Featured Golf News
Norman Weighs in on His Career & Other Subjects
In a wide-ranging conversation with reporters in preparation for his playing the British Open Championship, the Senior British Open and the Senior U.S. Open, Greg Norman weighed in on a variety of subjects.
Perhaps his most interesting comments had to do with his belief that golf's top players should have some input on the set-up of major championship courses, similar to what he did this winter for next month's Open Championship at Turnberry.
"It just amazes me how it hasn't happened more often," said Norman, whose third-place finish in the Open at Birkdale last summer put the 54-year-old back into the limelight. "It's interesting to me how some of the great architects of the world - like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, myself to some degree, Nick Faldo - aren't asked to do or give an opinion on what should be done on a major championship golf course."
Over the winter the Australian was asked by Royal and Ancient Club chief executive Peter Dawson to visit Turnberry, scene of Norman's first major win in 1986. "I thought it was just fantastic for him to do that because it gives him wonderful insight," Norman said. "I think everybody's going to be pleased with it.
Here's what else Norman had to say during his media session.
MODERATOR: On March the 20th we had a media call all about Greg's preparation for the Masters, and that call seemed to work quite well, so we thought we would do something similar in Greg's preparation for playing the Open Championship, the Senior British Open and the Senior U.S. Open.
Obviously, this is very topical for Greg. Greg's performance last year at Royal Birkdale with his third-place finish obviously has Greg in the news in the lead-up to the Open this year, which is at Turnberry, where Greg won the British Open in 1986. He has done a little bit of work with Peter Dawson just to give him his views on course preparations for this year's Open Championship. Equally with the senior British Open coming to Sunningdale, there's some history with Greg and Sunningdale. I know he won the '86 European Open at Sunningdale. Then finally the U.S. Senior Open being played at Crooked Stick, Greg has a tight relationship with Pete Dye, who is the golf course designer there.
Greg is very much looking forward to playing these tournaments. There's a lot of history with all three venues and all three tournaments and Greg. We'll open it up with questions for Greg.
Q. Greg, last year at Birkdale, you've had nearly a year now to reflect on it, I know I suggested to you at the time it would have been the greatest Open victory of all time. You nearly did win. When you now reflect on it, how much did that reignite your enthusiasm for the game of golf? Where does golf sit for you now in the several million things you seem to do in your life?
GREG NORMAN: I think it's pretty much status quo. Golf is always my priority. I enjoy playing. I enjoy competing. I've just got to get into the rhythm of competing on more of a regular basis. That's obviously my scheduling to do that. As I look forward to the next 12 months going forward, I am going to do that. I still love to play. The British Open last year, a lot of people think it was an anomaly in some ways. To me it wasn't. It just convinces me even more the fact that anybody, no matter how old they are or what position they are in life, if they really want to focus their mind onto doing something, it's very of achievable.
At the end of it, it took me about 10 days, to tell you the truth, maybe as I headed into the Senior U.S. Open two weeks later is when I really started feeling the effects of what happened at the British Open. My game started to get even better and better at the Senior U.S. Open. As I left that three-week swing, I was actually very disappointed I didn't win two of the three. That was a great indicator for me.
Q. Does that mean going into Turnberry this year, where you have good memories anyway, you're not going into it thinking it will be fun, Chrissy will be there presumably, but are you going in thinking really seriously that you can win this?
GREG NORMAN: Well, it's going to be a totally different mindset of when I went into Birkdale last year. There's no question. I do believe that. I've kept my practice and playing on a fairly decent schedule, not to the rigorous routine I had back in my heydays. But it has been substantial. So I do go into Turnberry with a different mindset, no question about it. I love the place. I've been fortunate enough to be asked by Peter Dawson to take a look at it, which I did do over the winter months. I think everybody's going to be pleased with it. I think Turnberry, from a player standpoint, has it all because you stay in the hotel, you walk down the hill, you get on the driving range, you never put a key in the ignition of your car. Makes it much more of a comfort zone for a player to go play. My memories are very good around there, as you say.
Q. Can you give us a general idea what you might have suggested to Peter with regards to the course?
GREG NORMAN: Yeah. Just some of my observations the way the bunkers were structured. To me, links bunkers are more gravity-fed. If you roll the ball within 10 feet of the edge of the bunker, seems like it gets sucked in there like a magnet. I doubt some of the bunkers at Turnberry weren't that way, just over a period of time of sand blowing up, not the meticulous maintenance it should be. Some of the bunkers were not that menacing in the mind as you get on the tee knowing that, Okay, I've got to give that bunker about a 15-foot leeway here. Just future visions of how I thought the golf course could be done, as you look out into future British Opens, how it can be modified to a degree to keep up with the technologies of what we've got today. So, you know, the 10th tee was another prime example. The positioning and the height of the 10th tee, from what a player likes to see. Again, back to bunkers, how bunkers should be aligned on the golf shot, the angle of the golf shot.
No major changes. If there are major changes, I'm not going to make comment on them, because there are things that have been discussed. There are things that I could implement there which really helps with the positioning of bleachers, from a television hole, for example. I think they could build a golf hole out there which is probably as good as any par 3 in the world, and it's sitting right there ready to be done. There are opportunities like that going forward.
Q. Does this input you've had in any way give you another slight edge going into this Open or really is that irrelevant?
GREG NORMAN: I think that's irrelevant. I think that's just more the understanding. Let me digress on that answer a little bit. One thing that always amazes me when architects are brought in to touch up a major championship golf course. It's interesting to me how some of the great architects of the world like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, myself to some degree, Faldo, who have won major championships, who know exactly how a player thinks, what he expects in a major championship, how those players aren't asked to do or give an opinion on what should be done on a major championship golf course. It just amazes me how it hasn't happened more often. I think with Peter, I thought his wisdom and understanding and acceptance of hearing what a major championship player's opinion was on how a golf course could be set up bike a Turnberry looking into the future, I thought it was just fantastic for him to do that because it gives him wonderful insight.
Q. If we look back to '86, the following decade when you were mostly world No. 1, we give you 10 out of 10, where would you put yourself now going into this Open?
GREG NORMAN: You know, just from a pure golf standpoint?
GREG NORMAN: You know, if I had the ability with the technology I have today of the '80s, between '86 and '96, my tournament victories and stuff might have been a little bit greater. I think equipment has definitely been a great benefactor of somebody at my age, 54 going onto 55, because you do extract the maximum amount of performance out of the game even when your body doesn't allow you to do it. Just touching on that, I'm still strong. I'm still flexible. I still have some aches and pains but I've kept myself in pretty good shape to allow myself to hit golf balls a couple of hours a day, day after day.
Q. Moving forward to Sunningdale, I'm sure you remember this incident, are you expecting to meet any worms on tees this time around?
GREG NORMAN: You know, I was waiting for that. I knew that was going to come up. That was one of those things, a lesson learnt. When you walk into a media room with highly honed journalists like yourself, making a comment that you might think was a bullshit comment (laughter).
GREG NORMAN: Never. But I still remember that worm (laughter). He's probably been eaten by some Magpie or something by now. Hopefully that won't happen again. It will be a lot drier than what it was then. Quite honestly, I'm looking forward to getting back there. I've always loved Sunningdale. To be honest with you, a lot of senior players have come up to me, American players, and asked me about it. I say, Guys, go. It was one of the great golf courses and you'll love playing it. You would never have played a golf course like this in America. So just go play it. You'll have fun. Accommodation is easy. You can stay at the airport, you can stay at Pennyhill Park. You can stay in a lot of great places. I think a lot of players are going to go. I think the roster of players is pretty strong this year.
Q. I want to focus on the Open a bit with you. What are your main memories from playing in '86 when you won?
GREG NORMAN: Obviously the weather conditions were number one. Then number two, the width of the fairways. I think they were the tightest fairways we'd ever played in the British Open, consistently. I know we've gone to Carnoustie, some of the layouts on par 5s are really, really narrow. Consistently on the par 4s, the fairways were very, very narrow. My memory is like 15 yards to 18 yards to 21 yards. That on top of the weather conditions, blowing hard and windy, was very, very demanding.
Q. You shot that stunning 63 in the second round. Where does that rank in your all-time golfing memories and rounds? Must be well up there.
GREG NORMAN: Very high up there. I was disappointed in my finish that day, to tell you the truth. That was an opportunity. I actually thought when I hit the 17th green, I mean, I actually was thinking 59 was a possibility. As you go around in a situation like that, you really are oblivious to your score. You're just playing well and going after it. Just want to dominate the golf course. That's exactly what I did.
Q. That was your first major win. How important was that for you in your golfing career?
GREG NORMAN: Any win is extremely important. The higher up the ladder you go, the expectations from yourself and others to win a major championship, so the better player you become, that becomes more of your priority. For me, that was my priority. I always thought I was a good enough player to do it. I put myself in position a few times, especially at the Masters of that very year. So I was looking forward to that opportunity. Even the U.S. Open. So I was looking forward to that opportunity of saying, I won one. When you win your first one, you want to win others, too. It's always a priority of an extremely good professional golfer to try and achieve a major championship.
Q. You say you've been speaking to Peter Dawson about Turnberry this year. How are you expecting the venue to be set up and the scores we're likely to see?
GREG NORMAN: If they did what they did at Royal Birkdale last year, I was very open with my compliments about Royal Birkdale. I think the R&A set up Royal Birkdale as the best British Open I've ever seen in all the British Opens I ever played. Not only a well-balanced golf course. If they take that philosophy into Turnberry, Turnberry will be an exceptional tournament as well.
Q. How do you think Turnberry ranks compared to the other Open Championship venues?
GREG NORMAN: Birkdale has always been one of my favorites. You know, Turnberry, with a few minor adjustments to it, could turn out to be one of the top two, three venues of an Open Championship. Obviously the hotel has a lot to do with it. Like I said before, a player cannot put the key in the ignition for a whole eight days and enjoy his time at Turnberry hotel, the Spa - and the golf course comes with it. So a great venue. We've all known that. It will always be on the rotation for the Open.
Q. What do you think about the area as a whole? Gets a little bit of criticism for being quite remote. What is your opinion on that?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I think some of the great venues are remote. Augusta National is remote, too. Pebble Beach is remote to get to. Shinnecock is remote to get to. I think all the great golf courses around the world that have been built in these phenomenal locations are remote. Time and growth catches up to them. The only criticism I hear about Turnberry is the road getting in there. It's a tough access for the spectators. Outside of that, that's beyond Turnberry's control. That's up to the council to make sure as you look forward, if you want to bring tourism, bring pounds into that area, you've got to be able to get to that facility and upgrade it for the allocation of the Open.
Q. You mentioned your expectations have changed a lot from Birkdale last year. What is your sort of minimum hope for this year? Looking to make the cut, top 20 to challenge, or do you want to be in the front group there winning on Sunday?
GREG NORMAN: I can tell you when I went into Augusta, I was just hoping to make the cut. I was really disappointed I didn't because I played better at Augusta than I did at Royal Birkdale. I didn't make it. I'm definitely going to go into the British Open wanting to compete the best I can compete. That's all I can say. Setting goals and making cuts, being in the last group, that really doesn't even set in your mind. If you go in there and just do what I want to do, which is compete the best I can, then all those things should be taken care of.
Q. Last year at Birkdale you found yourself back in the big arena. There was lots of attention around you. You enjoyed it and played well. This year you're in for press conferences, enjoying being back at the majors. Have you missed that buzz? Is it sort of an adrenaline thing you wish you could have more of?
GREG NORMAN: Look, to be honest with you, being a competitor that was at the top of the heap at one time, you know how good that feels. Sometimes there's a wear and tear on it because you don't have your own private time that I've gotten used to over the years, but you accept that. It's part of the responsibility of the position you put yourself in the past. Do I enjoy it? Of course, I do. That's part of the makeup of what makes an athlete.
Q. Do you feel actual pressure now? People aren't expecting you to be the world No. 1 anymore, but you want to prove yourself anyway. Do you find that a difficult thing to do?
GREG NORMAN: No, I don't find it difficult. I understand exactly my position, what my mind and my body can give me. You always try and push those to another level no matter whether you're No. 1 in the world or whether you're 54 years old and going to play a few golf tournaments. You've always got to push yourself. It's kind of a compliment in a lot of ways when I hear questions from reporters such as yourself saying that, you know, do you want to get back to being in a position that you can contend.
I got to tell you this, my wife made a comment the other day. I said this to a media guy up at the Senior PGA Championship. She said to me, you know, You're one of the very fortunate few in this world that you have many choices. Few people have as many choices as what you can. You can choose to go back and play golf. You can choose to do business. You can choose to do whatever you want to do. Very few people have that many choices. She said, You're very lucky in that regard. She said, You're also very lucky you can still compete and enjoy competing. I know how she feels when she says that because, quite honestly, she's one of the toughest competitors that ever played the game of tennis. She sees it. I sometimes know deep down inside her that she wishes she could be back out there competing. Going back to what I said to you in the beginning, once you're a competitor, it's always in your system. When you have an opportunity to get out there to show off your talents and be back into that arena, whatever it is, it makes you feel damn good.
Q. Do you feel, regardless of how you play in the Open this year, that you can win again anywhere on any course?
GREG NORMAN: Yes. I wouldn't say any golf course. I couldn't go to a 7,700-yard U.S. Open golf course where the young swivel heads play and feel like I can do it. That would be a big ask. But I can go and compete on some of these golf courses out there that, you know, 80% or 85% of them, yes. I still hit the ball 300 plus yards when I want to. So it's not like I'm hamstrung by the fact that I'm only hitting the ball 250, 260.
Q. Does a links golf course perhaps give you the best chance to excel with the game that you have?
GREG NORMAN: The links golf courses always give a better player an opportunity because he has more of a repertoire of shots in his mind. I think that's the secret to it. The younger generation nowadays that grew up with the modern technology haven't had the ability to teach themselves how to play certain shots. Now, next year it's gonna be a different story. When V-grooves come back into the game, I think that's the greatest thing that's ever happened to the game of golf since 1996 in technology. That's gonna teach these players a huge lesson on the art of understanding a lie, controlling a golf ball, flight trajectory, and what happens if you get a flyer that goes 30 yards further than what you anticipate. A huge change is going to come over this game, and I think it's necessary. I think it's great. I'm very, very excited about seeing it take place. I still use V-groove clubs. I use U-groove clubs in my sand wedge and my gap-wedge. But, you know, for some of these guys, they have no idea what they're going to be in for.
Q. I'm sure you will remember, but your first Open was at Turnberry in '77.
GREG NORMAN: Yes.
Q. Missed the cut, sorry to remind you. You obviously were just starting off then. Did you see something then that inspired you to become No. 1, seeing what Tom and Jack did over the weekend?
GREG NORMAN: No. That personally didn't inspire me. I thought that was great golf, great for golf. You saw two of the great players of that era going toe-to-toe with each other. But my inspiration to get to the top of the ladder was always within myself. It wasn't what other people were doing.
Q. What was your first experience of links golf like? You've had some success on links. Did you fall in love with it straightaway?
GREG NORMAN: You've got to remember, I don't know whether you've been to Australia or not, but our golf courses in Australia, Royal Melbourne, Royal Adelaide, Kingston Heath, they have a lot of links feel about them. I played a lot of that type of golf in high, windy conditions. The ball releases. The fairway's got a lot of undulation. The ball bounces in different directions. It wasn't like a whole new entity of golf for me; I'd already experienced something like that. So the transition for me was very easy.
Q. I wanted to touch a little bit more on Sunningdale, your hopes for the Senior Open Championship. Just your expectations going in. You finished third in 2005 and fifth last year. What are your hopes for this year going into it?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I'm sure you were on the call before when I said I'm looking forward to getting back there. I've got a lot of great friends there. I've practiced in Sunningdale. I've won in Sunningdale, be it 20 plus years ago. It's a great atmosphere. I love the golf course. It's the only inland, parkland links golf course that you play anywhere in the world really. So it's got a mixture of anything you ever want to play in the game of golf. I haven't seen it in a long time. I heard they've taken a lot of trees out. I'm sure the playability of the golf course is still very similar to what I remember. Just visually it may be a little bit different. I'm sure they've moved some tees back. I'm sure some bunkers have been changed, which is normal any time you go to a golf course over a period of time. People do adjust and change. I'm expecting to go in there and play well.
Q. Looking back to last year, it was obviously a week after the Open Championship, there were some massive crowds there watching you. Could you talk a little bit about your memories from Troon.
GREG NORMAN: They were great. I mean, the Scottish people support golf in a tremendous fashion. Troon was no different. It was a great atmosphere there. It was tough coming out of the British Open straight into that. And that's really the hard part about this July swing for the senior guys who are in the British Open because you are compressed for time. You just go one, two, three, and the third one's back in the United States. It's tough getting back there. It's tough making the adjustment. That's the hard part for us. But we've done it for 35, 40 years of our lives. That's an adjustment that we accept and have to make. But, you know, if I had my druthers, I'd love to see the Senior U.S. Open in August sometime a week before the Jeld-Wen, which is the other major.
Q. Out of the three championships, how do you think your chances rate at the Senior Open? Do you think it's the most winnable out of the three for you?
GREG NORMAN: From a tournament perspective?
GREG NORMAN: Yeah, I put my chances high of winning the Senior British, yeah.
Q. You've obviously got a great record at Sunningdale. Does that fill you with confidence going into the course itself?
GREG NORMAN: The golf course has probably changed. Of course, I know the golf course. I know the layout of the golf course. But, you know, there are things I'm going to have to relearn there. That's why you get in there a couple days beforehand. I'm looking forward to it, yes.
MODERATOR: We appreciate your time patching in for this conference call.
GREG NORMAN: Thanks, guys.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.