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At the British Open, Greg Norman missed the chance to redeem - or confirm - his choker rep

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Greg Norman - Chris Evert
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Greg Norman almost conquered the British Open while honeymooning with Chris Evert. (Courtesy of chrisevert.net)

Greg Norman's performance at the British Open at Royal Birkdale was inspiring, but the Great White Shark didn't play well enough on Sunday to address his long-standing tendency to melt at crucial times.

Normally, I'd pull for any golfer unfortunate enough to be over 50 years old to win the British Open.

Just not Greg Norman.

Well, let's add Seve Ballesteros to that second list. But Ballesteros wasn't in contention to win the British Open at Royal Birkdale this past week, as Norman was.

I happened to be on vacation when I was told Norman was leading after the third round. Normally, I avoid all pro golf-related thoughts when I'm on vacation, but I couldn't help but be intrigued.

"He'll never win it," I said solemnly.

I imagined Norman blowing a three-foot putt on No. 18 to lose yet another major golf tournament via the most embarrassing way to lose anything in sports - the choke.

Even better, this imagined missed putt would have put him in a playoff, and of course most of us know Norman has lost playoffs in all four of the majors.

I relished this image, Norman standing over that putt. It would have been an interesting psychological experiment: Does the wisdom that supposedly comes with age cure the jitters? Would Norman get a near-impossible chance, after all these years when everyone thought he was permanently stuck with the "choker" label, to redeem himself, to show he could face a situation like this without getting the cold sweats?

If he makes the putt, a story for the ages.

If he misses the putt, a story for the ages.

I was pulling for the latter because of my essentially sadistic nature. I actually chuckled to myself. My wife gave me a strange look. No, I wasn't thinking about another cold Corona.

Of course, it never happened. On Sunday, Norman played like the part-time golfer he is and finished in a tie for third. An incredible performance in those conditions.

And then, because I am a reflective person as well as a sadistic one, I examined my motives. Why was I pulling for Norman to choke again, after all these years?

There's no avoiding it: Jealousy.

I mean, the guy is there on his honeymoon with Chris Evert, probably the best-looking tennis player ever - anyone past 30 will still remember those long, tanned legs - and oh yeah, he's competing in the British Open when he isn't - well, honeymooning with Chris Evert.

I've never been a big admirer of the way he's exploited his Great White Shark image in the business world. I'm not saying it's craven or anything, but he hasn't been exactly shy about using it to hoard much of the world's money supply.

Remember the boat - ship - he used to tool around on? "Aussie Rules" was 228 feet long and held four boats of the sort I would never be able to afford even if I were to be paid for what I'm really worth to the world. One was a 60-foot, custom sportfisherman.

It was a $70 million super-yacht that, in its storage, had room for 200 rods. Now, who the hell is ever going to use 200 rods?

He's also a wine magnate and flies around in a Gulfstream jet. He does all this high-flying business stuff while he isn't designing golf courses or playing golf, either competitively or for fun.

And have I mentioned his new wife, Chris Evert?

So there are plenty of reasons to be jealous.

But mostly I wanted Norman to be in that position to see if he would finally admit his past chokes, to see if he would confront his own demons. Some of his spectacular failures were, admittedly, the result of others' incredible luck, like Larry Mize's 65-yard chip in the 1987 Masters or Bob Tway's bunker shot at Augusta the previous year.

But his choke record stands on its own, and Norman has always denied it. His 1996 meltdown at the Masters was ranked by ESPN as the third biggest choke in history, for example.

It has always seemed to me there is this huge distance between this history and Norman's own image of himself, or at least the persona he wants to project to the world: "I'm a very intense person," is a well-known Norman quote. "When I go after something I want to go after it with everything I have. I want to push myself to the edge."

He's done that often and more often than not failed, at least in golf's majors.

I just want to hear him admit it. Just once.

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • You have to be joking??

    Andrew wrote on: Aug 25, 2008

    Its hard to believe some of the stuff that I have read following Normans fantastic Open Championship.
    Padraig played a great four rounds of golf but its hard to argue that the championship was made all the more special by Norman's exceptional tournament. Norman tamed conditions which were destroying the current worlds best, so had it come down to a 3 footer for Norman to win it I would have been on the edge of my seat hoping he could hole it!
    They say any golfer on his/her day can win a major but it takes a great golfer to win two, and Norman is undoubtedly a great golfer. Sure he could have added a few more majors to the collection but really what would golf writers do without him? He is the one guy they love to bring down whether he is achieving great things or experiencing great lows.
    We were lucky to see him match it with the best one last time and to be reminded of just how good he really was.
    Norman has done a great service to Golf and especially golf in Australia, the sport is richer from having him as a player and as far as I am concerned he can bow out without owing the sport anything.


      • RE: You have to be joking??

        Stan Butler wrote on: Oct 29, 2011

        I was once a huge Greg Norman fan in the 90s. I felt so bad for his losses and refused to see him as a choker. But that fiasco at the Masters will never be matched. I would still feel bad except he maintains this air of cockeyness even when he is known as the biggest choker in golf history. Witness his recent nerve in critisizing Tiger Woods. Arguably the greatest golfer of all time. What gall Norman has. I despise him and think he is bad for golf!