The Shark looks at 60
Greg Norman has crammed a lot into his first 60 years on this planet -- and he has no desire to slow down anytime soon
February 10, 2015
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
HOBE SOUND, Fla. -- The wooden gate swings open to reveal a sprawling and peaceful environment, aptly named "Tranquility."
Tall palms line the paver-covered drive, tennis court and cabana to the right, with the main house farther up. A handful of other outbuildings dot the 8-acre property, including a grill house that adjoins a 50-foot lap pool overlooking the Intracoastal; a three-bedroom, two-bath coach house complete with living room and kitchen; carriage house with a six-car garage, gym and office; and an oceanfront cottage across the street that has two bedrooms, two baths, living room, kitchen and a fireplace for those rare chilly South Florida nights when the wind is whipping in off the Atlantic.
The back lawn also features a 5,500 square-foot putting green with a bunker and tee box that allows for 80-yard pitch shots. Beyond that is a dock big enough for a large yacht with two additional lifts for smaller craft.
This is Greg Norman’s world and has been since he bought the place in 1991 for $5 million. A few years ago, he briefly listed it for $65 million, which at the time made it the seventh-most expensive home for sale in the country, before pulling it off the market five months later.
“I always wanted to have this type of place where I could actually come home and stay home,” Norman says. “With the grind of the TOUR on a global basis, I didn’t really want to go to a golf course and practice. I didn't really want to go to a gym and work out with a bunch of people. Because you always get this white noise coming at you all the time.”
During his heyday, Norman was the one generating the noise. No. 1 in the world for a total of 331 weeks in the 1980s and ‘90s, he won 20 times on the PGA TOUR and 14 times on the European Tour, including The Open Championship in 1986 and 1993. A fierce competitor with flowing blond hair, steely blue eyes, an Australian accent and signature straw panama hat, he fit the bill of his moniker -- "The Great White Shark." He was the closest thing to a Tiger Woods before there was a Tiger Woods.
His game matched his personality, too. One of the best drivers of the ball in the history of the game, Norman’s swing featured a wide arc that was possible because of a huge shoulder turn and a massive leg drive that gave him the ability to overpower a golf course. His ball-striking was top-rate, too, and should have won him more majors. Instead, he finished second seven times, including three times at the Masters, each one more agonizing than the last.
Today, Feb. 10, Norman celebrates his 60th birthday. Since 2010, he has been happily married to Kirsten Kutner, his third wife. He has twice captained the International team in The Presidents Cup, including 2011 when the biennial event was in Australia. His last official round on the PGA TOUR came in 2012; that was also the last time he's played on the Champions Tour. He simply isn't wired for it. At 60, he's more Lithe Lion in Winter than Great White Shark in Summer.
Essential Greg Norman
For this interview, he emerges from his house in shorts, a golf shirt and flip-flops, casually strolling down the driveway to the tennis cabana. His dog soon follows.
Norman barely plays golf anymore, occasionally hitting balls in his backyard or into the ocean. That’s not to suggest he’s slowing down any. Norman says he feels like he is 45 and his body looks it, lean from daily workouts and a regular tennis game with Grigor Dimitrov, a.k.a. Baby Fed, who is just 23 years old and routinely hits with Norman at Tranquility.
“It's the same old cliche you hear from a lot of people, you really don't feel it,” Norman says. “I might have a few more aches and pains from the game of golf and surgeries I've had, but nothing that really stops me in my tracks. Nothing that really makes me think I've got to adjust my lifestyle a little bit because I'm at a certain age.”
He has more to keep him busy than ever -- mostly his vast business interests. Norman’s Great White Shark Enterprises has 19 divisions and includes everything from a clothing line, to wine, to course design, to golf cart batteries, to asset-based debt lending. Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame over a decade ago, he’s known now as much for his entrepreneurship as anything.
“I think my abilities in business could have only happened because of my commitment and dedication and belief in myself on the golf course,” Norman says. “The golf course allowed me to understand branding and understand marketing. (It) allowed me to get to a level where I could have my own brand, my own logo. One couldn't be without the other.
“But I'm also fortunate that I was astute enough to identify this. When I decided to start Great White Shark Enterprises, it was a big, ballsy move, quite honestly, because I didn't have any educational background, I didn't go to Harvard, or MIT, or Yale, or anybody to get a business degree. I just trust my instincts. Knock on wood, it has been pretty good to date.”
GREG NORMAN ON ... his first professional win
"My first win was the most important. The one at West Lakes Classic in 1976. It gave me the confidence, the belief -- how I won, the way I played. It also made me identify the fact that I couldn't be the introverted Greg Norman guy then. I had to open myself up if I wanted to be a successful sports person or golfer. So I had to change my natural ways ... Bit more of an open, charismatic, wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve."
All the achievements and a milestone birthday have also made him more reflective. Norman has never been shy about sharing his opinion and he still has plenty of them these days, something that should prove useful when he gets in the broadcast booth this summer for Fox Sports as the lead analyst for its U.S. Open coverage.
Along those lines, what does Norman think of today’s game?
“I love it,” he says. “When you look at the big total picture on the global front, it’s extremely healthy. If you are a corporation getting involved with golf, you've got to be loving the opportunity to be getting massive exposure through television and print materials, so I think that I really do like it.”
As for Woods and his future, however, he is less excited. Norman flatly says he “thinks” Woods “might” win just one more major.
“I haven't seen him swing since his new coach, but to be honest with you, I didn't like his other swings,” Norman says. “They put a lot of load on certain parts of his joint in his body.
“He's got the belief in himself, but that belief is not as strong as it used to be. Does he have enough to beat (Jack) Nicklaus' record? No. There's so many great young players out there now that are not intimidated by him. They respect him, but they're not intimidated by him. When they get out there and play, they just blow it by him, and they out-putt him, and they out-chip him, and they out-smile him.”
GREG NORMAN ON ... losing the 1987 Masters to Larry Mize
"The Larry Mize one was, you know, a shot out of the blue, quite honestly. If I went there, as good a chipper as I was in my day, if I'd put 100 balls down there, maybe 500 balls, I might get one in. So that's destiny, you know? I can't control Larry Mize. He was trying to win, win the golf tournament just as much as I was, and he had a phenomenal shot. So I just had to accept it. ... Those things happen. A good example of about how you can turn a negative or a down moment in your life into a positive up-build moment in your life."
From a physical standpoint, Norman knows what Woods is going through. He endured back pain for years before eventually undergoing surgery in 2005.
“It's there mentally, so you always think about, 'Oh, gosh, you know, if I wake up in the morning and it's a little bit stiff and go, oh, am I having the same problems again?'” Norman says. “So that may make a little minor adjustment to your swing subconsciously, to try and alleviate it which puts more pressure on another joint. It becomes a bit of a domino effect.”
Norman’s post-competition years have also given him time to revisit some of the highs and lows of his own career, something he gladly does because he understands his own place in the game and is happy to recount them.
As unpleasant as some of them have been for the rest of us -- see the Masters, especially in 1987 and 1996 -- there is no look of angst or resentment. He says he has zero regrets in his career.
“You see it happen to other people in other sports, but when you actually inflict it on yourself -- which it was, it was all me -- you sit back and you go wow,” Norman said of blowing a six-stroke lead on the final day at Augusta National in 1996. “How did you ever do that?
“But those things happen. And at the end of the day I embraced it. I embraced the negativity of it, and again, turned it into a positive.”
He has had his fun along the way, too. Norman considers himself a prankster and has pulled his share of practical jokes through the years.
He once had someone’s office completely sodded with grass and another time had a friend of his in Australia who worked for him thrown in jail for the night. On more than one occasion, he also arranged for loads of manure to be dumped on somebody's driveway to the extent they couldn't get out the next morning.
GREG NORMAN ON ... why he wears a floppy hat
"That really started when I was a kid growing up in Australia when I first started playing the game of golf, 15, 16. Australia has brutal sun down there, so I wore this big sloppy, floppy straw hat. You know, it didn't have a shape to it or anything, and there are a couple of classic photographs out there of me wearing it. I was lucky. When you are in the sun all the time, you do have little things happen to you, and you do have little procedures. But if I didn't wear that hat, I would probably have a lot of them because I'm fair-skinned, I'm blue-eyed, and so I would have been very vulnerable to more melanomas. At the end of the day, that straw hat is a bit of a identifier for me."
Norman also has endured his share of life-flashing-before-the-eyes moments, including a near-helicopter crash in Australia decades ago, a bout with the bends while diving, and more recently an unfortunate run-in with a chain saw while doing a little tree-trimming around his yard.
“I looked down, I go, ‘Oh, this is not good,’” Norman recalls about the chain saw slipping in his hand and gashing his forearm. “It's just streaming with blood. The first thing I did was I started moving my fingers and I thought, 'OK, well, my fingers are fine.'
“My thumb was in my left pocket and I couldn't get (my cell phone) because my hand was covered in blood and it was in a Ziploc bag. Eventually I got it out and I called my wife. I said, 'Look, just get a towel and get a tourniquet and meet me in the backyard.' She said, ‘What's wrong?’ And I just hung up.
“Then I calmly called my son, who lives on the island. I said, 'You'd better get down here and take me to the hospital ASAP. I've had a chain-saw accident.' So then I hung up and I calmly called a doctor friend of mine. And I said, 'Hey, doc, can you call Jupiter emergency room and just tell them I'll be there in 15 minutes? I've had a chain-saw accident.' "
Norman still has numbness in the under part of his wrist but has full motion of his hands. But it also wasn’t the first time he’d gotten into a fight of sorts.
There were loads of them he says when he was a youngster playing rugby in Australia, and early in his career he and fellow Aussie Steve Elkington nearly got into it with a couple of overserved patrons in a parking lot in Portland, Oregon.
“I've never been knocked out,” Norman says. “I'll put it to you that way. I mean I've taken some on the chin. I've taken a few kicks in the wrong places, but I've gotten my share in.”
Certainly on a golf course, he's gotten more than most. He still recalls the 59 he shot long ago at Royal Queensland, the home of his longtime teacher Charlie Earp. Norman was playing the then-par 73 course on his own this day, and decided to putt out on every hole.
As he made his way around the course, he quickly felt something special happening. Shot after shot was "perfect," he recalls. "Everything was flag high, and I was amazed how I hit everything dead hole-high to every yardage I had that day."
He didn't have a scorecard, and he wasn't playing with anybody, so he acknowledges there's no way to verify his score. Truthfully, he didn't even know he had shot 59 until he added up his score after the round.
"It was like one of those magic moments on a golf course when the score really didn't matter," he says. "I was just having so much fun."
You get the sense that having fun is at the heart of everything Greg Norman has done and continues to do. His interests may have changed, but his zest for life has never faded. He has traveled the world, achieved fortune and fame, made his impact on the sport he loves, become a global icon.
He's 60 now, but there's no time to slow down. Sharks, after all, never sleep.
Greg Norman Profile