Golf: Great White vanishing trick

Greg Norman's South African non-appearance money highlights golf's impotence in the face of superstar player power; Tim Glover says the Australian's sharp exit showed a contempt for his sport
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The Independent Online
THERE are stars, megastars and then there is Greg Norman, who is more of a constellation. The blond Australian destroys any archaic notion that no individual is bigger than the sport. Greg is - as he so ably demonstrated in South Africa last week.

After winning his own tournament, the modestly named Greg Norman Classic, in Australia, he took is private jet to Johannesburg for the South African PGA Championship.

The sponsors, Alfred Dunhill, paid him a reputed pounds 187,000 to appear in the event. Greg did quite well, scoring 68 in the third round to appear on the leader board, but his schedule was hit by the one thing he cannot control. The weather. It was dark and stormy.

Although he was in contention during the final round he kept looking at his Rolex. He had time to play only nine holes before the weather closed in and the leaders had to return on Monday morning to complete the job. They did so without Greg.

On Sunday evening he rang the tournament office, made his apologies and left the country. He had a pressing engagement on Monday in Florida, his adopted home where his business empire - Great White Shark Enterprises (clothes, restaurants, golf courses, ship building, running for the White House, etc) - is based.

Greg, a close friend of Bill Clinton, was apparently engaged in fund- raising for the Republican Party with, not only the governor of Florida, but also George Bush. Greg could hardly be expected to ring up the former president and say: "George, sorry about this but I'm stuck in Joburg, the murder capital of the world, and I've got another nine holes to play. Another time perhaps. How's your swing?"

So while Norman was sipping freshly squeezed orange juice in Florida, Tony Johnstone was winning the tournament. "I wouldn't have expected Greg to leave," Johnstone said. "I think $300,000 is worth an extra day." Steady on, don't rock the boat.

The South African PGA took such a dim view of Greg's premature departure, they fined him the maximum amount under a serious breach of their code of behaviour which was "likely to injure or discredit the reputation of the tour". They fined him 1,000 Rand, or pounds 123.46p, give or take a penny.

Not exactly a fiscal nuclear deterrent. Let's put things in perspective here. When Glamorgan won the County Championship last summer, domestic cricket's biggest prize, they won the grand sum of pounds 70,000. Greg wouldn't put his sun visor on for that; Tiger Woods wouldn't say "Where's the first tee?" for less than half a million.

"I'm disappointed in Greg's decision not to conclude his final round," Arnold Mentz, the SA tour commissioner, said. "I consider his conduct injurious to the Southern Africa tour." What is more, Greg was disqualified, notwithstanding the fact that he had already disqualified himself.

If the South African tour was hurt, so was the European tour, or at least it should have been for the tournament was "co-sanctioned", ie run by both tours. However, the line on Norman from Wentworth, Europe's HQ, was: "As it was on South African territory we are not involved."

The tournament director was David Garland, a European tour employee, who pointed out that had Norman been dealt with by European officials the penalty would have been more severe: he would have been fined pounds 250. This is not the first time Greg has gone AWOL. He did a similar thing in the Tour Championship in Florida two years ago. "It's very sad," Garland said.

For whom? It wasn't sad for Norman, who observes his own set of rules. Nor was it sad for the sponsors. Were they thinking of withholding his appearance fee? You must be joking.

"He was paid to support and promote the event and we couldn't argue that he didn't do that," a spokeswoman for Alfred Dunhill in London said. "We were disappointed that he didn't finish but we don't feel he has broken his contract with us."

In fact, by playing 63 holes rather than 72 Greg provided the event with more publicity than it could ever have hoped for. The fact that 99 per cent of it was negative seems to be of no concern. Would Alfred Dunhill, a company that prides itself on its quality goods, sell an item that hadn't been finished?

Appearance money is officially proscribed, yet nobody takes a blind bit of notice. If a sponsor puts up large enough bait to get the Great White into their pool they don't seem to mind if he doesn't behave like a performing dolphin. Johnstone's first prize was pounds 64,130. Norman received three times that.

A few players benefited. Anthony Wall, fresh on tour and the son of a London taxi driver, finished seventh and won pounds 11,999. To Wall it was a princely sum and he probably wouldn't have won it had Greg remained in the hunt.

So, sad for whom? Probably the paying spectators and certainly the professional game and its various governing bodies, who are totally eclipsed when the shooting stars deign to appear.