Though he contended in a senior major, Greg Norman says there's no way he'll become a regular on the Champions tour
AT 53 GREG NORMAN is the Great White Mirage. Oh, he still looks like the Shark of old—lean, fit and hungry, ready to play 36 holes for any sum you name. And he still lashes at the ball with the same fury, driving it almost as long and straight as he did while winning two British Opens. But it's all a mirage.
Playing tournament golf, even on the Champions tour, is less about physical skills than it is about mental ones, and Norman doesn't have his head in the game anymore. These days his mind is on business—his Great White Shark Enterprises has been conservatively estimated to be worth $350 million, more than 25 times the $14 million he won on the PGA Tour—and on tennis and his fianc�e, Chris Evert.
The Champions tour needs Norman, but Norman doesn't need the Champions tour. He still has star power. The galleries at Oak Hill were drawn to him, his magnetism unmistakable. But last week's Senior PGA Championship—run by the PGA of America, not the PGA Tour, with which Norman has had his differences—was his first senior start in almost three years and only his fourth tournament of any kind in the last two.
The fact is, his interests lie elsewhere. Last week he became energized when he described his interview for a seat on the board of directors of the H.J. Heinz Company and when he was asked a question about branding. ("I am the brand," said an animated Norman. "I live the brand.")
Tennis excites him. He plays three or four times a week with Evert, who says his athleticism is wasted on golf, and now he wishes that he had taken up that sport instead of golf when he was a child. "I move across the court pretty well," Norman says.
And he is sparked by Evert, who was part of his gallery at Oak Hill, discreetly outfitted in sunglasses, baseball cap and sweater. He likes that, as a winner of 18 major titles, she can relate to being the No. 1 player in a sport, as he was for 331 weeks in the 1990s. Last Friday she gave him a brief shoulder rub as he walked to the 16th tee after a bogey.
Norman was only five strokes off the pace after two rounds, yet he seemed spent on Friday evening. Then on Saturday he appeared all but defeated when, after rising all the way to third place, he finished the day by slashing three shots from the rough en route to a dispiriting double bogey on the 54th hole that dropped him to seven over and a tie for sixth. Asked if being in the hunt stoked his competitive fires, Norman quickly replied, "Not really. Fuzzy Zoeller asked me about that, and my answer was simply, 'No.' I'm enjoying it. I still get intense about wanting to do well, which is a good sign. It's just tough to get back into it."
But on the final nine on Sunday, when everyone else was backing up, there was Norman on the attack, making four birdies to move within a shot of the leader and eventual winner, Jay Haas. Then disaster struck again. Norman Sharked his tee shot at 17 into the trees right of the fairway and took three more shots from the rough while making a killer double bogey. He bogeyed the 18th after an errant drive and finished where he had started the day, in a tie for sixth, at 10 over par.
His performance was impressive for a guy who has basically given up the game, yet at the same time disappointing. Asked if his brush with success might encourage him to play more, Norman was blunt. "It might make me go the other way," he said.