• Alistair Tait

What Norman conquest?

Updated: Jul 15


Greg Norman won his second and last major championship 27 years ago this week.

Just let that sink in for a second.

Surely in the debate over players who didn’t make the most of their talents, Norman has to be near the top of the list? Two majors, the 1986 and 1993 Open Championships, is the sum total haul of Norman’s major collection. It’s a poor return for a man who spent 331 weeks as the world’s number one golfer.

Brandel Chamblee recently said Tiger Woods could have won another 10 majors if not for making so many swing changes. Chamblee told GOLF’s Subpar show:

“If you extrapolate his win percentage from when he decided to change his golf swing in ’97 to when he started winning in ’99. Do the same thing from 2003 to 2005 and then do the same thing yet again from 2010 to 2012. And you start to think of the majors he would have won then, I can’t think of another player in the world that you could have so definitively said left 10 majors, minimum, on the table.”

How many majors did Norman leave on the table?

We can all point to the 1996 Masters as one. Norman’s collapse playing with Nick Faldo in the final round is one of eight second place finishes in the tournaments that really matter. He’s joint third in that category with Sam Snead and Tom Watson. Yet Watson won eight majors, while Snead won seven. Jack Nicklaus leads with 19 seconds, Phil Mickelson has 11 and Arnold Palmer 10. (Nineteen seconds for Nicklaus to go with 18 wins never seems to get mentioned in GOAT debates.)

The Australian has an 0-4 record in playoffs, a stat he shares with Craig Wood. Norman lost playoffs for the 1984 US Open, 1987 Masters, 1989 Open Championship and 1993 PGA Championship. He held the Saturday Slam in 1986, leading all four majors after 54 holes. The only three-round lead he converted was in The Open at Turnberry.

Of course, Norman was cruelly denied two majors by miracle shots from Bob Tway in the 1986 PGA Championship, and Larry Mize in the 1987 Masters. Who knows what effect those shots had on his psyche. Still, Norman was almost peerless in winning the 1993 Open at Royal St George’s, where the Open Championship was supposed to have been held this week until coronavirus wrecked our world. He shot 64 in the final round to set a new low 72-hole Open record of 267.

“In my whole career I’d never before gone round a golf course and not miss-hit a single shot,” Norman said. “I was playing a game of chess out there, hitting the ball into position in the fairway where I could get it to the best spot on the green. I didn’t want the round to end. I wished it could have been 36 holes.”

That 6-under 64 included a missed 14-inch putt on the 17th hole.

“I must have got careless, but the mistake did me a world of good because it made me determined to make sure on the last hole.”

He beat nemesis Faldo by two shots. Bernhard Langer by three. Ernie Els, Nick Price and Fred Couples all finished in the top 10. It seemed as though the Australian would win more majors following that win. Then came 1996.

Norman was the master of his own downfall at Augusta in 1996. He lost that championship more than Faldo won it. Many still maintain if he’d played with anyone else in the final round but Faldo, he probably would have won that year’s green jacket.

It was hard to watch him go from a six-shot deficit to a five-shot loss. Even hardened Norman haters, and there were/are quite a few, probably felt sorry for the toothless Shark that day.

Jack Nicklaus honoured Norman at the 2017 Memorial Tournament, which takes place at Muirfield Village this week. In summing up his career, the Australian said.

“What I did on the golf course, I was extremely proud of. Did I make a lot of mistakes on the golf course? Yeah, everybody makes mistakes on the golf course. Did I get everything out of my career on the golf course? I can honestly say probably not.”

That might be one of the understatements of all time.

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