Greg Norman, the 45-year-old entrepreneur, has committed himself to a one-year extension through the 2001 season. After that, he says, he's through with tournament golf. "I have eight majors left in which I can be truly competitive," Norman said at last week's Doral-Ryder Open, in which he finished 12th, 10 shots behind winner Jim Furyk. "After that I'm 47, and I don't want to be out here slugging my brains out."
Back in 1993 Norman said that this season would be the epilogue of his seven-year plan as a full-time golfer, but his timetable was disrupted in April 1998, when a surgeon arthroscopically shrank and tightened the capsule around Norman's left shoulder with a newfangled heat probe. Norman says the operation was successful on a couple of levels: His left shoulder is now stronger than his right, and his leave of absence from the game also proved to be a shot in the arm for his many businesses. "Especially during those eight months from the surgery to the time I started hitting balls again, I could focus on my businesses and establish things," Norman says. "Now I can tell my people in the office, 'Don't expect to see me around a lot.' I'm at the stage where I know I have two years left, and I can enjoy golf a little more than in the past."
The odds are against Norman's adding to the two majors (1986 and '93 British Opens) he has won. Since the Masters began in 1934, only four players 45 and over have won a major, the last being Hale Irwin in the '90 U.S. Open. The track records of men Norman's age are not promising in regular Tour events, either. Tom Watson won twice after he turned 45, and Irwin's three victories amount to a middle-aged Triple Crown. "It all depends on what you want to be," says Jack Nicklaus, who in 1986, at 46, became the oldest winner of the Masters, the major Norman wants most of all. "At 45 you're doing a lot more in your life than just playing golf. Talent-wise, Greg is still capable of playing his best golf."
Norman believes that he's in far better shape for this year's Masters than he was in '99, when he was recovering from the surgery yet still finished third. He was on the fringes of contention at Doral, going five under through 11 holes last Saturday to pull within four strokes of the lead before deflating with consecutive bogeys. "I'm hitting the ball as far as ever," he says. "I just need a little bit of tweaking."
Norman takes a supplement, glucosamine/chondroitin, to relieve arthritis in his joints, but his passion for exercise keeps him in better shape than most of his younger rivals. He is aging as elegantly as Cary Grant. "I reckon he has the body of a 33-year-old," says his friend Nick Price. "He's swinging better now than ever. The guy has the physical ability to win a major when he's 50—if he wants to."
"He's been playing competitively for 25 or 30 years," says Steve Elkington. "It's just a matter of whether he still wants to commit himself."
Norman admits he's struggling in one area: He has trouble concentrating on the course. "If I didn't want to play, I wouldn't be out there," he says. "It's just a lot harder for me to get locked in. I've got to get myself into the competitive flow—push myself through the barrier. There are times when instead of pulling the club out of the bag, I'm spending too much time looking at things around me."
Does Mr. Type A Personality mean to say he's actually taking the time to enjoy himself inside the ropes? "Naw," he says, his eyes rolling back in derision. "I'm looking at the design strategy of the course. I'm thinking, If it were me, I'd have done this or done that. I'm wondering what's wrong with the grass."
Fascinating, isn't it, that golf's biggest daredevil has become one of its most productive businessmen. Over the last two years Norman has entrenched himself as a supplier of products serving most aspects of a golfer's life. He sells the equipment, the clothing, the course and even the roof over the golfer's head (for those willing to spend $1.8 million on a house in a gated community). Greg Norman Turf Company manufactures the GN-1 strain of grass that is used on numerous courses. His company also provided the fields on which part of the 1999 World Series ( Atlanta's Turner Field) and the '99 Super Bowl ( Pro Player Stadium in Miami) were held and on which the 2000 Olympics (Olympic Stadium in Sydney) will take place. Norman, by the way, will carry the torch on the morning of the opening ceremonies of the Sydney Games.
Last week, as the other players headed from the practice green to Doral's clubhouse, they couldn't help notice the retail store next door bearing Norman's name. At first glance the store, which opened only last week, looks like an enormous mausoleum, but inside are hundreds of products carrying the ubiquitous shark logo—even bottles of wine from Greg Norman Estates in the Coonawarra region of his native Australia. The '96 Cabernet-Merlot is "ripe and supple, with a chocolate and tobacco edge to the lovely berry, currant and herb flavors that linger through the silky finish," according to Wine Spectator, which rated Norman's Cabernet-Merlot among the top 100 wines of '99. At $15 a bottle, it's also cheaper than one of his trademark hats. "I don't know much about wine, but it's fantastic," says Billy Andrade. " Brad Faxon brought a bottle of the red to a meeting, and everybody liked it."