people to treat him like he's the No. 1 golfer in the world.

Only the man who sells everything (including cuts of beef) does things that nobody ever hears about too. When a 30-something guy involved in the Blue Shark project found out he had cancer, Norman sent him a hand-written note. When the man (who didn't want his name used) started chemotherapy, Norman and the other top officers in his design firm, Chris Campbell and Mike Kelly, stopped by his house just to check up on him.

This despite the fact that it meant Norman had to fly from Mexico to Jupiter, Fla., to New York and then to Toronto that day. He spent about a half hour in Toronto at the sick guy's home and never made a big deal about what it took to get there.

"Greg's such a cool guy," Young says. "A lot of people think they know celebrities, but you don't really know somebody until you know them."

Think about that when Norman gripes about wishing "Tiger had more competition." The cutup joking about hitting someone with a golf ball between the legs may be closer to the real Greg Norman than you think.

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Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

 
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