What they said: Greg Norman

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January 18, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

MORE INTERVIEWS: Humana Challenge transcript archive

MARK STEVENS: Like to welcome Mr. Greg Norman. You played here in 1986, we're glad to have you back. Just got done playing the Palmer Course, kind of want to talk about your thoughts coming into the tournament and then a little bit about what you expect this week and then we'll have some questions.

GREG NORMAN: Well obviously I'm here for one particular reason, I got a phone call and a phone call I could never say no to. And there's no question about that.

But at the end of the day, I can roll the clock back nearly a year when I spoke to President Clinton about what was happening here with the Hope at the time and the changes that could take place, with the event.

We had a very frank conversation about the opportunities and the format and how can the tournament be resurrected and he was obviously leaning towards doing what he's done.

So at the end of the day, the Bob Hope and I'm going to use Humana here in a minute, but the Bob Hope was such an iconic event, it was iconic from the celebrities, from the sponsorship stand point, from the people in Palm Springs and this area. We, as far as I'm concerned, I hate to see events like that disappear.

So it was a combination of PGA TOUR wisdom and approaching the Clinton Foundation and President Clinton, it's a combination of going to Humana and structuring it the right way, because the Clinton Foundation in its own way, it's all about wellness, and then bringing somebody with the magnitude and the power and the pull of President Clinton to do that. It's very difficult to replace Bob Hope, you know. So to replace Bob Hope with President Clinton is, was an automatic.

So when I received a phone call from him, I had no intention of playing, I received a phone call from him and he asked me if I would come and play and I said yes. Simple as that. And the conversation went on a little bit deeper than that and I said, on one condition, I said, I'll play, if you play with me on Saturday and if you play, I'll play if I play with you on Saturday. And that was the agreement we made.

MARK STEVENS: Questions??

Q. Did you ever have any experiences with Bob Hope and if you did, could you just relate some of your favorite moments with him and what made him such a good host of an event like this.

GREG NORMAN: I only played in the Bob Hope classic one time. That was '86. Because it was always a difficult time for me because this is the time I always played in Australia. I always played this Australian Masters or events around that tournament.

So I very, very rarely played the West Coast Swing, even though Riviera is one of my favorite golf courses, for that reason.

But one year I received a phone call from Bob Hope, obviously, and I was playing well in '86, and obviously he wanted to enhance his field, like President Clinton did, and I received a call from him and I came out and I obviously I met with him and spent some time with him.

But what impressed me the most, because I was such a young player on the scene at that time, I was just blown away by the way Bob Hope was so connected with the international players. Being the American. And international golf, you know, was there, but it really wasn't there. But he knew all about what I had done and how I had played and obviously he was a golf junkie, right. But that's what impressed me the most.

So somebody put his name on being the celebrity that he was and still is to this day, you can see why this tournament is such an iconic tournament and that's why you should never let it die in any capacity or in any way.

Q. Of the changes that have come to the tournament, I think most of the pros are talking about the format change. No longer five days, no longer four courses. It's a little unfair to ask you this, since you haven't played the tournament except the one time, but what do you I take it you approve of the changes.

GREG NORMAN: I absolutely do. That was one of the topics of conversation I had with President Clinton. I think from a player's perspective, he was very astute in asking the top players what their opinions were of the event.

Even though I played the one time, I heard all the other players talk about it. And obviously coming in here and having to play four golf courses, that's four practice rounds, or you skip one, and you still have got to arrive on a Monday, whether you're coming in from Hawaii or from somewhere, you're really early on in your season, so to jam five rounds on top of, in a week, was very, very difficult, on four different golf courses, very, very difficult for the guy to swallow.

We did it, they did it, because they like the event, they like Bob Hope, and they like the celebrity side of it. So modifying it is step number one of elevating the structure of getting the name players that you want to get here on a consistent level. And Phil Mickelson has won this a few times, so obviously he loves coming here.

So at the end of the day you have to start with little steps. It's a process to build it up. You can't expect this event just to go from down here to up here (Indicating) overnight. It's going to take a few years, it's going to be take a few years commitment of the PGA TOUR, of Humana, of President Clinton, of the players, of the local community, and it will get back there.

It's just giving the players the freedom in their mind of knowing that, okay, this tournament is being pushed forward and it's not in a stagnant mode.

Q. How do you approach your playing these days? Obviously you're not going to get a phone call from the President every day to go play. How do you pick and choose how much are you able to fit it into a schedule which involves hundreds of other things and how much do you want to play?

GREG NORMAN: I still enjoy playing. I just don't enjoy going out there and getting ready to play. That's the hard part. I practice very little, but I play a lot more now. Before I used to play very little, practice, I mean practice rounds is when I'm getting ready to play tournament play and I used to practice a lot.

So my whole routine and preparation towards the game of golf is totally different. Because I just don't like standing there and pounding golf balls for six, eight, 10 hours a day. Just, I've lost that enthusiasm. But when I come out here and play, I enjoyed playing the Palmer Golf Course today, I enjoyed playing LaQuinta yesterday, classic old golf course, the old push up greens and a lot of character about the golf course, even though it doesn't have a name player, or a name designer, excuse me, it was just a fun golf course to get out there and play.

So when I come out and experience those things and a mixture of modern golf, which is the Nicklaus stadium style, a lot of movement and dirt movement. And then you get the old style of La Quinta and then Arnold Palmer, where he's integrated the mountains right down into the fairways, that's been very impressive.

So they picked the three best golf courses they possibly can for this tournament. So from my perspective, my schedule just comes from when I feel like I want to play, basically. I'll play in Mexico, a golf course that I think is pretty good and I enjoy playing it and a lot of the other players enjoy playing it at the same time.

I'm thinking of playing one more immediately after that or around that time. I'm kind of planning the Honda, because I live in the backyard there. If my game and my body I'm coming off 12 months since my surgery and it takes 12 months to recover from any dramatic surgery, and I'm starting to feel like I can get the golf ball out there again, and feel like I can compete and hit the ball out up to 290 close to 300 instead of 275. That's a big difference as well.

Q. How close do you think golf is to having a world tour the way tennis has the ATP TOUR. And when you see how close it is now with all the World Golf Championship events, do you feel any sense of vindication that you were like way ahead of the curve on this back in 1994??

GREG NORMAN: My vindication comes because everybody says I was way ahead of the curve back in 1994. So the vindication doesn't come from any other way. I get it all the time now. I was sitting last night at dinner with President Clinton and I wasn't sitting with him, but somebody else, and the conversation came up about that. And he's very heavily involved with golf and the sponsorship of golf and he said the same thing.

So I know that my idea was right. It just at the time because I was so far out there and radical, nobody could really grasp a hold of what my concept really was.

Now the ATP was a totally different structure than what my structure and my thought was, very similar to the ATP, and at the end of the day, I think it's close to there, because the European Tour is probably more like a world tour than anything else, because they travel all over the place. Except the United States, except South America and except Mexico and Canada, probably.

So they really have canvassed the globe in a great way to promote international golf the way they have.

I like to see what the U.S. TOUR is doing now. They have obviously felt like they're being, they missed the boat a little bit because the European Tour being at it for 10, 12, 14 years, building their global presence, as a brand, and the PGA TOUR now is recognizing that. Obviously tournaments in KL, a golf tournament in Mexico and now obviously the, geographically, the only place they can cast their net for the PGA TOUR would be the vertical aspect on a longitudinal line, which is Central America, Mexico, South America. And there's huge opportunities there.

Obviously with the golf coming into the 2016 Olympics and obviously the PGA TOUR has been very instrumental in being a rudder in the steering of that ship in a lot of ways. So they have a great future of establishing that.

Whether we get a true world tour, I don't think so. I don't see the merging of the European Tour and the PGA TOUR to create one TOUR, which is what you really would like to see, like the ATP. So I think it will be this way for a long period of time.

And just to finish on that, they will have to watch out what happens in Asia over the next 20 years. I think that's the sleeping giant in a lot of ways. When China figures out their moratorium on golf course construction and promotion of the grass roots of the game, when India steps up, which they're doing right now, and Asia is definitely doing, Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand you can go through those southeastern Asian countries, they're really stepping up to the plate and promoting the game of golf.

So move that out 20 years and then see the development of what's happening in Korea in golf over the last 10 years, push that out another 20 years on that population, one third of the world right there, you've got a huge opportunity to create a huge, larger base than anywhere else in the world of great players.

Q. More about you and a story about putting I'm hoping to do, what, can you talk about the evolution your putting stroke as you got older and a lot of people think, oh, putting, you should be able to putt until your 80, it doesn't, that's not physical, but??

GREG NORMAN: Oh, it's physical possibly, maybe not mentally possible.

Q. But what it is it about putting that becomes harder as you get older for you in particular and for a lot of golfers?

GREG NORMAN: I think anything in life, the older you get, the harder it is for you to deal with pressure in life. Because our moods and our experiences dictate how we're going to react to that pressure.

If you've been a very confident putter and a confident individual you should be able to keep going and believe you can make putts, because technically and physically there's not much going on with the stroke. It's the physical and it's just your synapsis firing into your hands, saying, ok, can my brain tell my hands and my shoulders to rotate at the right speed and keep it smooth and accelerate through. Sometimes that doesn't work. So it's more of an electrical impulse in your head that really stimulates the things to go a little awry. And that's just pure confidence.

And I think that's the same in life. If you lose a little bit of confidence in life, whether it's a bad economy or a bad relationship or bad business or whatever it is, you are going to lose that confidence until you get it back again. So putting just, I think it really zeros in on those weaknesses that you possibly do have.

Q. Clearly you've been successful long enough where you can be selective about what tournaments you play, but please tell us you'll keep a commitment to keep coming back home to Australia.

GREG NORMAN: The reason why I do keep coming back home?

Q. And that you will keep coming back home.

GREG NORMAN: Well I love my country and I love going down there and playing the golf courses that we do play down there. Whether it's the Lakes Golf Club or the Australian Golf Club or go and just play New South Wales in Sydney and then you got the sand belt regions in Melbourne and some great golf courses in Adelaide. So you never forget where your roots really are, even though you live in other places around the world.

The game of golf has gone through a bit of a lull in Australia, if we can all as Australians pull together and promote the game of golf and lift it back up again, hey, that's what it's all about. It's like getting a phone call from President Clinton to come here. We're trying to lift. We're trying to get enthusiasm going back in the game of golf.

The game of golf has suffered, the number of rounds is down again, if you read those statistics, in the United States. So we just keep going on this little gentle cycle downwards. And how do we turn it around? We turn it around by all banding together and talking about the game of golf and not individuals, but talking about the game of golf and how good it is.

So when you go to Australia, or when I go to Australia, and whether it's Captain of the Presidents Cup and bringing that image of the Presidents Cup to another level or playing in the Australian Open, I'll, if get invited I always put that on a priority on my schedule very early in the year to say, okay, can I fit it in, would I like to go. Yes. Yes. Yes. And then you build your schedule for the end of the year around that.

Q. How long have you known President Clinton, when did you become friends, and how often have you teed it up with him over the years??

GREG NORMAN: It's an interesting story. One that I delved in with Golf Channel over the last few days. When he was elected President of the United States I believe in 1994, my memory is right. '92? Okay. Thank you.

I was, I received a phone call from the White House about saying the President Clinton's going to make his first trip to Australia and I believe that was in '94. Must have been '94. So it must have been '92 he was elected, must have been '94. And they said, the President of the United States would like to play with you when he's down there. And I said, okay, what are the dates, looked at the dates, and it's, coincidentally, it was the week of the Australian Open in Sydney. And coincidentally he happened to be in Sydney. So I'm sure he knew that I was playing the Australian Open and was going to be in Sydney. Not saying that he adjusts his schedule around his golf.

But I'll be honest with you, this is one of the and I'm going to be consistent in saying this, because it's so true I learned from that moment in time never to prejudge anything. And what I had done is I had actually was very reluctant to do it because I'm a bit more pro Republican than I am a Democrat, even though I'm not a U.S. citizen, I favor those beliefs. That's just my belief.

And I didn't really like the way the first two years of his presidency was going. I just didn't feel comfortable with it from my own personal beliefs. So I actually came to a judgment decision saying I don't want to play because of his political position.

So I called up President Bush, 41 and said, Mr. President I got a phone call from the White House and they would like me to play golf with the President in Australia and I'm not too sure I want to do that. And he said, Greg, he says, I'm going give you a piece of advice. He said, respect the office of the Presidency of the United States. You go play with the President. No matter how you feel.

So I said, yes, sir, you know, being the loyal subject, being a non voting guy.

So I called the White House back and I told them, yes, I'm available and my dates are best because I'm playing in the Australian Open. And it worked out where I played the first round of the Australian Open, and we organized to play at New South Wales Golf Club in Sydney, the afternoon, which is one of my favorite golf courses in our country.

And it all worked out beautifully. From that moment onwards, because I prejudged, I became very good friends with the person that I prejudged in the wrong way.

And we basically talked about that. And I have, we have had wonderful conversations on the phone, and we don't talk a lot, but we may talk a couple times a year, but just developing that friendship. And obviously he came to my place in Florida to spend some time, that's where he had the injury, and the accident. And New South Wales Golf Club, we played 18 holes on our own, they closed the golf course down, and it was like two guys talking about life.

And that's the way I've always approached the President. I never have a fear of asking him a question that some people probably would have a fear of asking him a question. So, and he has no problem with the same way with me.

And our relationship has been that way ever since day one even though when I see him or when we just kind of know we're in a good place where we can speak and ask questions and talk about things in a very frank and honest fashion. So it's, to me, it's unique in a lot of ways and special in a lot of ways.

Q. How many times have you played with him??

GREG NORMAN: Once. We were supposed to play, he was coming down for three days to stay with me and play in the Medalist member/guest, but then the accident happened and we couldn't play. And then New South Wales and we were supposed to play again and his schedule changed when he was coming down to Florida. And Saturday will be the second time.

Q. What do you think is the bond that has drawn you guys so close? What is the common denominator that's made you such good friends even despite your disparate backgrounds and beliefs?

GREG NORMAN: I think the fact that you can have a fireside chat without any fear or favor. You can ask a question, hey, Mr. President, what's the biggest mistake you ever made as President. And people always ask me what's the biggest mistake I ever played playing golf, right? What's the worst shot or what's the biggest heartache you ever had or loss you've ever had.

So I asked him the same question, because it's interesting. And he answered me very frankly and honestly. I won't tell you what it was, but and then we just pushed out that conversation and in a real term like a fireside chat. You think, wow, this is pretty impressive to hear some of the stuff that he's saying.

And I look at the other Presidents and they're no different. They put their pants on the same way as every other human being. And they feel like sometimes they're put up on a pedestal where they're untouchable and they just want to know the facts of life and daily life and how your family is doing and how your kids are doing and what's going on in business and what are you like.

And when you get in that position you can actually say who how you feel about how business is going and what you think of the economy. And that's I think where President Clinton completely evolved as a politician and as a human, because in my experiences there's only been a couple of Presidents that I have known that actually have had the true connection with the American people and understanding how the Americans actually feel about where the economy is and where their country is and they have made that adjustment to do that. Prime Minister Bob Hawk was another one in Australia and there was tremendous, when he first came in, people thought he was a little too one sided and then he came to the middle and he became a people's person. And he is still that way today.

And President Clinton is still the way and Bush 41 and 43, if you really get to know him, he's the same way too. So when you get that connection and they understand what the values of the American people or their heart, then that means they have been a great President.

Q. First question, at what point did you feel comfortable calling him Bill??

GREG NORMAN: I've never called him Bill.

Q. Okay. Second question is

GREG NORMAN: That was easy.

(Laughter.)

President Bush 41 said, respect the office of the Presidency of the United States.

Q. Second question is, you called this a reclamation project, could you get into what you thought needed to be done to bring it to at least the standard to get people here, players here??

GREG NORMAN: Well this is a conversation I had with President Clinton. And it all revolves around players, obviously. If you get the name players and not just Phil Mickelson coming along and doing it, you need Phil Mickelson plus eight of the other next 14 top players coming in. Once you have the name players coming in, then you have the sponsors that are going to be there, but then the sponsors get their TV ratings and when you get your TV ratings, people feel like, okay, it's worth the dollars that they have invested. And you get the players there and you're going to have the support of the local community. So it's a trickle down affect.

So to me when you look back over the history of the Bob Hope and you see that Arnold Palmer played here and supported it and loved it and you go down to The Nest down here and you see pictures of Bob Hope and Frank and Arnold and all those guys having a great time you go, whoa, that must have been a pretty cool time to be around playing golf in the Bob Hope Desert Classic. The same with the Crosby. When you first came and played the Crosby it was like, wow, this is pretty cool as a player to experience it.

So you get the players to come support it and I think that President Clinton completely understands that. And that's why he made the phone call to myself and I believe Phil Mickelson and whoever else he called. So you got to get those, the players back.

Q. Business of golf. You're known for your acumen in business, of course. What would you tell a golf course operator to do to increase rounds played at the course??

GREG NORMAN: That depends on your golf course. It depends on what you're looking for. Is it a private golf club, resort golf club, is it public

Q. A resort.

GREG NORMAN: A golfing resort? What is your resort built for? Is it built for a destination purely for golf or a destination for other things as well? I think what we're learning now in the world of business and the shift we have had to make, the business model has changed, where you have to create a destination with three or four other things to do.

The biggest lag that golf has over the last couple years is time it takes to play. You'll find that a lot of people now say, if couples go away on a holiday or resort and the husband goes out and plays golf or the wife goes and plays golf and it takes five to six hours from the start to finish, the time they leave the house and get back to the house, that's a very, very, that's a quick day, sometimes it pushes out to even more.

So you got to look at how do you get people around the golf course in a quicker fashion. How do you make the game of golf enjoyable memorable, but still speed it up.

We have experimented, I know in my business we built a 12 hole golf course for a residential community, resort community down in Mexico, that was originally an 18 hole golf course. We got the guy, we sat down and talked with the owner and the developer and he wanted to maximize his IRR, which is exactly what you're saying, how do you get a better return, how do you get more people there.

And I suggested it was a magnificent 18 holes right on the Pacific Ocean and I said, why don't we reduce it to 12 holes, six and six. He didn't want a golf tournament, he didn't care about any of that, he just wanted great holes on the ocean where his members could enjoy it. So we reduced it down to 12 holes and he just thought it was greatest thing since sliced bread.

But you got to go beyond the cutting edge, you have to get out of the box and everybody thinks this and everybody's got to get a way from building 7500 yard golf courses and 7700 yard golf courses, what's wrong with 6900, what's wrong with 7000 yards. You can still build a great golf course and get straight off the green, right on to the tee and you're moving, you're moving, you're moving.

And if we can do that, that's great. And it's like playing a practice round today, I played in three hours. Great. I'm finished, I'm here talking to you, I can go have lunch and now I'm going back and spending the afternoon, instead of still being out there with three hours to go for the back nine.

So those are the type of things that, well one example, but you have to be willing to think out of the box a little bit and then you have to have the developer or the owner to adapt to that.

Now the golf courses we play here were built in the '80s and earlier. So right then it was a totally different mindset about how to build golf courses. They're expensive to build, moving a lot of dirt, expensive to maintain because you got a lot of hand maintenance here, you got a huge maintenance crew.

So your annual dues are high because of the cost of maintaining these golf courses. So you got to think, okay, 20 years down the line, how do we reduce that?

So as we look at our business model the key word we look at is sustainability. How do you build golf courses that are sustainable from an environmental standpoint, from a growth standpoint, from a developers standpoint, where he's going to get a good return on his all the time and money and how do you build value in golf.

People don't want to own golf courses anymore. They do now because they're buying them for 10 cents on the dollar. But how do you, it's the operating, the operation of golf courses is the most expensive part.

So as we look out, from the PGA TOUR and TPC's to my business to everybody's business, we got to be very, very careful what we do going forward today and going forward for our next generation, not to be burdened with what we are burdened with today in the United States, which is golf courses that are very expensive to maintain. And that ongoing cost is a laggard, I think, one of the laggards on where golf is.

MARK STEVENS: Well thank you for spending your time today and good luck this week.

GREG NORMAN: Thank you.

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