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Still the One
William F. Reed
July 07, 1997
Greg Norman got just the boost he needed when he ended a long dry spell with a victory in steamy Memphis
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July 07, 1997

Still The One

Greg Norman got just the boost he needed when he ended a long dry spell with a victory in steamy Memphis

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Which, come to think of it, would also have been good advice for Norman, who has been the most analyzed player in the game—other than Woods—since his cataclysmic crash in the final round of the 1996 Masters. Last week, after his 65 in the second round, Norman was asked by a local writer if he's questioned about that Masters at every tournament. "You've just increased the streak," said Norman, smiling coldly. When the writer pressed him, asking if he was still the player he was before the Masters, Norman said, "I'm a better player...the same player...it hasn't affected me." One could almost hear his teeth grinding.

Norman couldn't deny that this year he has missed the cut in back-to-back majors—the Masters and the U.S. Open—for the first time in his career. Suddenly the man who had been ranked No. 1 in the world for 96 consecutive weeks had slipped to No. 3 and looked vulnerable, both mentally and physically. On the Wednesday before the tournament, Norman pulled a rib muscle and bailed out of the pro-am so he could be treated in the players' fitness trailer. Tournament officials were scared silly that he would be forced to withdraw, thus depriving them of their No. 1 gate attraction. Norman was back to normal on Thursday, but only physically. On his way from the 9th green to the 10th tee, he became agitated when he saw a photographer who had irritated him on the practice tee the previous day. Walking up to the photographer, Norman said angrily, "Why don't you just leave me alone?" It didn't seem to matter that at the moment the photographer wasn't even shooting him. Maybe it was the heat.

Throughout the tournament the Memphis fans, who know a superstar when they see one, gave Norman the full Elvis treatment. Even Price failed to attract galleries anywhere near as large as Norman's. Finally, just as the fans were about to give up on him, Norman delivered a stormin' finish. At the 16th, a 528-yard par-5, Norman hit his second shot, a three-wood, into a bunker in front of the green. He blasted out to six inches and tapped in for birdie. On the next hole, a 464-yard par-4, he left his three-wood drive 209 yards short of the hole and then hit a perfect four-iron to four feet. "That four-iron was the shot of the tournament," Norman said. "It covered the flag all the way, looked like a frozen rope. You visualize these shots, and then when it comes up like that, it makes you feel great."

A playoff seemed likely considering that the 18th, a 437-yard par-4, was the fifth-toughest hole on the course. Once again Norman hit a three-wood off the tee, this time leaving himself 190 yards to the middle of the green. He selected a six-iron and picked out a target. "I wasn't trying to go for the flag," he said. "I wanted to put it in the middle of the green and give myself a chance to win. I aimed for the F in the FEDEX sign behind the green, but hit it to the first E. Then the ball felt great coming off the putter, and it went right over the pitch mark I had spotted, with the right speed."

Before being escorted out of the clubhouse and through a mob of fans to a black sport utility vehicle—"Ladies and gentlemen, the Shark has left the building!"—Norman said winning in Memphis was just what the doctor ordered heading into the British Open at Royal Troon. "Putting it all together and winning, that's what golf is all about," said Norman, whose victory moved him back to No. 1 in the World Ranking ahead of Els and Woods. "Winning is a tonic, just the medicine you need. Now, when things aren't going well for me, I'll throw my mind back to Memphis. I'll think about the shots I made. It gives you confidence."

Confidence, whether he cares to admit it or not, is exactly what Stormin' Norman had hoped to find in Memphis.

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