x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Great White Shark keeps golf's romance alive

It was the late Bob Paisley who observed at the peak of Liverpool's domination at home and in Europe: "Yes, we've had bad times at Anfield- one season we came second..." There will be those who believe that last week was a bad time for Greg Norman at Royal Birkdale.

Greg Norman soaks up the adulation of the Birkdale crowd.
Greg Norman soaks up the adulation of the Birkdale crowd.

It was the late Bob Paisley who observed at the peak of Liverpool's domination at home and in Europe: "Yes, we've had bad times at Anfield - one season we came second..." There will be those who believe that last week was a bad time for Greg Norman, below, at Royal Birkdale. "Oh, sure, he tied for third - great going for a 53-year-old wrinklie - but the 2008 Open was the eighth occasion the Great White Shark has led going into the last round at a major and been spooked." I disagree: the Claret Jug went to a worthy defending champion, Padraig Harrington, but to Norman went our thanks for bringing a sense of romance to the proceedings on the Southport links. Fittingly, the Australian, when not reminding us what a glorious sight he was in his pomp with a driver in his hand, was honeymooning with his new bride, Chris Evert. "Bali? Koh Samui? Dubai? What about a week in Lancashire, darling, in the wind and rain?" How's that for romance? But back to the golf: although he reigned as world No 1 for 331 weeks from 1986 to 1998 and is regarded as one of the true giants of golf, it is true that Norman's towering talent has never been reflected in terms of major victories. His Open wins in 1986 and 1993, apart, Norman's talent has never been rewarded in the silverware it deserves. Let us reflect on a few of Norman's most heart-wrenching disappointments. He should have won the 1987 Masters but, with the green jacket beckoning, he missed the 18th green from the middle of the fairway and lost the resulting play-off to the American Larry Mize, who outrageously holed out from 40 yards at the second extra hole. He also lost the 1984 US Open to Fuzzy Zoeller, was denied victory in the 1986 US PGA Championship when Bob Tway holed out from a bunker, and at Augusta in 1996 suffered his famous collapse against Nick Faldo, who turned a third-round six-shot deficit into a five-stroke victory. As Norman gradually unravelled in front of a television audience of millions, the American commentator Dan Patrick observed: "If he blows the 1996 Masters it will be the biggest collapse in golf history." Somehow, despite these disappointments, Norman has remained the most charming and gracious of champions. With his flowing blond mane (now receding ever so slightly at the temples), Norman has always represented the human version of Desert Orchid. Whenever you hitch a ride with the Queenslander, you know you are in for a soaring adventure, typified by his final-day 64 at Royal St George's in 1993, still regarded as one of the finest championship rounds in the game's history. It was described by Nick Faldo as the "golf of the gods", as he timed his run-in to perfection to pip the Briton by two strokes. Even though he has won tournaments all over Asia, Australasia, the United States and Europe, Norman is at his happiest on the links courses of Britain and for the reason, as he puts it, that he has never regarded himself as a "one-dimensional" player. "American golf is fairly redundant by comparison", he says. "Because the courses are set up the same way week after week. That's why it's great to go to places like St Andrews. "I walked by two bunkers during the Open at St Andrews in 2005 that I'd never even seen before and I've been going there for 25 years and more. I think that's fabulous. "I also enjoy the adverse weather conditions. If you can picture your ball in flight - no matter what the wind is doing - then go ahead and hit it high or low just as you imagined it, then I think that's the sign of a good golfer. There hasn't been a great player who's been unable to do that from Tom Watson down to Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Tiger Woods." Given that owing to a bad back we will be seeing far less of Norman than before, you could be excused for thinking that here is a man content to ride off into the sunset astride his prized palomino horse. "My intensity, application and dedication on the course will be exactly the same," he says. "It's like riding a bike, you don't suddenly change your riding style just because you've been doing it for 25 years. "I look at Tom Watson and he still displays the same mannerisms, execution and attitude he showed when I first met him 20-odd years ago. "I take a lot of pride in what I do. I wouldn't have undergone back surgery if I hadn't wanted to go out there and play the best I can. I could have walked away from the game - I couldn't win with the way my body was - but I took a calculated gamble because things can go wrong with back surgery. Now, however, I not only believe I can still compete - I believe I can win." It wasn't to be last week but let us hope the enduringly admirable Norman reigns supreme again at this weekend's Senior British Open that will be be played on the Royal Troon course. @Email:sports@thenational.ae