By Jane Cadzow
With his new golf tour bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, Norman has shaken professional golf’s foundations, along the way, “making 48 golfers who are already extremely rich even richer”, notes one observer.Credit:Getty Images
Even now, more than a quarter-century later, Mike Ritz vividly remembers the encounter. It was 1995. He was a keen new reporter for Golf Channel, an American television network, and Greg Norman was, well, Greg Norman. “He was my golfing hero,” Ritz says. “Like so many people, I loved that guy. I was so excited to meet him.” Norman was playing in a tournament at Bay Hill, Florida. Ritz waited until the strapping Australian had completed his final round before approaching him. According to the journalist, Norman’s first words to him were: “What the hell do you want?”
Ritz politely asked if Norman had a few moments for an interview. The response? “He just went off at me: ‘Who the f— do you think you are? Why the f— are you talking to me now? Are you some sort of idiot?’ ” Ritz was taken aback. “He’s just ripping me apart. I’m thinking, ‘This is the guy I adore? This is the guy who’s put up on a pedestal?’ ” After apologising to Norman for whatever he had done to upset him, Ritz persevered, repeating his request to record a quick chat with the golfer. He says Norman relented, albeit testily: “It’s like, ‘Jesus Christ. All right. What the hell. Let’s get it over with.’ ”
For Ritz, the most startling part was yet to come. When filming began, Norman’s manner changed entirely. “As soon as we started the on-camera interview, he became the sweetest, most charming individual you’ve ever met in your life. I was completely blown away.” Ritz says he witnessed this transformation again and again over the years. Off-camera, Norman could be snarky and arrogant. On-camera, he was the genial, charismatic sportsman whose participation in tournaments drew thousands of spectators to courses and guaranteed big television audiences. Ritz didn’t tell Golf Channel viewers how Norman behaved behind the scenes. “I wasn’t going to share that inside stuff. That wasn’t my job. It certainly wasn’t my role to say, ‘Hey, this guy’s an arsehole.’ ”
Circumstances have changed. Ritz retired from the network in 2020 and started a golf blog. For the past 12 months, he’s watched with mounting concern as Norman, 67, has shaken the foundations of professional golf, launching a new competition series bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The breakaway league, called LIV Golf, is widely regarded as an exercise in “sportswashing”, designed to launder the oil-rich kingdom’s reputation and distract attention from its record of appalling human rights abuses. Norman, who himself tees off only for relaxation these days, took on the role of league commissioner and chief executive. Some suspect his personal goal was to take revenge on old enemies in the American golf establishment while pocketing millions of petro-dollars. “Greg has always been turned on by money,” says Rodger Davis, chairman of the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) of Australia, and a former top golfer.
Norman says he has an altruistic reason for partnering with the Saudis: he is fighting for a better deal for professional golfers. That explanation has been sceptically received, partly because pro golfers are already among the best paid, most pampered people on the planet, and partly because Norman isn’t generally perceived as the selfless type. “The only person Greg Norman is fighting for is Greg Norman,” says Ritz. In any case, the advent of the Saudi-financed league – which this year held tournaments in the US, England, Thailand and Saudi Arabia, and is scheduled to stage its first Australian event in Adelaide next April – has split the golf world into warring camps, with former friends pitted against one another, lawsuits lodged and rancorous accusations flying on all sides.
Ritz figures the time has come to talk openly about Norman. “When his personality is playing a very major role in what happens to the sport I love, it’s worthy of making public.”
Actually you don’t have to love golf, or care what happens to it, to take an interest in Norman’s psyche. “I’ve always been a very reluctant celebrity,” he once told The Guardian. This is a bloke who published his first autobiography, My Story, at the tender age of 28. Who cashes in on his famous name by marketing Greg Norman sportswear, Greg Norman wine, Greg Norman prime Australian beef, Greg Norman golf courses and Greg Norman housing estates. Whose appetite for attention is such that in 2018, when he was 63, he posed for a series of nude portraits for an American sports magazine.
I keep one of those photographs on my computer desktop while writing this piece. Norman is naked except for a broad-brimmed straw hat, the sides of which are rolled up, cowboy-style. He leans forward, holding a golf club over his right shoulder, and fixes the camera with a level stare. The picture strikes me as completely crackers and cheers me up every time I look at it. I am a stranger to greens and fairways. I don’t know a driver from a putter. But I know a good profile subject when I see one.
Norman posing nude for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue in 2018.
His Instagram followers are familiar with the sight of Greg Norman au naturel. There he is, standing in the shower at Tranquility, his palatial spread at Jupiter Island, southern Florida. Or skinny-dipping in one of the lakes on his 4800-hectare ranch in Colorado’s White River Valley. In another shot, a fully dressed Norman drapes his arms around a bare-chested bust of himself. We learn from the Instagram account of his third wife, interior decorator Kirsten “Kiki” Kutner, 54, that she commissioned the larger-than-life-size sculpture for his 60th birthday. “At last he is immortalised!” she wrote beside a snap of herself planting a kiss on the sculpture’s giant lips.
Norman was such an arresting figure in his prime that he literally stopped conversation when he entered a room.
In the 1980s, when Norman shot to the top of the world rankings, professional golfers weren’t known for their machismo. They wore cardigans and beltless pants, all too often plaid. By mid-career, many carried a few extra kilos. The legendary Jack Nicklaus, nicknamed the Golden Bear, grew positively cuddly. Norman, by contrast, had a muscular physique and dynamic air. “He was athletic, good-looking, fit, swashbuckling,” says James Erskine, who headed the Australian operations of sports marketing and management company IMG when Norman was one of its star clients.
Retired golf tournament promoter Tony Roosenburg says Norman was such an arresting figure in his prime that he literally stopped conversation when he entered a room. “I mean, his walk is impressive,” Roosenburg says. Really? His walk? “Oh yes. He’s got a massively good walk.” (Men’s Health magazine associate editor Daniel Williams has written that “Norman bestrode the fairways like a gunslinger, his game as big as his style was bold”.)
To some of us, Norman’s visage is more movie-villain than leading-man. The ice-blue eyes. The hawk-like nose. The white-blond hair, now turned silver-grey. As US sports columnist Dan Jenkins put it, “Greg Norman has always looked like the guy you send out to kill James Bond, not Jack Nicklaus.” Nevertheless, golf fans’ admiration for him in his playing days amounted to a collective crush. His nickname was the Great White Shark. Or, more familiarly, Shark. “Everybody fell in love with him,” says Mike Ritz. “Everybody wanted to be just like him.”
Former US Olympic skier Andy Mill was no exception. “I’ve got to admit I was infatuated with him,” says Mill. “I just loved his attitude, his style, the way he played the game aggressively.” When eventually Mill and Norman met, they hit it off. Soon they were taking hunting and fishing trips together. Golf trips, too. To celebrate Mill’s 50th birthday in 2003, they rode Norman’s Gulfstream jet to the home of the US Masters tournament, the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. Mill, who was married to former world number one tennis player, Chris Evert, felt Norman was a kindred spirit. “We had a bond that I cherished.”
Then Mill learned Evert and Norman were seeing each other. “It just absolutely devastated me,” he says. Evert left Mill, with whom she had three sons, and Norman left Laura Andrassy, his wife of 25 years and the mother of his two children. In 2008, Norman tied the knot with Evert in a lavish ceremony in the Bahamas. The following year, the couple split up. “They spend a million dollars on a wedding,” says Mill, still incredulous. “He breaks up his family, breaks up my family, and 15 months later he has moved on.”
Norman with then great friend Andy Mill, Chris Evert and his first wife, Laura, in 2001. Five years later, Norman and Evert left their spouses for each other.Credit:Getty Images
Evert has been quoted as saying Norman gave her no warning of his decision to end their marriage. For Mill, the brevity of the Evert-Norman relationship was the final blow. If his life had been upended as the result of a grand and lasting passion, he might have understood: “I would say, ‘Well, maybe they were supposed to be together.’ ”
Instead, he was left feeling that both he and Evert, to whom he remains close, had been casually discarded. “I know she suffered greatly,” he says. As for Mill – “It broke my heart into a gazillion small pieces.” (Andrassy’s divorce settlement from Norman was reportedly $US100 million, which she told an interviewer was little consolation: “All that money did not heal my heart.” )
In Norman’s second memoir, The Way of the Shark, co-authored by Donald T. Phillips and published in 2006, he presented himself as an unusually principled person. Explaining his decision to publicly accuse a fellow player of cheating, he said he was certain he saw American Mark McCumber repair a spike mark on a green on the line of his putt – a rule infraction that others might have overlooked (and that McCumber denied) but which Norman felt compelled to report. Why? Because “I have always had a very deep sense of right versus wrong,” he wrote. “I place the highest priority on my integrity and ethics in life, in business, in golf – in everything I do.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Andy Mill has a different impression of Norman. “I see a man with a broken moral compass,” he says. LIV Golf, for instance, seems to Mill an unsavoury enterprise: “It’s nothing more than a money-grab.”
Greg Norman first explored the idea of launching a rival tour to the PGA in 1994. When it failed, “he felt like he was stabbed in the back by the players,” says American golfer Davis Love III. “Possibly he’s been harbouring a grudge ever since then.”Credit:Getty Images
In Saudi Arabia, institutionalised cruelty takes many forms, from the oppression of women and exploitation of migrant workers to the public beheading of prisoners. For sheer barbarity, it is hard to go past the 2018 murder and dismemberment in the kingdom’s embassy in Istanbul of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist who wrote for The Washington Post. A US intelligence report concluded that the killing was ordered by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The crown prince controls the sovereign wealth fund that finances Norman’s golf league.
When Norman was asked at a press conference in May this year to comment on Khashoggi’s assassination, he said: “Look, we’ve all made mistakes.” As if referring to an ill-judged shot on the ninth hole at Augusta rather than the carving-up of a journalist’s body with a bone-saw, he added: “You just want to learn from those mistakes and how you can correct them going forward.” He was also asked about Saudi Arabia’s execution of 81 men in a single day earlier in the year. “I look forward; I don’t look back,” he said. “I don’t look into the politics of things.” The persecution of the kingdom’s LGBTQ community was another subject that held little interest for Norman.
“I’m not sure whether I even have any gay friends, to be honest with you,” he was reported as saying. Among those stunned by the remarks was Australian golfing champion Karrie Webb, who said on Twitter: “The little girl in me just died well and truly!! Has anyone’s childhood hero disappointed them as much as I am now?”
Norman has pushed the line that Saudi Arabia isn’t alone in blotting its human rights copybook. “Every country has done horrendous things in the past … Just look at America with racism, for example,” he told British masthead, the Financial Times.
Norman with Australian champion Cameron Smith at the LIV Golf Invitational in Chicago in September. Credit:Getty Images
James Erskine, for one, believes his former client has a point. The slaughter of Khashoggi was horrific, says Erskine, now chairman of Sports and Entertainment Limited, “but so is a policeman beating up an Aboriginal bloke in a police cell in Darwin. Okay, they don’t chop him up and put him in a suitcase. But someone dies and then someone covers it up. I mean, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
Others contend that living in a place with its own lamentable record should not bar a person from calling out brutal practices elsewhere, or criticising those on the payroll of despots. Norman hasn’t revealed how much money he accepted to head up LIV Golf, but Jack Nicklaus, 82, has said he was offered the job first and turned down more than $US100 million. The 48 contracted golfers in the invitation-only league have a lighter workload than those entering traditional pro tournaments: rather than playing 72 holes – that is, four rounds of an 18-hole course – they play 54 holes. (LIV is 54 in Roman numerals.)
Nevertheless, the eight tournaments in this, the league’s inaugural year, were the richest in golf history. The purse was $US25 million at each event except the last, a teams competition, when it increased to $US50 million.
In addition, some players received huge sign-on fees – as much as $US200 million for 52-year-old Phil Mickelson, reportedly, and about $US100 million for Australian sensation Cameron Smith, 29. Americans Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka are said to have got about the same amount as Smith. Norman has said that golf superstar Tiger Woods, 46, knocked back the chance to make more than $US700 million when he declined to join the league.
It is unlikely that any of Norman’s recruits needed the cash. “What he’s doing is making 48 golfers who are already extremely rich even richer,” says James Erskine. The ability to consistently hit a small white ball into a hole has long been so well-rewarded that, when in 2017 Forbes magazine published a list of the 25 highest-paid sports stars of all time, three of the top four were golfers.
Woods was in second place (after basketballer Michael Jordan), with estimated career earnings of $US1.7 billion; Arnold Palmer was third, with $US1.4 billion, and Nicklaus was fourth, with $US1.2 billion. Norman was in 13th spot, with $US705 million. The Forbes totals included not just prize money but fees for endorsements, licensing, golf course design, books and appearances.
Norman, more than most people on the list, has worked diligently to increase his wealth by pursuing a range of commercial ventures. On his website, shark.com, he describes himself as “arguably the most successful athlete-turned-businessman in the world”. Says Mike Ritz: “He’s got to be worth close to a billion. Certainly now, with what the Saudis are giving him.”
Norman with golf legend Jack Nicklaus at the PGA Tour’s Memorial Tournament in 1995. Nicklaus was also offered the job to head LIV, but declined.Credit:Getty Images
Hoping to speak to Norman about all this, I contact his office in Florida and ask if he will see me. While waiting for an answer, I get in touch with his biographer, Lauren St John. Norman’s life story has taken some twists and turns since the 1998 publication of her meticulously researched book, Shark, but in an email she identifies an underlying theme: “In Greg’s world, money and power have always trumped almost everything else.”
Other than that, St John isn’t keen to discuss Norman. “As he says, we all make mistakes,” she tells me, “and in retrospect mine was writing his biography. A year of my life I’ll never get back.”
Spotting Norman on a golf course was never a problem. “He’s got this shock of platinum hair that makes him look like Jean Harlow from a distance,” wrote American sports columnist Jim Murray. The Nordic colouring came from Norman’s mother, Toini, whose Finnish parents had migrated to Australia in the 1930s. He also inherited Toini’s aptitude for golf, though he didn’t discover it until he was 15.
The family – Norman, his older sister Janis and their parents – had recently moved to Brisbane from the north Queensland city of Townsville. Toini had joined the suburban Virginia Golf Club and one afternoon Norman offered to caddy for her. When she retired to the clubhouse for a drink with her friends after the game, he borrowed her clubs and had a hit. He was instantly hooked.
‘As he says, we all make mistakes, and in retrospect mine was writing his biography. A year of my life I’ll never get back.’
The world’s best golfers have certain qualities in common, notes Shane Ryan, author of Slaying the Tiger: A Year Inside the Ropes on the New PGA Tour. As well as immense natural talent, all have a pathologically intense competitive drive. And all are obsessed by golf – so obsessed that they can spend days and years on the practice range without getting bored. They say they “love” golf, Ryan writes, but what they really experience is “infatuation or mania, a kind of relentless devotion that, if applied to an actual romantic relationship, would end with a restraining order”. Norman, who estimates he has struck more than five million golf balls in his life, has said hitting the perfect golf shot feels better than an orgasm.
His father, Merv, an electrical engineer, disapproved of his plan to become a professional golfer and predicted it would come to nothing. Norman told The Washington Post that, during one heated exchange, he grabbed his father by the throat and pinned him against the refrigerator: “I went, ‘F— you. I’m going for it.’ ”
According to Norman, Merv offered him little encouragement even after he started to do well on the pro circuit. His mother, by contrast, backed him unstintingly. “Toini devoted her life to Greg,” says Roger Dwyer, a fellow Virginia Golf Club member who became a close friend of Norman. “It’s his father who was the problem.”
Norman has said his troubled relationship with Merv made him all the more determined to succeed. Dwyer believes it also imbued him with a fear of failure, and that this was the root cause of his baffling propensity, at the peak of his powers, to blow his lead in big tournaments – a habit that saw him labelled a choker.
Norman facing his dramatic loss at the 1996 Masters. Credit:Getty Images
The most important events on the professional golf calendar are the four tournaments known as the “majors”: the Masters Tournament at Augusta, the PGA Championship, the US Open and the British Open. Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors, Tiger Woods 15. The consensus is that Norman, a brilliant player who was ranked number one for 331 weeks, should have won eight or 10 majors (along with his 90-odd victories in lesser tournaments). But he won only two, and was runner-up in eight.
The major he most desperately wanted to win was the Masters, and in 1996 it looked like he finally had it in the bag. He started the last day’s play with such a comfortable lead – six strokes – that the “Norman Conquest” headlines were already being written. “Not even you can f— this up now, Greg,” a sports writer told him cheerfully in the bathroom at Augusta.
But Norman lost by five strokes to English player Nick Faldo, having sprayed the ball around the course as if he thought the object was to avoid getting it in the hole. For the millions who tuned in, it was an excruciating spectacle. Years later, journalist Eric Spitznagel wrote of his father screaming obscenities at the TV, throwing his loafers at the screen, and at the end saying: “That’s the last f—ing time I watch f—ing golf, I can f—ing promise you that.”
Norman later admitted that when he got home to Florida, he sat on his private beach and cried. Publicly, though, he accepted the defeat with such stoicism that his popularity only increased. Sympathetic fan mail flooded into the headquarters of the Greg Norman Company (then known as Great White Shark Enterprises).
On a podcast this year, American sportswriter Rick Reilly said he ran into Norman at the course immediately after the loss, and asked whether he was okay. Norman said a hug Faldo gave him at the end of the game had almost made the pain worthwhile. “And he started telling me about his dad never hugging him.”
When Merv died this October, aged 95, Norman posted a warm tribute on Instagram. He said his father had always been there for him, and had given him the “genes, mind, heart, soul and strength to achieve things I never expected myself and few have ever achieved”. That’s right. He took the opportunity to pat himself on the back.
Norman’s father, Merv, passed away in October this year. Norman has spoken of his father being unsupportive of his golfing career.Credit:Instagram/@shark_gregnorman
Greg Norman has never been accused of false modesty. “I was in awe of myself out there today,” he told journalists after winning the 1993 British Open. Even after the 1996 Masters debacle, he assured the assembled media that he was one of life’s winners: “If I wanted to be a brain surgeon and took the time to study that, I could.”
Norman has a tendency to refer to himself in the third person (“The media don’t have a clue about Greg Norman”). He also refers to himself as “a living brand”, presumably because his name and shark-shaped logo are on shirts, wine labels and so on. In The Way of the Shark, he writes that “as I walk up to my airplane or open a bottle of Greg Norman wine, I sometimes pause for a moment to appreciate what I’ve achieved.”
‘I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody with quite such a big ego. He was ultra-materialistic. Very impressed by money, very impressed by people who had money.’
To look at his Instagram account, you’d think that Norman employed a photographer specifically to capture those moments. There are shots of him nestling happily into the Gulfstream’s cream leather seats. Arriving for dinner at the White House when his friend Donald Trump was president. Sipping champagne in exotic destinations with the glamorous Kutner, whom he married in 2010.
The self-congratulatory mood extends to a series of pictures of Norman in action-man mode. We see him scuba-diving, parachuting, deep-sea fishing, horse-riding and bungy-jumping. Also weight-lifting, doing push-ups and flexing his biceps. Having declared his intention to outlive ordinary mortals (“I’d like to hit 108, 110”), he seems keen to show he is in excellent shape for his age. In one snap, posted at the end of a working week, he wears a black open-necked shirt with black pants, and grins at the camera. “Does your Friday night look this good?” he wrote.
“Blow your own trumpet why don’t you,” someone responded, but James Erskine doesn’t mind Norman’s exuberance. “Greg Norman likes being Greg Norman,” the sports marketer says. “There’s nothing wrong with that.” Mind you, if Norman were still his client, Erskine would warn him against overstepping the mark. “That nude photograph of himself in the shower. I would have told him, ‘Don’t be so bloody stupid. That’s narcissistic, Greg.’ ”
Shots from Norman’s Instagram account (clockwise from top left): in the shower; embracing a sculpture of himself; at the White House in 2019 with his third wife, Kirsten Kutner, then-PM Scott Morrison and wife Jenny, and then-US president Donald Trump and wife Melania; fishing in June.Credit:@shark_gregnorman/Instagram
Norman’s first manager, Englishman James Marshall, put him up at his house in the countryside when the then 22-year-old golfer moved from Australia to the UK to compete on the European circuit. In Shark, Marshall said Norman was supremely confident even then: “I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody with quite such a big ego.” His other surprising trait: “He was ultra-materialistic. Very impressed by money, very impressed by people who had money”. If Marshall suggested that a man at the local golf club would like to meet him, “Greg wouldn’t do that. But if I said to him, ‘Lord Bathurst, who owns Gloucestershire, would be very interested in having you come to dinner,’ he would be there like a shot.”
At 27, Norman acrimoniously parted ways with Marshall and the following year he moved to Florida, where he joined the lucrative PGA Tour. America suited him. “In the US, they see a big car and they want to get a car like that,” he once said. “In Australia, they run a key down the side of it. I don’t understand that mentality.”
His own unabashed delight in wealth and its trappings, apparently unabated by the passage of time, has seen Norman collect everything from Ferraris to watches. I find an online video in which he chats unselfconsciously about which expensive timepiece he wears on which occasion. “If I’m going diving or fishing, I’ll wear the rubber-strap Bulgari,” he says. With gold cufflinks, he teams his gold Audemars Piguet. His platinum Harry Winston is an all-round favourite – “because it’s got that rugged elegance”.
Victorian golfer and commentator Mike Clayton is aware that Norman has cast himself as a victim of the so-called tall-poppy syndrome, whereby Australians purportedly chop high achievers down to size. “No, Greg, it’s people telling you you’re a wanker,” says Clayton, who argues that success is applauded in this country: it’s pretentiousness we abhor. “Australians are great at saying, ‘Come on, mate, that’s bullshit’.”
In the days when Norman travelled to Australia each summer to compete in golf tournaments, enormous crowds turned out to see him play. “So many people came they had to shut the gates,” says Kathie Shearer, whose job liaising between reporters and players meant she came to know Norman well. Getting him into the media tent for press conferences could be challenging (“You need to be on your game when you’re dealing with him”) but she liked him a lot, and they’ve stayed in touch. When her husband, golfer Bob Shearer, died this year, Norman was on the phone to her the next day. “He’s a good bloke,” she says.
Mike Clayton says Norman was never one of the boys. “He didn’t go out of his way to be friendly with the other players, which was fine. He was a big star and made a lot of money and lived in his own orbit. People who are great at stuff are always kind of different cats.”
That Norman demanded appearance fees to play in his home country’s tournaments irked some of his fellow Australians. Others disliked the fact that, despite calls for a sports boycott, he had played golf in apartheid-era South Africa. Then there were those who just found him unpleasant. “Greg is seriously hard on himself,” says PGA of Australia chairman Rodger Davis. “As a result, he’s hard on everyone around him.”
In 1988 with caddy Steve Williams, who has since recounted tales of how Norman would blame him if he missed a shot. Credit:Getty Images
Pro golfers hire caddies not only to carry their bags and clubs but also to give strategic advice and moral support. Norman was known for paying them above the going rate but also for venting his frustration on them when his game wasn’t going well. New Zealander Steve Williams, who worked for him for seven years from 1982, says in his memoir Out of The Rough that Norman was a wonderful fellow away from course but a frightening one on it: “As soon as he drove through the gates, the hairs on the back of his neck started to stand up and the competitive beast in him came out.”
Williams writes that he would be blamed if Norman flubbed a shot. The golfer “would go absolutely apeshit” and accuse Williams of having handed him the wrong club or miscalculated the distance to the hole, he says. Others employed by Norman have described similar behaviour. “He’s stamped on people all his life,” caddy John “Scotty” Gilmour said in Shark.
In another of Lauren St John’s books, Out of Bounds: Inside Professional Golf, she says that when she met Norman early in his career, she was disarmed by how open and down-to-earth he was. Within a few years he seemed to her a different person – self-important, irritable, unapproachable. “What changed you?” she once asked him. He snapped that he’d grown cynical, largely as a result of “constant badgering” by the press.
‘His rise to fame was incredible. And I think everyone else was a bit jealous of him.’
James Erskine says Norman has a soft side: “I found him to be kind to children and people who were less fortunate than him.” Scottish golfer Bill Longmuir, who has known Norman since the 1970s, insists he is a thoroughly decent person and a loyal, unfailingly generous friend. “I’ve spent my life defending Greg Norman against his critics,” Longmuir tells me. It is the Scotsman’s theory that, among players at least, much of the antipathy towards Norman springs from resentment of his star-power. “He broke through the ranks quicker than anyone. His rise to fame was incredible. And I think everyone else was a bit jealous of him.”
Norman with Donald Trump at a LIV event at Trump’s golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey in July.Credit:Getty Images
Norman has always kept high-powered company. The late Australian billionaire Kerry Packer was a good friend. Both presidents Bush, father and son, were golf buddies. Norman has said that, as a staunch Republican, he almost fobbed off Democratic president Bill Clinton’s request to play with him. As it turned out, he and Clinton got along famously despite their ideological differences. Donald Trump, whose presidency Norman enthusiastically supported, has remained a close ally since leaving office. In fact Trump hosted two of this year’s LIV tournaments at golf clubs he owns.
In the US, as in Australia, Norman seems to have formed few lasting relationships with other players. “Greg was always intimidating in the locker room or on the golf course,” says American golfer, Davis Love III. “He would walk right by people, he was so focused.”
Love served five terms as a director of the PGA Tour, the players’ collective that is the main organiser of professional golf tournaments in the US and the sport’s most powerful body worldwide. He points out that LIV Golf isn’t Norman’s first attempt to challenge the PGA Tour’s dominance. In 1994, in partnership with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox television network, Norman tried to launch an invitation-only World Tour but got no support from his fellow golfers. “He felt like he was stabbed in the back by the players,” says Love. “Possibly he’s been harbouring a grudge ever since then.”
“Greg doesn’t want to further the game, or give something back. He wants to own it. That’s his personality. ‘I am bigger and better. I want it all.’”
This time, the Saudis’ bottomless pockets have allowed Norman to lure some very good players away from the PGA Tour, but most of the big names haven’t budged. As before, his personal unpopularity within the playing fraternity may have been a factor. In late November, echoing comments by Northern Ireland golfing ace Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods called on Norman to quit as LIV Golf boss, saying this would be a first step towards brokering peace in the sport.
US golfer Fred Couples, a former world number one, said recently that no one had liked Norman for 25 years. “And that’s not being mean,” Couples added. “That’s just the truth.” LIV Golf proponents argue that the sport needed a shake-up and that Norman’s league, with its redesigned format and carnival atmosphere (music, entertainment, players in shorts), is just what the doctor ordered. “I think he’s tapped into something that the next generation wants,” says Kathie Shearer, who is looking forward to the Adelaide tournament. “I think it will be wonderful for Australian golf.”
Davis Love believes what we’re seeing is the latest expression of Norman’s acquisitive nature. “Greg doesn’t want to further the game, or give something back,” Love says. “He wants to own it. That’s his personality. ‘I am bigger and better. I want it all.’ ”
In James Erskine’s opinion, Norman deserves a break. In his time, he has been a terrific ambassador for this country, Erskine says. “The halo might need a bit of spit and polish but let’s not crucify a great Australian.”
In January last year, Norman told Stellar magazine that, after almost 40 years in the US, he was thinking about moving back to Australia. Within a few months he’d sold his Colorado ranch for $US52 million and Tranquility, his place at Jupiter Island, for $US55 million. He and Kutner downsized to a $US12 million house in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Is he readying for a homecoming? It’s one of many questions I would have asked him if he had granted me an interview.
Andy Mill isn’t interested in Norman’s plans. “I’m just glad he’s out of my life,” he says. What matters to Mill is that Chris Evert has regained her health after treatment for ovarian cancer. “I was with her for all of her chemo infusions,” he says. “I speak to her every day.” Mill spent three years grappling with deep depression after his marriage to Evert ended, but eventually recovered. He says his life is good now. “I’ve had a girlfriend for six years and I love her dearly. I’ve got an ex-wife and three kids I love dearly. I’ve got a million friends who I love very, very much. I feel like I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
Luckier than Norman, anyway. “I think he’ll die wishing that he was more famous and had more money,” Mill says. “I really do.
To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.
Most Viewed in Sport
Source: Read Full Article