After a year under the tutelage of Earp, Norman had won the Queensland Trainees Championship twice, earning a three-month invitation to play in national tournaments. He finished fourth, third and 13th in his first three events. Then he won the West Lakes Classic by five strokes over such established stars as David Graham and Graham Marsh.
Always Norman had his eye on the American tour. In 1976, when he was 21, a golfer with only six years' experience, he was paired with Nicklaus at the Australian Open. Norman nervously topped his first tee shot and eventually came in with an 80, but followed that with a 72. Nicklaus told him he was good enough to win in the U.S. Pumped up by this, Norman went to Japan and won his first tournament there. Then he went to England and won the second event he played in there. "See you later, boys," he told the Australian PGA officials. "I'm not coming back."
He went to play on the Asian circuits, and there he honed his game. He was woeful around the greens, but by the time he was 22, he had won tournaments in three different countries, even though he was a chef with one eye on the cookbook. "I was learning," says Norman. "I was changing my swing. It was too upright. It took me about five years, but still I won at least one tournament every season."
While he was on the European circuit, Norman was invited to play in the 1981 Masters, and he made people take notice. He remained in contention through all four rounds, finishing fourth and earning his nickname, the Great White Shark. Finally, in 1983, after getting some help on his short game from Ballesteros, the Shark made his debut as a full-time player on the U.S. Tour—by losing in a playoff to Mike Nicolette at the Bay Hill Classic. Norman won $71,411 in his nine PGA tournaments and qualified for the U.S. Tour for '84.
But then something went wrong and Norman was suddenly just another guy with blond hair and a hook, missing cuts. The Shark was playing like a fish. Five months into the '84 season, he had played nine tournaments, finished in the top 20 only three times, and had earned only $42,524 in prize money. He telephoned Earp back in Australia and got some advice that was ridiculously simple: "You know you're better than all of those guys. Go out there and beat their asses."
Norman did. He won the Kemper Open. Then he went to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot and, after making three miraculous pars on the last three holes on Sunday, forced an 18-hole playoff with the towel-waving Fuzzy Zoeller. He lost by eight strokes to Zoeller in a Monday playoff. "In the locker room, Greg had a big smile on his face," says Lawrence Levy, a photographer friend of Norman's. "He said, 'Golf's a funny game, isn't it?' " Then Norman tied for 10th at Atlanta, won the Canadian Open, finished second to Tom Watson at the' Western Open and opened with a 67 at the British Open before two 74s and another 67 left him tied for sixth.
That was a glimpse of Norman's bright future, but then he took sick while playing at the Hong Kong Open in early 1985, and he hacked and hacked, both on and off the course. He dropped from 9th on the PGA money list ($310,230) to 42nd ($165,458). "There was something in his chest," says Laura. "We even thought it might be cancer." Last May the problem was finally discovered to be a pocket of infection; it was treated with antibiotics. For the first time in almost 15 months, Norman felt—and began playing—like his old self. The wild dog was off the leash.
Norman pursues his many interests with full-bore intensity. He wants to do almost anything that is exciting: go shark fishing, hunt wild pigs, dart in and out of traffic in his Ferrari, play St. Andrews backward, pose in bikini underwear for a golf magazine. Twice he has taken the controls of jet fighters, a British Phantom and an American F-16, putting the latter through a loop and then a corkscrew roll. "The pilot said I could do anything but take it through the sound barrier," says Norman, who has never had any formal pilot training.
Norman's penchant for amusement nearly killed him last fall. During a christening party for Gregory, Norman was out on the lake, riding a hot dog-shaped tube pulled by a ski boat. He fell off and the foot of another rider smacked him flush in the face, knocking him out, removing three teeth that ripped his lip apart on their way out. It was feared that he had broken his neck. But trips to the hospital and the dentist fixed him up. A couple of weeks later, at St. Andrews, he led Australia to victory in the Dunhill Nations Cup, biting out the stitches in his lip as he played.
At two o'clock on the morning after Norman won the British Open, Scottish security guards stumbled upon a weird scene on the 18th green at Turnberry. There stood the Open champion himself with a small group including Norman's friend Levy, who was clad only in a dress shirt and women's lace underwear, kissing the Open trophy. Seems that Levy had taken a shower in the Normans' hotel room and had to borrow underwear. Greg was down to his last pair, so Laura, ever practical, offered hers. After hours of revelry and much champagne sipped straight from the trophy, everyone decided to head for the 18th green to climb the Turnberry scoreboard and filch the star that had been placed there next to Norman's name. A few choruses of some bawdy songs and toasts followed and somehow that all led to Levy dropping his pants and showing off his lace bikini undies. Well, it seemed to make perfect sense at the time.