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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.
July 23, 2008
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