At 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, Greg Norman looked out at the people lining the Harbour Town pier staring at his boat and tried to understand this new aspect of his fame. Fame keeps Norman out of traffic jams at tournaments—"I don't want to sit there, trapped, and have people honk at me and say, 'Hey, Shark, you the man,' " he says. Fame keeps Norman walking fast between the locker room, the practice range and the 1st tee. Fame keeps him inside his hotel room with a room-service menu. Fame sells a lot of sharklogoed sportswear. Fame has set up trust funds for his unborn grandchildren. Fame has made Norman a grateful man. Fame made Norman a cynic.
He probably thought he knew the smile and snarl on every hydra head of fame, but the week before Norman's fame had taken a turn for the weird. It started small: a call on Sunday night from phone-phobe Fred Couples. Hours later at the Augusta airport, a group of people stood on the other side of a fence and applauded Norman's plane, which sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half as the small party inside drank all the beer.
A scab was forming on his forehead. Norman had left Augusta National bleeding between the eyes. "It'd take a lot stronger bullet than that to level me," said Norman, speaking at first about his 78, then pointing, with a grin, to the mark left by a sharp poke from a tree branch outside the press building.
Then the outpouring of compassion began to build. Norman and his hangover opened his office in Tequesta, Fla., early on Monday morning, and the sympathy had already started to arrive by fax. The first wave came from Australia, where the Sydney Daily Telegraph had listed his number. "At least nobody's published it over here," Norman said. "I can deal with 18 million people, but not 250 million." By the end of the week the faxes numbered more than 3,000 and the snail mail had just begun. At first Norman blithely promised to keep them all and respond to every one. Later he was trying to devise a strategy to make that possible. "I don't know what we're going to do," he says.
The compassion became a thing of beauty on Tuesday when Norman flew to Hilton Head Island, S.C, to practice for the MCI Classic at Harbour Town. The players, the friends he was sure he didn't have, one by one sought him out to shake his hand, look him in the eye and tell him he was still the best golfer in the world, that they were proud of him and thoroughly impressed by the way he handled his defeat at the Masters.
Everywhere, the galleries stood and cheered. The goodwill was heartsease to Norman, and more than his cynicism could take. On Wednesday he declared himself a changed man. That new person he became might have been Sally Field: You like me, you really like me, Norman all but said.
Though he spent most of the tournament a good distance from the lead, and though the Masters winner, Nick Faldo, was also in the field, Norman was by far the biggest attraction of the week. He enjoyed the warm regard of the galleries throughout, although on the first two days the intensity level dropped somewhat, probably because of the man playing beside him.
Says Paul Azinger, who fought off cancer the year before last, "I think I might have been the perfect pairing for Greg, as far as putting things into perspective. We grind it out, but the reality is, he lost a tournament. I could have lost my life. In that regard I might have been the guy he needed to look at for two days."
For the first nine holes of the tournament, Brian Henninger made them a threesome. Henninger had infections in both ears but had never played with Norman and wasn't about to let a little pain and a lack of balance get in the way. When Henninger went nine over on the front, Norman said they would play again someday, in a final-round pairing no doubt, and Henninger should go look after his ears.
The only blemish on the love-in showed up on Saturday, when an inebriate, identified by local police as Thomas J. Yarrington, heckled Norman as he came off the 18th tee. "Do you have a problem?" Norman asked as he strode over to the man.