Twenty-five years on from one of Australian sport’s most crushing defeats, Greg Norman has no trouble sleeping at night.
The upcoming Masters, which kicks off later this week, marks a quarter-of-a-century since the Aussie golf icon famously capitulated in heartbreaking fashion at Augusta to give up what everyone assumed was an unassailable lead and gift Nick Faldo the trophy.
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Starting the final round with a six-shot lead, the only person who could beat Norman was himself. So the story goes, British golf writer Peter Dobereiner bumped into the The Shark before his final round and told him: “Well, Greg. Not even you can f*** this up now.”
Talk about famous last words.
Norman fell apart on the back nine to lose the unlosable tournament by a staggering five strokes, and he ended his career without donning the most famous green jacket in sport.
But the nightmare that was 1996 is not a memory that lives rent free in Norman’s head
“I don’t reflect on it. Time goes by, it’s the only thing you cannot stop,” he told The Observer. “It only really comes up when other people want to speak about it.
“I don’t lie in bed of a night thinking back to what happened 25 years ago.”
In fact, Norman has a healthy perspective — and a somewhat surprising one, given the magnitude of the event — on a loss that would haunt most athletes for the rest of their lives.
“It’s only a sport, right? It’s only a game. It’s nothing else,” he said. “It didn’t affect my health where I was suddenly incapacitated for the rest of my life.
“Things happen in sport. If you are going to let a negative result affect you then you aren’t a very strong person. I have never been that way, I never cried over spilt milk. You move on in life.
“Whether it’s the members of Augusta National, the people who live in Augusta, anyone who went to watch that Masters or saw it on TV — I had a such a good following. They sent me a lot of well wishes and messages of support. That’s no different today when I walk through the streets there.
“There is a legacy of what you have done, people respect how you handle yourself. Maybe 1996 was a big part of that.”
Sweet satisfaction in Johnson’s historic win
Not that it sounds like he was in need of any healing process, but Norman took great satisfaction in Dustin Johnson’s triumph at Augusta last year.
The American finished five shots clear en route to becoming the first player to ever shoot 20-under on the famed course, his four-round total of 268 securing a place in Masters history as the lowest 72-hole score.
Before the most prestigious major on the calendar, Johnson reached out to Norman to ask for help with his putting. The pair reportedly spent just 90 minutes together before the tournament honing the eventual winner’s short game, but it made a world of difference.
“I’ll help him whenever he asks,” Norman told The Observer. “It was great that he reached out to me and I’m glad it was so positive for him.”
“It is very satisfying,” Norman added of Johnson’s victory. “When you have been in the thick of things, in the inner circle, you have so much knowledge and experience. If you can hand a piece of that on to help somebody else be successful, that is very rewarding.”
Norman makes dad eat his words
Norman revealed on a recent podcast he is making moves to trim down his $400 million business empire, and opened up on how he made his dad eat his words after The Shark’s father doubted he could ever make it as a golfer.
Norman has previously said his decision to abandon a career in the Royal Australian Air Force resulted in a “rift” with his father when he made the decision to pursue a career in professional golf.
Norman this week re-visited the decision that created a divide in their relationship on the Four Courses podcast with Geoffrey Zakarian.
“My dad never thought I’d be the golfer I became,” Norman said. “He wanted me to be either in his engineering business or be a scholar or go on and do something else in the business world.
“We had a little bit of angst about it all when I told him — hey, I’m going to turn professional and I’m going to be an assistant pro and in three years’ time I’m going to play the tour. He’s looking at me like, ‘Are you crazy, you’re not good enough to do that, nobody in our family has been a professional sportsman or woman’.”
Norman’s career exploded from the moment he fell in love with the sport at the age of 16 — going from a handicap of 27 when he first started playing regularly to playing off scratch in the space of 18 months.
He was a professional and winning tournaments by the age of 21, and won two major trophies at The British Open in 1986 and 1993.
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