30 Apr 2020 | Professional golf | Feature stories |
Great Australian Moments 3: Norman's conquest
by Martin Blake
“He’s done it at last.” With those simple words, the famed English commentator Peter Alliss encapsulated the relief for almost everyone when Greg Norman holed a putt of a metre to win the Open Championship at Turnberry in 1986.
It was his first major championship victory at 31, but it came in the context of a crushing weight of expectation that the Australian had carried from the time he burst on to the professional scene in 1976.
Many times, that weight was too much for him to bear. At Augusta in April of the same year, he had blocked his second shot into the crowd at the 72nd hole to leave the great Jack Nicklaus to a famous triumph. At Winged Foot in 1984, he’d lost a US Open playoff to Fuzzy Zoeller.
But at Turnberry, there was no raining on the Shark’s parade. He won by five shots, setting it up with a second-round 63 that featured all his power and majesty, and closing without equivocation. “At last, it’s a Norman conquest,’’ screamed one of the newspapers, echoing a common theme.
As the charismatic Norman literally had fought his way through the throng and reached the 18th green on the final day, you would have forecast a career with at least five major victories for the Queenslander.
It was a notion that he addressed afterward with his customary eschewing of any false modesty. “I’d like to win 10, 12, 15 majors,” he said. “it’s like when you win your first tournament. The rungs on the ladder get smaller.”
But they did not. The heartbreak returned for the Shark, in measures bigger than he deserved. Larry Mize chipped in from 50 metres to beat him at Augusta in 1987; a final-hole bogey saw him miss a playoff by a shot at Augusta again in 1989, and Nick Faldo’s relentless blowtorch burned him at the same venue in 1996, where he led into the final round by six shots only to close with a calamitous 78.
Norman was world No. 1 for 331 weeks of his career spanning 11 years. He won the Open at Royal St George’s again in 1993 with a closing 64, the round of his life, scarcely missing a shot all day, and offering up the quote of his career. “I’m not a guy to brag about myself, but I was just in awe of myself.’’
Ultimately his career as a player would come to be known just as much for his mishaps and fickle fortunes as his wins – including those two Opens. But whether you view it as glass-half-full or glass-half-empty, it was always compelling. And not half bad.
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