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ON TOP OF THE WORLD
Rick Reilly
April 15, 1996
Greg Norman, the best golfer on Earth, isn't happy unless he's racing through life at the speed of an F-14
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April 15, 1996

On Top Of The World

Greg Norman, the best golfer on Earth, isn't happy unless he's racing through life at the speed of an F-14

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Greg Norman is six and scared. He is afraid of the dark. He has his own room, and like most six-year-olds, he is sure there is something in there waiting for him. But unlike most six-year-olds, Greg screws up his courage and walks quickly from the door to his bed without turning on the light and pulls the covers over his head.

The next night he does it more slowly. Soon he is no longer scared of the dark.

Greg Norman is 88 feet under the sea and out of air. His scuba regulator is giving him nothing. Thirty feet from him is his diving buddy. Should Norman swim furiously to his buddy and air-share, or should he try to get to the surface on his own? Rising no faster than the air bubbles that he exhales, Norman makes it to the top alive but suffering from a mild case of the bends.

Greg Norman does not do buddies or night-lights.

Greg Norman is 41, golf's alltime leading money winner, the winner of an astonishing 73 tournaments worldwide, easily the greatest driver of the golf ball in history, the best-conditioned star in the game, the most marketable name on the PGA Tour, and he is sitting alone at a table in a clubhouse crowded with his fellow PGA pros. "Most guys are jealous," says Brad Faxon, one of Norman's few friends on the Tour. "He's got that great look, the black clothes, the black hat, the blond hair. And players say, 'Yeah, he's got all that money, so it's easy to go at every flag.' But it's going at every flag that made him all the money in the first place! All the helicopters and jets—that pisses guys off, too. They think he's big-timing 'em. But if he didn't buy the helicopters and the jets, they'd call him cheap."

Besides, if you are going to be jealous, who better to pick than the Great White Shark? Only Jack Nicklaus has a better top-10 finish percentage on the PGA Tour (53% to Norman's 49%). "That's totally amazing," says Price. Nobody current is even close. Fred Couples is at 30%, Price 27%, Nick Faldo 21%. Arnold Palmer himself is only 36%.

Since the invention of the Sony World Rankings in 1986, Norman has topped the list for 216 weeks. No one else has been on top for even 100 weeks. His current lead, over Colin Montgomerie, is a healthy four points, and the fact that in March, Norman missed two straight cuts for the first time since he joined the Tour only made more jaws drop at how good he has been. He is still a favorite to win this week's Masters. Even monkeys fall from trees.

If cool were a product you could buy, cool would get Norman to endorse it. He is what men long to be and women long to be with. He is the male Annie Oakley: Anything you can do, he can do better, and with far more bitchin' stuff. He does not just spearfish, he spearfishes with .357 explosive tips. He is not just a good swimmer, he has saved two lives. He does not just hunt sharks, he hand-feeds them live salmon from a submerged cage. (He once petted an 11-foot bull shark sleeping in a cave 68 feet below Mexican waters.) He is not just a good driver, he has hugged the wall at 180 mph in a Roger Penske Indy Car. He does not just have the neatest toys, he has two helicopters, a $28 million jet, five boats, two Jet Skis, two Harleys, six Suburbans, one Mercedes, a go-kart that will blow away a lot of cars, and either six or seven Ferraris. ("Hey, Flash, do I have six or seven Ferraris?" he asks. Flash isn't sure either.) And yet, hang around Norman, and he is hard to hate. He likes steep bets, risqué jokes and cold beer and is constantly getting up to get you another.

His body seems to have been made to hang clothes on. With his ice-blue eyes, blond flowing hair, sturdy jaw, swimmer's shoulders and dancer's waist, the Shark is the first golfer ever to look down from a billboard on Times Square. And yet he can be as square as a game of bridge. He is going on his 15th year of marriage and has been known to fly home in the middle of a tournament to see his 13-year-old daughter, Morgan-Leigh, play in a soccer game. He helps with the dishes, works with Morgan-Leigh and her brother, Gregory Jr., 10, on their homework, and has a black belt in barbecue. Norman gives easily of himself. During the 1990 Australian Masters in Melbourne, he took a half-hour chopper ride to be at the bedside of a boy who was sick with AIDS. When the boy died, Norman wore the youngster's name on his hat.

So why is he so alone? Why have his close friendships with Andy Bean, Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Ian Woosnam cooled? Once Norman and each of these fellow golfers were like blood brothers, but now he is rarely seen with any of them. In fact it is rare for Norman to be seen dining out with any current Tour player.

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