Greg Norman reflects on successes, failures

Greg Norman
Montana Pritchard/PGA of America
Greg Norman reflects on his successes -- and failures -- Monday during the PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit.
By Mark Aumann

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Monday, January 19, 2015 | 5:23 p.m.

Greg Norman has celebrated some of the greatest victories in the game of golf, and he's suffered some of the greatest defeats. But in both cases, Norman said he learned something he could use to deal with life's ups and downs.

And on Monday at the PGA Teaching and Coaching Summit, Norman credited Jack Nicklaus with instilling that disposition, both from reading his books and knocking on his front door.

Norman first picked up the game as a teenager in Australia, after playing other sports growing up.

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"When I started the game of golf, I was a 27-handicapper and wanted to figure out how I could get better fast, so I read his books," Norman told the audience of more than 900 PGA Professionals. "'Golf My Way' was one of them, and I just absorbed myself in it. I was breaking down and compartmentalizing the process that he had."

In less than two years, Norman became a scratch golfer and began a journey that would take him to the PGA Tour. He burst onto the scene in 1980 with a victory in the Australian Open, then finished fourth in the 1981 Masters. The leading money-winner on the European Tour in 1982, Norman decided to try his hand in America, eventually settling in Orlando, then moving to North Palm Beach.

"I was fortunate enough to move down farther south to Jack's neighborhood," Norman said. "I never had a problem going up and knocking on Jack's door and saying 'Jack, I'm new to your neighborhood. Do you mind if I come over and pick your brain every now and then?' 

"And there would be times when we'd be standing there in his driveway, talking about the game and life and it'd be pouring down rain. And Barbara Nicklaus would come out and say, 'Do you realize it's raining right now?' And we'd look at each other and say, 'No.' Because we were so engrossed in our conversation."

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One of Norman's most famous defeats came in the 1986 Masters, when he rallied to tie Nicklaus with one hole remaining, only to bogey the 18th and miss out on a sudden-death playoff. The other came at Augusta in 1996, when Nick Faldo overcame a six-shot deficit on the final day.

Again, Norman learned from both experiences -- and it was Nicklaus who offered guidance.

"Jack taught me to be a great winner," Norman said. "To be a great winner means you're very humble about it. And once you become a great winner, you learn to be an excellent loser. You're going to lose more than you win, and if you think about it, if you just relate it to the game of golf, you're definitely going to lose more than you win.

"If you can learn to become a great winner and excellent loser, you'll become pretty much a well-rounded individual, and that resonates through your life in general."

That's more than just what happens on the golf course, Norman said. It involves not only your private life, but other ventures as well.

"When you go through these ups and downs in life, and you're under the microscope and everybody reports on every little mistake you make, it's no different in business," he said. "We make mistakes in business, too. Just that they're private and nobody sees it or reads about it. So there's no question about it. Jack was a huge influence on me and about my attitude and how I've dealt with things in life."

It has to do with competitive drive, something Norman rarely lacked. But as he got closer to his goal of becoming the No. 1 player in the world -- something he held for more than six years -- he realized a significant truism. Many athletes have the physical skills to be the best, but not many have the mental attitude required.
"The more successful you become, the more alienated you feel like you are," Norman said. "Because you are getting into a stratosphere where very few other people have been before. So who do you turn to above you when you get to the very top? If you don't have someone you can trust, you're in big trouble.
"So a lot of individuals have a hard time stepping out of their comfort level to really push themselves upwards and outwards. Believe me, there are so many other talented players but what makes that person become No. 1 is their ability to take the whole shooting match, keep it in perspective and stay focused."