Missing link: Norman fills in gaps in game, image with British Open win GOLF

July 20, 1993|By New York Times News Service

SANDWICH, England -- Of all the things Greg Norman buried in the ancient linksland at Royal St. George's on Sunday, the most important was his dangerously escalating image as golf's biggest cartoon character.

Until he beat Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer at the 122nd British Open, Norman was The Great White Shark -- hitting the ball a mile, spinning it back off greens, shooting at island greens with 1-irons. Sometimes he won, more times he lost. Either way, it was bigger than life.

But Norman is human, not a cartoon fish, and if there is a single key to his stirring victory, it is that at age 38, he has come to understand that it is the little things that make champions. That great golf, like great art, lies not in broad flourishes, but in the details.

With the help of his teacher, Butch Harmon, and his own revived work ethic, Norman began in late 1991 to fill in the gaps in his game that even his great talent had not been able to overcome.

Up to that time, Norman had not felt the urgency to re-evaluate. He had won more than 60 tournaments worldwide, and, outside of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, made more money off the course than anyone in golf.

But Norman played so poorly and lost so much confidence in 1991 that he seriously considered leaving the game. To his critics, and some of his peers, he had become the Great White Carp. After a moment of crisis, he resolved to go back to work.

"Since the end of 1991, I've worked harder on my game than any time since I was 22 years old," said Norman. "The relief is that I proved to myself I could do it. I am not out here to prove other people wrong. I am here to prove myself right."

With Harmon, the pro at Lochinvar G.C. in Houston whom Norman began working with in October of 1991, Norman began to deal seriously with what had kept him from being a great player: a lack of sound technique.

As powerful as Norman's swing looked, it was flawed. The biggest problem was a pronounced lower body slide through the ball that caused, usually at the worst moments, Norman's "bad" shot -- a towering push to the right.

The changes were the key to Norman's peace of mind.

Before Sunday, he has never engendered confidence in the big moments. Hanging over the proceedings was always the possibility of disaster: the block to the right, or a clumsy attempt at a finesse shot.

At Sandwich, Norman proved that he no longer is incomplete. The final piece was a hard-earned maturity and toughness. Although he has always been publicly magnanimous, he discovered in late 1992 that deep inside of him he was still feeling sorry for himself over the tough losses he had suffered -- including to Bob Tway at the 1986 PGA Championship, to Larry Mize at the 1987 Masters, to Robert Gamez at Bay Hill in the 1991 Bay Hill Classic.

"I'd kept that inside me for -- what? -- five years," said Norman. "When I finally talked about it, I felt a lot better for it."

On Sunday, after his most satisfying victory, Norman showed he now has the wisdom of a champion.

"The disappointment is always going to be there," he said. "You can never make up for anything that has happened. Sure, I would like to go back and beat Mize, Tway and Gamez. But the important thing is I hung around, and I came back. And I want to stay around."

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