Greg Norman creating new Masters memories
Greg Norman wanted this to be a trip down Magnolia Lane, not memory lane. It almost had to be, because so many of the memories are bittersweet and there is so little time left to make new ones.
He wasn’t expecting to get this mulligan, but it seemed at times Thursday as if he had never been away. He understands it may not last past the weekend, but this one he’ll enjoy if only because there may never be another.
The memories from this day will be about having his son on the bag, and his bride cheering from just outside the ropes. They will be about returning to a place that has caused him so much heartache, only to have the fans open their hearts to him.
Inevitably, though, as they almost always are here for Norman, they will also be about allowing yet another chance to slip away.
“I had a lot of opportunities, really could have shot a nice, mid 60s score today,” Norman said. “I didn’t.”
In another time, that would have eaten him up and caused him a sleepless night. But his expectations have been tempered by age, and even a botched short birdie putt on the 18th hole didn’t keep him from smiling his way through an interview in the same room where 13 years ago he had to explain a shocking collapse in the final round of a tournament he had all but won.
For 22 years, his one objective when coming here was to win a green jacket. In perhaps his final year, his only goal is to try and play well and enjoy everything along the way.
For once at Augusta National, the 54-year-old could say mission accomplished.
“It was a pretty special day,” son Gregory said. “To get all the love from the crowd was great. We felt such good energy.”
Much of that love came from Chris Evert, who cheered loudly for her husband as she made her way around Augusta National with two of her sons in tow. The two are newlyweds who act the part, as was well documented in a Sports Illustrated profile this week of the former tennis champion and the current golfer.
Norman looked for Evert between shots, and they exchanged secret signs. She waited for him to get done with his interviews, then watched him hit balls as she often does for hours at a time at home.
And he talked about her more than he talked about his golf.
“She wishes she could get back out there and play, because she sees the passion that I have and I’m at the age, we are both at an age, where golf allows me to do it,” Norman said. “She’s a competitor and she loves to see competition.”
The team concept worked for Norman at last year’s British Open, where he played almost on a lark and ended up nearly winning. His high finish there earned him a spot in the Masters for the first time in seven years, and he spent months getting his body and his golf game into the kind of shape he needed so as not to be embarrassed in his return.
Not only was he not embarrassed, he was competitive. His 2-under 70 seemed almost effortless, and could have been much better had a few makeable putts found their way in the hole.
Still, there was a sense that perhaps he and Evert understand the moment may never come again. Barring a miracle, he’s not going to win the Masters at an age when putts that used to go in don’t touch the cup and when younger players can dominate with their distance much like the Shark did in his youth.
But for one round, at least, he could bask in the applause of the crowd, and enjoy the walk up the 18th fairway. He didn’t even seem to mind that Larry Mize, who robbed him of what seemed a certain Masters title 22 years ago when he chipped in on the 11th green in a sudden death playoff, would intrude on his day.
Mize shot a 67 of his own, which gave him a chance to relive his biggest moment once again.
“I don’t mind,” Mize said. “It’s a good subject for me.”
It wasn’t a good subject for Norman, but luckily Nick Faldo wasn’t playing or things could have even been worse. Mize may have stolen one from him, but Norman will always be remembered most at Augusta National for blowing a six-shot lead over Faldo on the final day in 1996.
Indeed, though Norman was arguably the most talented player of his era, he only won two majors—both British Opens. His career was defined more by his failures than his successes, though he was ultimately very successful in amassing a fortune he made off his name in various business activities.
Evert fared better on the court. She was known for steely nerves under pressure that helped her win 18 major tennis titles.
Now, Norman plans to turn to her for some help in trying to pull one out himself. It may not work, but you can’t blame him for making one last try.
“When we go back tonight, she knows exactly how to handle the situation,” Norman said. “It will just be a perfect preparation for tomorrow.”