Greg Norman was once the world’s top golfer, but he had a knack for losing the big ones. He’s found success in both business and (finally) love (hello, Chris Evert). Now, after a seven-year hiatus, he’s taking another stab at Augusta.
This ethos reflects Norman’s working-class upbringing on the Great Barrier Reef. His game of choice was Australian Rules Football, otherwise known as a riot with goalposts. “Where I grew up,” he recalls, “if you didn’t get hit, it wasn’t a sport.” The son of an engineer, Norman took up golf when he was 15, caddying for his mother at her club. His parents soon bought him his own set of clubs because he was always borrowing his mom’s. He got to scratch in 18 months by virtue of persistent practice and the guidance of Nicklaus’s instruction manual Golf My Way. During physics class at Aspley State High School in Brisbane, he would hide a copy in his textbook and study it like a kabbalah.
At 17, over the objections of his stern father, Norman ditched his plan to enlist in the Royal Australian Air Force and instead took a year off to surf. At 18, over the objections of his strict golf instructor, he decided to become a pro golfer. A colossal long-hitter, he completed a three-year apprentice program in 12 months. His drink of choice was milk, which he quaffed in copious quantities. The beverage gave him a nickname (the Milky Bar Kid) and kidney stones. He supplemented his $28-a-week salary as an assistant pro at the Royal Queens land Golf Club by playing “Nassaus” — one-on-one shootouts for $100 a hole. That’s where he got his boundless self-belief. “You learn to play under pressure when you have to sink a putt for $1,200 that you haven’t got,” he says. “The gambling gave me a killer instinct.”
He used the money to finance his pro career on the Far East tour, winning the fourth tournament he entered in 1976. He was an instant hit on the European tour. Though Nicklaus encouraged him to come to America, Norman stayed away from the PGA Tour for seven years. He banked a small fortune playing the easier international circuit.
Driving Ferraris and reciting Zen koans (“When you can do nothing, what can you do?”), the young Aussie built a reputation as mythic as Crocodile Dundee’s. Many players didn’t buy into the mythology; they considered Norman a preening poser and resented the way he swaggered like Arnold Palmer while owning the career record of Lanny Wadkins. At the 1984 British Open in St. Andrews, Norman boasted he could drive four of the par-4 holes at the Old Course. Which he did. “I’ve beaten every one of these players on their home turf,” he said. “It’s a confidence factor. I breed on that. They can watch out now.” Though Norman finished six shots behind winner Seve Ballesteros, he had loosed the Great White Shark. But then came the narrow losses to Zoeller. And Nicklaus. And Tway. And Mize, who won the ’87 Masters by holing out for a birdie from 140 feet on the second playoff hole. The snakebit Norman returned home to Florida, slouched to the beach at 3 am, and wept. At the post-tournament press conference he had masked his pain by conjuring up his grandfather’s tales of Aussie valor in hopeless situations. Asked about Mize’s chip-in, Norman managed gallows humor: “I didn’t think Larry could get down in two from where he was, and I was right.”
Golf’s Job has been well compensated for his torment. He’s a lavish earner on and off the course. The prize money he made in 26 years as a player on the PGA Tour — more than $14 million — is dwarfed by the annual revenues of his companies. The Norman empire began in 1987 with Greg Norman Course Design. Since then he has completed 75 layouts on six continents, with 56 more in the pipeline. “The financial crisis has considerably slowed course development in the United States,” says Bart Collins, president of Great White Shark Enterprises. “Fortunately, we have projects worldwide.” Norman’s signature designs conform to the landscape, rather than the other way around; they’re also playable yet demanding for even scratch players. His fee — he’s the actual architect of record — is $1.25 million plus expenses. (In contrast, Tiger Woods demands a $25 million consulting fee to lend his name to layouts developed by his management company’s design team.)
Greg Norman has dabbled in everything from yacht-building to developing gated golf-based communities, but mainly Great White Shark Enterprises promotes Norman’s sporting lifestyle. The Greg Norman Collection markets sportswear, golf apparel, and accessories bearing his distinctive shark logo; the Greg Norman Production Company operates the Merrill Lynch Shootout and the Mayakoba Classic, the first official PGA Tour event held in Mexico; the Greg Norman Turf Company has provided his patented GN-1 strain Bermuda grass for two Super Bowls, a World Series, and the Sydney Olympics; Greg Norman’s Australian Grille prepares seared shrimp for tourists in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Greg Norman Australian Prime purveys wagyu beef to upscale restaurants. “I enjoy the challenge of business,” he says, “of creating something that lives in perpetuity.”