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Greg Norman returns to golf in Chicago

Greg Norman will be in town this week to play a little business golf.

Lately, Norman has been a lot more business than golf. His return to the Cialis Western Open at Cog Hill this week will be his fifth PGA Tour event this season and only the 12th in the last two years.

But Norman hasn't been sitting around his Hobe Sound, Fla. home watching the tide roll in.

"There is more to me than golf," he said.

In case you have been stranded in a bunker somewhere, the Great White Shark is not just a golfer. Norman, who will turn 50 next February, is a businessman like the game of golf never has seen. His Great White Shark Enterprises is a multi-faceted, multi-million dollar, international conglomerate.

On the golf course, there wasn't a flag Norman didn't shoot for or a dogleg he didn't try to cut. In business, though, Norman has proved to be pretty steady, avoiding the double bogeys of the boardroom.

"I'm not as aggressive in business as I am in golf, I can tell you that," Norman said. "I'm a lot more patient. This is a period of 15-20 years where things are starting to show the fruits of their hard work."

GWSE has kept Norman more than busy. It's hard not to bump into a Greg Norman product. He is into golf course design, tournaments, turf, wine, residential development, yachts, clothing and restaurants. The Greg Norman Collection is the exclusive brand of Cialis Western Open clothing. He is also the exclusive distributor of Titleist golf equipment in Australia.

Norman's business empire grew from a line of clothing developed in a partnership with Reebok CEO Paul Fireman. A savvy investment in Cobra golf equipment led to a healthy, multi-million dollar nest egg that developed into Great White Shark Enterprises.

Norman doesn't have a business degree from Harvard or Northwestern but his lineup of companies boasts a value of more than $200 million. Norman, who derived $16.2 million from his golf and endorsements last year, spends more time on his jet these days than he does on the practice tee.

"I sit on a couple of boards and I've learned from that," said Norman who earned $28 a week in his first job in a pro shop in Australia. "I'm very fortunate that I have some wonderful people to be around. I've had some wonderful associations. To me the greatest reward in life is reaching below you and putting them on the rung above you. People have done that for me."

Norman, arguably the best player never to win the Western Open, hasn't been to Cog Hill since 1996, when he missed his only cut in 10 tries. He returns at the behest of Cialis.

"First of all, I've always enjoyed the golf course," he said. "It's one of the premier courses we play on the PGA Tour. It's a shot maker's course. At the same time, Cialis is a new sponsor on the Tour. I'm not a spokesperson for them but I have done some speeches for their salespeople and they asked me to come up and play. And I'm a big Chicago-area fan. It has been too long."

The Western, which starts Thursday, has a solid field that includes defending champion Tiger Woods. Norman won't be among the favorites this year; his tie for 81st at the Players Championship is his only cut made. His galleries, however, probably will be second only to Woods.

There have been few more exciting players in the history of the game. His victories, such as the 1993 British Open, were often spectacular events.

"I've never seen such golf," Grand Slam winner Gene Sarazen said of the record-setting display at Royal St. George's. Even the Shark himself was impressed.

His losses were just as spectacular. Bob Tway holed out from a bunker to steal the 1986 PGA from him while Larry Mize chipped in on him to win the 1987 Masters. He lost the 1984 U.S. Open and the 1993 PGA in playoffs. In 1996, he blew a six-shot lead at the Masters. His charisma and daring golf made it hard not to watch and he inspired several generations of Australian golfers. His graciousness in defeat is an enviable trait for a professional athlete.

Norman, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001, won the British Open in 1986 and 1993. He has won 20 PGA Tour events and 66 international tournaments. He was the 1995 PGA Tour Player of the Year and three times was the top money winner on the PGA Tour. He won the Vardon Trophy for lowest stroke average three times.

Norman's record in the Western stands with the best ever. He has made nine cuts at Cog Hill and Butler National Golf Club, where he tied for 20th in his first Western in 1983. He has four seconds, a tie for second, two ties for fifth and another tie for 20th. He would have had multiple victories if he had been able to shoot a low final round at Cog Hill when he was second in 1991-92-93. He has earned $539,711.90 in the tournament when purses were much smaller.

"I guess that's golf," he said. "Those things happen. The Western Open has a tremendous history, not just for myself but with the PGA Tour and the game of golf. The Evans Scholarship fund is incredible."

While tournament golf isn't his top priority these days, the competitor in him won't let him put his clubs away. He still wants to play tournament golf and it's likely he will be seen on the Champions Tour next season.

"I'm not interested in the Senior (Champions) Tour to the level of playing week-to-week," said Norman, whose practice time is restricted by a balky back. "I'm interested in the Senior Tour from the competitive side, some of the senior majors like the British Senior Open because I love the British Open, the PGA, the Senior TPC, things like that.

"I have a lot of friends out there right now that have given me a heads up that some of these courses aren't what they say they are. That doesn't stimulate me at all."

Norman's PGA Tour exemption, which he earned with a victory in the 1994 Players Championship, runs out this season. He's not likely to play in many more events than he did a year ago but he wants to make a good showing this week at Cog Hill.

"I'm driving to the golf course right now," he said by phone June 25. "I haven't hit balls for a few days and I'm heading there to practice. It's 93 degrees and that tells you that I want to do well."

As always, he means business.

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