James Lawton: Norman reminds the world that a true Shark never stops swimming
Saturday 19 July 2008
When they were still young and separate they had their share of breakfasts of champions but here last night, over dinner, that old thing was back on the menu of Greg Norman and his new wife, Chrissie Evert. It was that old thing called winning a major tournament.
Norman, while still known as the Shark, won two Opens and Evert carried Wimbledon three times along with 15 other Grand Slam titles. But if this was a huge disparity, especially when you consider the number of times Norman let the glory slip through his fingers, there were no His and Her calculations over a celebratory fine glass of wine.
All that old silverware, they insisted, meant nothing beside the fact that at the age of 53 Norman had again pushed his nose among the leaders of an Open, that in the wind and the rain for two days he had been quite unshakable in his resolve and his concentration.
Yes, it was true, in the past a Norman lead after two rounds was never a guarantee of silverware – and in Augusta 12 years ago it brought him the ultimate pain of defeat by a Nick Faldo who simply strode through the wreckage of his game – but now there is a sense that the old demons have never been driven further into retreat.
Helping put them there, it is also easy to believe, is the lady from Florida who won 91 per cent of all her games.
As Norman was describing with understandable relish his second straight even-par round on a course that had driven such heavyweight contenders as Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els to the point of breakdown, Evert, also 53, was saying: "We had great lives before we met, but I'm sure we could have helped each other in our heydays. He could have brought more aggressiveness to me and I might have helped calm him down now and again because he was always so intense.
"I could have done with his aggression against Martina Navratilova. My nature was to play safe but Martina would go for her shots so that helped her beat me more than I beat her.
"Now I think Greg is very relaxed. Never in a million years did he expect to be in this position. This was just a warm-up for the next two majors on the seniors' tour. I guess I'll just have to try to help him keep on doing the normal things, like unwinding and talking to his kids. One thing I must do is keep the newspapers away from him – so he doesn't get carried away."
In fact, Norman insists he has never been rooted in the reality of what golf has come to mean to him when the old pressure on win and loss has dissipated, at least a little.
He says: "Yes, I could easily say that looking back into the picture this is a pretty cool story unfolding here. I said to Rocco Mediate the other day, I walked up to him on the putting green and I said: 'Rocco, the best thing to happen to game was what you did at the US Open. You've got a great player in Tiger Woods and stuff like that but for everyone to see that [you] can put yourself in position no matter who you are or what you do or what your qualifications are or how old you are, if you truly want it, you can do it.'
"Rocco did that. Rocco proved that. I said: 'Rocco, it's great to see that and the game of golf needed that and a lot of people needed to see that.'
"I watched a bit of Tom Watson yesterday and Tom has got a bad hit, and here he is getting it around in 74 under tough conditions and beating guys like Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson by four or five shots. That's great for him – and it's great for golf.
"If I'm a kid of 21 or so and looking at things like this, I'm going to go: 'Oh my gosh, in 30 years time I can still have a chance of being there.' That's a pretty good testament in a lot of ways and it shows that there is a lot of resolve in this game of golf from guys like Rocco and Tom and myself. You've just got to know that you can do it, if you really, really want to do it."
It all seems a little much. You think of all those times the Shark seemed to have been crushed beyond all appetite, when he was so beaten at Augusta that it was almost as though Faldo had not to wrap his arms round him to comfort him but also to hold him up.
"Yes, I could go back and second-guess myself," he says, "but I don't really see the point. My intensity back in the 80s and 90s was very great. That was just the way I played. I wore my heart on my sleeve. But if I went back and changed that, who knows, I might have been worse.
"I wouldn't want to play full-time again, but my mind still wants to win. My mind still salivates. I can't hit balls for six or eight hours a day, my body will not allow it, but I can tell you something. I still want to win, boy, do I want to win."
He is asked if he thinks golf owes him another title, as Jack Nicklaus was granted his final Masters' green jacket when he was 46 years old. "I don't think golf owes anyone anything, you've just got to take advantage of anything it offers. Jack did at 46; now 46 and 53, that's not a great difference."
But then if it doesn't happen, he can walk away, this time without, maybe, that ultimately hard tug of pain. There will there certainly be no grief in the wife who watched his best and worst moments on TV. "Yes, I used to watch him on television," says Evert. "Him and Seve [Ballesteros], they were the guys to watch. Greg had so much charisma, and he had that walk. I don't know if you guys have noticed, but he had a great walk."
For the moment, at least, no-one could say it isn't in the most remarkable nick.
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