Coming second in a major is hardly a disgrace – there are many very good golfers who never manage to rise as high. But when you have started the final round six shots ahead of your nearest rival and end the day five shots adrift, defeat must scar the soul.
This was Greg Norman’s fate at the 1996 Masters. Andy Farrell, formerly of this parish, has revisited the scene of the Australian’s disaster, and Nick Faldo’s triumph, delving deep into both golfers’ psyche to explore what exactly happened that day, and why. The knee-jerk reaction at the time was that Norman had “choked”, but while it is true the Great White Shark won far fewer majors than forecast when he first burst on to the scene – “only” two Opens – he did win more than 90 tournaments, hardly consistent with a losing mentality. But majors are different. And from his first shot of that final round – a pulled drive into the trees – it was clear Norman was out of sorts. Even the normally imperturbable Faldo admitted that, for the first time ever, his knees buckled as he addressed a shot, such was the pressure on that last pairing. But at the turn he was only one shot behind, and after that, Norman said: “Everything started to cave in.”
By the end, the crowd were confused: “It was unlike any Masters I’ve ever seen,” said one regular. “It was like a funeral out there.” And then came The Hug, as Faldo spontaneously folded Norman into his arms in a gesture that seemed to surprise both players, but which Norman later said he greatly appreciated.
Farrell’s chronological structure, a hole a chapter, works well, as he draws on a wealth of expert witnesses along the way to help explain the unfolding drama. While he is admirably fair to both protagonists, his book is more likely to end up on Faldo’s bookshelves than Norman’s.
Published in hardback by Elliott & Thompson, £14.99