Norman's mirror reflects a winner Star-crossed golfer eager for '97 Masters

April 09, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- At the place where his image was first carved, Greg Norman reinvented himself yesterday. At the tournament where he has found an incredible amount of failure, Norman didn't want to be pitied or portrayed as a hard-luck loser.

Welcome to Augusta National and the 1997 Masters.

On the first tee, Greg Norman Vincent Peale.

One year after blowing the largest final-round lead in the tournament's history, Norman returned to the scene of one of his most grisly rounds of golf.

Even a traffic jam on a nearby freeway that delayed his arrival couldn't detract from Norman's positive outlook, one boosted through recent conversations with motivational speaker and self-help guru Tony Robbins. It has helped put last year's disaster, as well as his entire star-crossed career, into perspective for Norman.

"All it is is hearing yourself and telling yourself what you've done and how good you are to whatever level you want to put yourself at," said Norman, 42. "It's just positive reinforcement to what you do. And like I've said before, you just stand in front of a mirror and talk to the mirror.

"I hadn't done that for a couple of years. Why? You get lazy. You fall into old habits and those old habits generate other habits. We can all deal with flushing the toilet every now and then, and getting all the crap out of your head. That's a good analogy."

In the past, the mirror often told Norman that he was the best player in the world, not to mention among the most successful in terms of turning his success on the course into a financial empire. While Norman is still near the top of the list of the world's wealthiest athletes, his dominance as a golfer has all but disappeared.

Norman hasn't won since his victory last year at Doral, a month before the Masters. Despite finishing in the top 10 at both the U.S. Open and the British Open, Norman missed the cut four times after his back-nine collapse here gift-wrapped Nick Faldo's third green jacket. Norman has played in only two PGA Tour events this year, and has not been a factor.

"My passion to play is always there," said Norman, who took a three-month break at the start of this year because of recurring back problems and reportedly contemplated a move back to Australia with his family. "When I'm away from it, I don't miss it. But when I get back on the golf course, I enjoy being back. That's the competitive edge flowing inside, I suppose."

Asked recently about the final-round 78 that turned a six-shot lead into a five-shot loss, Norman said, "I just screwed up. I put a bad performance in on Sunday. It was more physical than it was mental. There was a minor flaw in my game and it showed through. The more I tried to push it, the worse it got away from me."

Would he be disappointed to finish his career without winning the Masters?

"Of course I'd be disappointed," said Norman, who has finished second three times and in the top five on four other occasions. "But it's not going to change or affect my life. It'll put another trophy on my mantel. It will fulfill a dream. I'd love to have it. That's what my drive is, that's what my ambition is, that's what this guy wants to do."

Norman said he hasn't watched a tape of last year's final round. And, except for what he called "a hard Monday" that included waking up Tuesday "hung over as hell," Norman said that he has taken only positives from that day and the support he received from fans, friends, fellow players and even a group with which he has had an up-and-down relationship -- the media.

In fact, he started yesterday's news conference by thanking the media.

"I know I gave you a pretty good story," he said. "I hope to give you better stories from here on out or other stories, whatever it is. But I'd like to see the old story from last year now finish up with this interview. I created the story. But from now on, I'm going to create different stories."

It also seemed appropriate that Norman chose to polish his image at the Masters, since it was here that "The Great White Shark" was born 16 years ago. It came after an opening-round 69 in his first official round at Augusta National, and the then-unknown Australian talked about one of his hobbies -- shark-hunting.

It was also here that another of Norman's images, that of a superbly talented player who cracked under pressure, was also attained. That came five years later, when an errant 4-iron approach on the final hole of regulation allowed Jack Nicklaus to close the door to Butler Cabin for his record sixth green jacket ceremony.

And it was here the next year that Norman regained sympathy when, for the second time in seven months, he lost a major on a fluke shot by a less accomplished player. Larry Mize's 140-foot chip on the second hole of sudden death came after Bob Tway had beaten Norman by making a bunker shot on the 72nd hole of the 1986 PGA.

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