On his way to building a career that is one of the most difficult to assess in the history of golf, Greg Norman has favored strenuous striving and achieving and acquiring and, yes, a fair bit of flaunting. He has an affinity for the glamorous, like one-irons to island greens, close encounters with ocean predators, fast cars, vast yachts and state-of-the-art flying machines. Norman's métier has always been action, while concepts like self-containment and inner peace failed to make his agenda.
But now the realization that action isn't always its own reward has directed the 41-year-old Norman's still supersonic metabolism toward those things—in both golf and life—that are more private and lasting. At last week's Doral-Ryder Open he may have used his Bell Ranger helicopter to traverse the 75 miles between his Hobe Sound, Fla., house and the tournament site in Miami, but he emerged from the cockpit not a personality on display but a professional on a mission. By Sunday evening the mission was accomplished. Methodically, efficiently, intelligently and tenaciously, Norman had won.
In the real start to his all-too-concentrated PGA Tour season (he skipped the West Coast swing after placing 18th in the season-opening Mercedes Championships in Carlsbad, Calif.), Norman put together a final round of six-under-par 66 for a 19-under total of 269 to defeat Vijay Singh and Michael Bradley by two strokes. Despite the low score, Norman's 16th career Tour victory was not the pyrotechnic display of birdies for which he is best known. What made the win even more impressive than his previous two triumphs at Doral, in 1990 and '93, was that this time Norman won by going against type. He played within himself, relying on his short game when his long game proved scratchy, marshaling his energy for the big moments and making the crucial putts. It was arguably the most coldly professional performance of his career. "Winning when you are not in full song is a very positive confidence booster," said a satisfied but placid Norman after he picked up the $324,000 winner's check. "I make myself figure out a way to get the job done. That's what has changed about me over the last couple of years."
It was the kind of victory that Norman's critics have said he is incapable of achieving, and one that proves that he has continued to improve as he moves into his 40's. Norman is quickly exploding old claims that his swing lacks finesse, that he is prone to the big mistake and is fragile under pressure. While there has never been any doubt that he could blow away any field when he was hitting on all cylinders, Norman was considered lacking in the course management skills and mental toughness needed to pass one of the true tests of greatness—winning while striking the ball poorly. He did it twice last year, at Hartford and at the World Series of Golf, and he did it even more convincingly last week at Doral.
In short, the man who too often found a way to lose is now finding a way to win. The recognition of that ability, along with the fact that over the past four seasons he has finished in the top 10 in nearly two thirds of the Tour events he has entered, has dramatically increased the respect Norman receives from his peers. In January for the first time they voted him PGA Tour Player of the Year, for a 1995 season in which he won three tournaments and set a record for earnings—$1,654,959—in only 16 starts. "Greg has improved in the areas where a player can do himself the most good. He is thinking extremely well, and his putting and chipping are as good as anyone's," says Ben Crenshaw. "His competitive fire is incredibly hot, and you just don't feel he is going to make many mistakes."
Instructor Butch Harmon, who helped Norman turn his career around in 1991 by tightening his swing, nonetheless also emphasizes his charge's mental growth. "Greg is where he is now because of maturity and learning from mistakes," Harmon says. "He is more aware of his capabilities and not so gung ho about always hitting an aggressive shot. He has learned how to come down the stretch and win."
But the learning process has been painful. Sensitive to criticism and too often determined to prove his critics wrong, Norman used to carry heavy baggage into the closing stages of tournaments, particularly after the 1986 season, when he led all four majors after three rounds but won only the British Open. For several years afterward he projected tension whenever he got in the hunt. Although Norman's victory in the '93 British Open liberated him from the bulk of his burden, he was still coming up empty at crunch time in the early part of '95. At Doral he came to the 72nd hole tied for the lead only to pull a six-iron shot well into a lake to lose by one. At the Masters he was one stroke behind the leader on the 71st hole when he pulled a wedge and bogeyed. But ever since the Memorial Tournament last June, when he saved a victory on the final nine because of his short game, Norman has been a closer. He points to a greater capacity for self-analysis and a philosophy of relaxation and self-containment reinforced by a book that he carries with him, Zen and the Martial Arts.
This February, after winning one of two tournaments he entered in Australia, Norman came home to his waterfront estate in Florida for two weeks. He spent the time working on his long game at the Medalist Club and honing his short game in his backyard in the relaxed company of his yellow Labs, Foster and VB (both named after Australian beers). "They're my gallery," he says. "They lie on the green right by me and just soak up the sun while I'm practicing. It's a wonderful routine."
By the week of Doral, Norman was refreshed and eager, particularly because the tournament drew by far the strongest field of the year, with seven of the top 10 in the Sony Ranking entering. On Wednesday, Norman shot 63 in the pro-am, and his first-round 67 put him four strokes behind the 63 of Lee Janzen. After last Friday's second-round 69 left him two behind Joe Ozaki, Norman countered spotty ball-striking by accentuating a "just get it in the hole" approach that not even Corey Pavin could have improved upon.
It was only after completing his rain-delayed third round, a 67, on Sunday morning that Norman went to his full arsenal. After saving par from the muddy banks of a lake on the 18th hole, he spotted Harmon in a television tower. With three hours to kill before the final round, Norman asked for a practice session. "He told me, 'I don't have any power; I'm not happy with what I'm doing,' " said Harmon. "We straightened out his alignment and his posture and got some speed back into his swing."