Greg Norman's US Masters Moments
The Given Sunday
The Other Sunday
The story to be told...
Greg Norman at the US Masters. It is one of golf's most enigmatic stories. Many golfers have won and lost many tournaments but every golfing fan worth their salt knows the familiar stories of Greg Norman's moments at the US Masters. Moments that leave, not only Greg, but many a golfing fan, thinking what could have been. I am many degrees of separation from Greg Norman, but from all reports, he's keeps a generally positive attitude. Whatever any man's wealth or past, maintaining a positive disposition is something to be admired. Following Greg's 1993 Open triumph, Norman said, "Yeah, I would like to say I beat Bob Tway. I would like to say I beat Larry Mize and those other guys, too. I didn't. But I hung around, and I came back." The critics would argue that to have any other attitude would not be worth considering.
This article serves not to do what's been done before by simply re-living the past moments and then passing judgement at Greg's record at the US Masters Golf tournament. That I can only include two photos with major trophies says enough in that regard. This article seeks to re-live the drama surrounding those moments and add some context as a contribution to a truly memorable story.
I disclose that I admire Greg Norman greatly for his pursuit to live life to the fullest in sport and commerce. Whilst his major results leave much promise unfulfilled, his impact on the game and his moments will always be remembered.
1981 - The Journey Begins
Norman's journey at the Masters began in 1981. Norman turned pro in 1976. 5 years later, he had qualified for the Masters and after rounds of 69 and 70 was tied for the lead after two rounds in his debut Masters. A score of 69 at Augusta National is always a commendable score. Given that it was Norman's first round in his debut Master's tournament, makes it more impressive. The only other year, Norman shot in the 60's in the first round, was in 1996.
Norman shot two solid even par rounds to finish the tournament 5 under and 3 shots behind winner, Tom Watson. Of Norman's performance at the 1981 US Masters, fellow professional, Frank Nobilo said, “The world never really saw what he was capable of. I reckon if he’d won the Masters in 1981, he might have won a bunch of Majors."
There She Goes
1986 - You Know Jack
1987 is usually the first memory golfers have when they remember Greg Norman at the Masters. But lets not forget 1986, the first of Norman's 3 second place finishes at the Masters. 1986 is an infamous year for Norman. The year in which he completed the Saturday Slam or more cruelly, the Norman Slam. Norman led all 4 majors after 54 holes.
And so Greg Norman's 1986 story begins at the US Masters. Norman lost by 1 shot to the greatest player to have played the game at that point, Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus shot a stunning final round 65 (7 under) to storm into the clubhouse lead early at 9 under par. Lets step back into the action.
On Sunday, with 10 holes left to play, Jack Nicklaus was even par for the day and 2 under par for the tournament. At that point, Nicklaus was trailing Norman by 5 shots, who was leading, on 7 under par mid-way through his front nine.
How quickly a tournament can change. Move forward a few holes and Norman makes a disastrous double bogey on 10 after sending his 4 iron approach into the green-side water hazard. This left Norman level par for the day and 6 under for the tournament . Leaving the 10th green, Norman was trailing Ballesteros, Kite and Nicklaus by 2 shots. Leaving himself a formidable leaderboard to climb on the back nine on Sunday at August National.
To his credit, Norman steadied the ship and made birdies up 15 and 16 to be 8 under. At this point, Jack Nicklaus had tapped in for par on the 72nd hole to sign for a tournament total of 9 under. A 7 under par final round, 6 under par for the back nine including some of the finest clutch putts golf has seen. Norman trailed by 1 stroke with 2 holes to play.
Needing a birdie and a par on the final two holes, Norman's drive up 17 was errant and left him with a blind shot over a hill to the green. Incredibly, Norman's approach finished 12 feet from the pin and he then sank the putt to move into a tie with Nicklaus at 9 under par. Norman had made 3 consecutive birdies on the back nine on Sunday at the Masters.
Norman hit a 3 wood from the 18th tee. A stunning tee shot that finished in the centre of the 18th fairway. Needing a long iron to reach the green, and a birdie to win or a par to tie, Norman decided to attack the pin. Famously, Norman used the same club he used in approaching the tenth. History reminds us that Norman sliced his 4 iron approach to the eighteenth well right of the green. In fact, so far right as to avoid the bunker guarding the right of the green.
Failing to get up and down, Norman ended the 1986 Masters as tied runner up. A near miss for Norman and unfortunately the beginning of a familiar story.
Dan Jenkins of Golf Digest said of Norman's final round "He bounced off of everything but a nearby shopping center, and kept getting saved by the crowds, whose numbers prevented his ball from finding even worse places to come to rest, or, in fact, be lost."
Jump For Joy
Mize's Magical Chip
1987 - Demised by Larry
The images are iconic. The story heartbreaking for one. Fairytale for another. Larry Mize, in his horizontally striped blue shirt, makes a 40 yard chip-in from one of the most demanding positions on Augusta National Golf Course, leaps up and down in unrestrained excitement to the delight of the home patrons. A dream for Larry. Heartbreak for Norman? Well yes, but how did he arrive to that situation.
Norman shot a low round of 66 on Saturday to storm into a 1 stroke 54 hole lead. It was Norman's 5th consecutive 54 hole lead in a major. On Sunday, the lead was tightly contested all day. With Mize in the clubhouse on 3 under, Norman made a clutch birdie on 17 to re-gain a share of the lead. On 18, needing a birdie to win, Norman put all sorts into his 3 wood tee shot and flew the fairway bunker that was designed to deter the kind of shots Norman hit. It was by far the longest drive on Sunday by any player although not necessarily any better in terms of position. Norman hit a solid approach into the final green and left himself with a 25 foot birdie putt to win the US Masters.
Norman did everything right. The birdie putt was the perfect weight for the slick Augusta Greens. As the putt approached the hole, it was heading left but it looked as though it might still catch the left lip. Alas, no. The championship putt that never was. Again so close, yet so far. Norman knew it. His reacted as angrily as a well behaved golfer could, paused for a moment and then walked up to tap the two inch putt in to finish in a 3 way tie at the end of 72 holes with Ballesteros and Mize.
The first play-off hole was the 10th. All players hit the fairway with their drives and followed them with solid approaches but Mize's was the best. Mize left himself with a 15 foot uphill putt. Norman made a solid attempt at his birdie putt and left with a regulation par. Mize's birdie putt almost ended it all only to see his putt die away at the hole. Ballesteros would miss his par putt and be eliminated from the play-off.
On the fateful 11th, one of the Augusta's most intimidating, Norman had the advantage. His approach hit the green and came to a stop in the fringe just off the green, 40 foot from the pin, whilst Mize was 140 feet and few nasty Augusta bumps away. In fact, after Mize had hit his approach, he turns away in disgust and can be seen to mouth "Holy Ship" or some other maritime pro-noun.
We all know what happens next but it is interesting to watch closely the reaction of Norman and his caddy, Pete Bender, as Mize celebrates away. Remember that Bender walked side by side with Norman as his paymaster completed the Norman slam the previous year. Whilst Mize begins to celebrate, Bender, walks past his paymaster and slaps Norman on the back a few times whilst Norman stares in disbelief. Norman later said he was watching Mize's chip to get an idea of the speed of the green and that the result, as you would expect, caught him totally by surprise.
Norman made sure his 40 foot birdie putt would not finish short but the line was never close. Obviously disappointed, Norman walked away quickly to shake Larry Mize's hand and congratulate him. In an interview afterwards, Norman was asked about his putt on the 72nd hole, to which he replied, "I still don't know how the putt stayed out. When it was about a foot, foot and a half out, I said to myself, Don't say a word, because it's going in. I just couldn't believe it missed, nor could my caddie, Pete".
1989 - First Foil From Faldo
The 1989 US Masters is remembered for two things. Faldo's soaking in the win as if overwhelmed by a power from the heavens as his putt on the 11th, the second sudden death play hole, fell into the cup. Or more sadly, Scott Hoch missing a 2 foot putt to win on the first sudden death play hole. We would all love to have a 2 foot to win the Masters but we would hate to be the one that missed.
Let us not forget Faldo's final round 65. Equalling Jack Nicklaus' final round in 1986 and to the same effect.
What many forget amongst Faldo's amazing win (rightly so I hear you say) and Norman's other unfortunate results at the Masters is that Norman stormed home with scores of 68 and 67 on the weekend to finish at 4 under par for the tournament and 1 shot behind joining Hoch and Faldo in the sudden death playoff. Again so close and from my point of view, just as agonising as 1986.
A par at the last for Norman and he would finished at 5 under and made the play-off. Norman teed off the 72nd hole with a 1 iron. This was widely regarded as unconventional given the length with which the 18th used to play. It is easy in hindsight to say, but the result is the only thing that matters. Greg Norman's bogey on 18 confined 1989 as yet another infamous Masters Moment.
Ben's Overcome With Joy
1995 - Tears of Crenshaw
1995 was a lottery of sorts. The 54 hole lead was held by Brian Henninger and Ben Crenshaw but all number of form players lurked nearby not least Fred Couples, Curtis Strange, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Greg Norman.
I recall watching pre-round interviews with a few of the contenders. Interviews with Crenshaw, Henninger and Norman I specifically remember. Henninger was nervous and understandably so given the situation and world class players breathing down his neck. You could hear the rattle in Norman's voice too. Crenshaw was as calm as can be "I'm just going go out there and take what the course gives me".
Norman and Love started the day on 7 under and 3 strokes adrift. Norman and Love then negotiated the first 15 holes on Sunday together, without a bogey, before Love's overpowered tee-shot at the short par 3, 16th. With 2 holes remaining Norman was 5 under for the day and 12 under for the tournament. At that stage, he was tied with Crenshaw who was 12 under and had 6 holes remaining. Everyone else, including Henninger had fallen out of contention.
Here begins Norman's Masters Moment. Norman's drive up 17 left him with a relatively easy 106-yard approach to the hole. Is anything easy on Sunday at Augusta? Norman miscued the approach 40 feet left of the hole and then three-putted to fall back to 11 under. There he would stay while Crenshaw seized the moment like all Master's champions do, making birdies on 13, 16 and 17 and eventually finishing at 14 under par. So close, but yet again so far for the shark.
That Sinking Feeling
Magic of 1996 Masters
1996 - Faldo Storm
Who wants to re-live this meltdown? Not me but its part of this story. In the opinion of many, this is regarded as the worst of meltdowns. Losing a 6 shot lead has happened on other occasions, not least to Arnold Palmer, but when you consider the history that lead to this fateful day, then you understand its magnitude.
We remember the 4 iron on 18 in 1986, Larry Mize in 1987, Faldo in 1989, Crenshaw in 1995 and that's just at the Masters. If you add to this list all the other major's that Norman was in contention and let slip away, everyone saw a Major champion's destiny unfulfilled by not winning the Green jacket. So come Sunday with a 6 shot lead, this had to be day, surely?
But history tells us that it wasn't to be. So what happened? Despite starting the tournament with a phenomenal 63, the writing was on the wall as Norman struggled to a 71 on Saturday. In Saturday's round, Norman barely hit a green all day and made the fatal error of leaving his approach short on 12. Not the desirable form to take into a Sunday at the Masters.
Norman begun Sunday by declaring he was "totally in control" with a six shot lead over Faldo at the beginning of the day. However, the storm brewed early as Norman's errant snap-hook off the first tee that led to a bogey start. By the time Faldo and Norman were standing on the 12th tee, Norman's lead was gone. Then to drive the nail further, and for the second day in a row, Norman's tee shot on the 12 finished in Rae's Creek and led to a double bogey. What was once a six shot lead, was now a deficit of two. And the rest is history.
Losing a six shot in 11 holes and then going on to lose by 5 is never going to be pretty but for Norman, and the many hearts with him, it just seemed a whole lot worse. Norman's approach to 9 he inexplicably left short against all common practice. 3 putting the 11th when he had a genuine birdie chance. The fatal mistake at 12. To his credit, he did come back with a birdie at 13 and his chip for eagle on 15 left everyone heartbroken, except Faldo, as it somehow trickled by the hole and Norman crumbled to his knees in despair. Norman said later, at that point, it felt like his strength left him. The story really ends with Norman's horrible tee shot at 16. The tee shot was accompanied by a TV close up of Norman's despondent reaction for all the world to see. It was tragedy of the highest proportions.
In this tragedy let us not forget to give absolutely full credit to Nick Faldo for a stunning final round of 67. That is what the back nine on Sunday is all about.
Norman and Jose in 1999
1999 - Last Chance Saloon
Norman aged 44 and 3 years after the turmoil of his loss to Faldo. Norman missed the cut at the Masters in 1997 and 1998. Many wondered if we'd seen the last Norman charge at the Green Jacket.
However, come Sunday morning 1999, Greg Norman was 6 under par through 54 holes and trailing the 1994 Masters Champion, Jose Maria Olazabal by 1 shot. It was a tight battle and Norman appeared to be holding his nerve paying scant regard to any tragic memories he had at Augusta.
The front nine was unsteady for both Norman and Olazabal. Into the back nine and Norman made a birdie on 11 to re-gain a share of the lead but followed with another terrible mistake at 12. Norman would need to hit his third shot from behind Rae's Creek and was staring at a regulation double bogey. Norman's third shot landed 20 feet from the hole. He would hole the putt for a bogey. A crucial break and crucial saved shot in a tight back nine on Sunday at Augusta.
This leads us to the memorable moment at this US Masters. The par 5, 13th. Arriving to the 13th tee, Olazabal held a 1 stroke lead and teed off first. Olazabal's tee shot strayed right towards the pine needles. Olazabal would take the prudent option and not try to reach the green in two. Following on the tee, Norman chose the championship line and hit his tee shot perfectly. He was left with a 4 iron to the green, the same club that had destroyed his chances in 1986. With the pin cut in the back right of the green attacking the pin was not a safe option. For whatever reason, maybe he slightly blocked his approach or maybe the mindset that caused all the previous moments paid off. Norman's approach was directed straight at the pin and he nailed it. The result was nothing other than sensational. The ball almost slam dunking for an albatross two but bouncing on some 30 feet past the hole.
Olazabal recovered well to be on the green in 3 and about 20 feet away. The permutations were numerous but Norman was to putt first. The TV camera provided a perfect view of the line Norman faced and the commentators talked the audience through it. Norman hit a great putt and his ball trickled constantly down, right to left and then into the middle of the cup for an eagle 3. The roar from the nearby patron's was huge. The look of relief and apparent destiny on Norman's face was unforgettable. His finger pointed towards the sky, followed by throwing his head back in relief and then acknowledging the roar of the patron's by nervously dipping his cap. Norman was 7 under and had a 1 shot lead with 5 holes left in the tournament. Could this be Norman's year? When the leaderboard beside the 18th green changed to show Norman's name at the top, the gallery rose to their collective feet and applauded loudly forgetting Nick Price who had to step away from his putt to allow the roar to die down. Everyone asked the same question, could this be Norman's year?
Olazabal would make his cross slope putt to re-gain a share of the lead. Still, a share of a 2 shot lead over the field is a nice position to be in. Familiarly, the euphoria would not last long as Norman 3 putted from the fringe on 14 and a poor sand wedge approach on 15 led to a second consecutive bogey. Olazabal made birdie on 16. Norman was now 3 shots back and there he would remain. Norman had not made a bogey on the final 5 holes the previous 3 days but made 2 in a row on Sunday when it mattered most.
In the end...
Many ask why, in particular, we remember Greg Norman? Many golfers have found defeat from the jaws of victory and many have done it in their own spectacular ways. Scott Hoch's famous 2 footer in 1989. Even the great Arnold Palmer suffered spectacular collapses not least, losing the 1966 US Open at The Olympic Club to Bill Casper despite having a seven stroke lead with only 9 holes left in the tournament. Whenever Norman managed to lose, more often not, there was another player there as well who could have won it but didn't. However, for 20 years, Norman was regularly the common denominator on Sunday at the majors. It is a credit to his prowess, that he was so regularly there to contend, but unfortunately the results speak louder. It's a pity we remember these more than we remember other results such as Norman's spectacular 64 on Sunday at 1993 Open to overhaul none other than Nick Faldo.
Greg Norman is remembered because of a few things. On the positive side, Norman won two British Opens in dominant fashion, spent a total of 331 weeks ranked #1 in the World Rankings (second only to Tiger Woods and daylight to Faldo) and led the economic boom for golf during the 1980s. Detracting from this, Norman is remembered for the frequency and manner with which he managed to finish on the wrong side of the ledger. He had big leads, he small leads. He lost all four majors in a play-off (a feat matched only by Craig Wood). He lost to incredible shots, he made horrible shots. Its a story and an amazing one at that. Its a pity for Norman that the numbers aren't better. Still, 2 British Opens, 88 professional wins and a hefty bank account are some numbers I'd like to have my name against.