Daily Mail’s Exclusive Interview With Greg Norman
Greg Norman on the need to curb big hitters like Bryson DeChambeau to keep St Andrews as an Open venue, rewriting the record book in 1993 and Phil Mickelson's US PGA win
Greg Norman believes time is running out if St Andrews is to be preserved as an Open venue.
The two-time winner of the Claret Jug harbours genuine fears that the Home of Golf will be ransacked by the leading players at the 150th edition next year, and the oldest of Old Courses will prove simply too old to be a fitting challenge.
‘It’s my favourite course on the rota and it would be heartbreaking to see it become outdated but it’s in danger of being the reality,’ the charismatic Australian told Sportsmail. ‘I can’t see what else they can do to lengthen it anymore.’
Norman is calling on the R&A to introduce revolutionary changes this winter to how far the ball travels to ensure the festival of golf next year doesn’t turn into an inquest of self-recrimination.
‘I can understand why the ball manufacturers might be upset but it’s the only way we can keep St Andrews on the rota and for it to play remotely how it’s supposed to be played,’ argued Norman.
‘It’s not as if people are going to stop buying golf balls. For the sake of the Old Course, it’s just vital the golf balls have different specifications next year, for we’re on the edge as it is.’
It’s a familiar topic, of course, but one given increasing urgency with the closeness of next year’s Open landmark. Without action before the start of the majors season next year, it’s quite likely that, under benign conditions, players like Bryson DeChambeau could drive around half of the 14 par fours at St Andrews.
Behind the scenes, there are plenty echoing Norman’s thoughts that a critical point has now been reached, and it will be interesting to see if the R&A have any comment to make during the Open. With the conclusions to their long-running Distance Insights project expected soon, they’ll surely have plenty to say after the Ryder Cup.
Regarding the Shark, it’s only right to find him circling in Open waters. The 149th edition takes place at Royal St George’s starting on Thursday, where he just happened to rewrite the record book in 1993 with a display so sublime the watching Gene Sarazen called it the finest he had ever witnessed.
Norman defeated a top six featuring runner-up Sir Nick Faldo — who closed with a final round 63 — Bernhard Langer, Nick Price and Ernie Els to walk off with the first six-figure prize in Open history of £100,000.
‘Do you know that week began with me being scolded by the R&A?’ he says, laughing. ‘It was the eve of the championship and I knew I was playing well. I just wanted to find a quiet place to practise with my coach Butch Harmon and it went so well, Butch hardly said a thing.
‘But the R&A weren’t happy because I’d found somewhere the crowd couldn’t see me! That was fine. By the time they caught up with me I knew what I was doing, and that I had a great game plan for St George’s.’
Norman comes up with a good Aussie expression to describe the quality of golf on show from the leading contenders that year. ‘It was one of those special championships where you simply had to keep your foot on the pedal and suck up the go-go juice,’ he said.
Seven years after his victory at Turnberry in frightful weather in 1986, Norman showed he was the Champion Golfer for all seasons.
‘I’m proud of the fact that I won the Claret Jug both in the sunshine, the wind and the rain,’ he said. ‘I just had the right ball flight for the Open. Caddies would always compliment me on the fact that I hit the ball pin high every time and that’s because I had such control of my ball flight.’
He was 38 at the time and seemingly ready to win a veritable trove of majors. In the end, he would never win another, with his nemesis Faldo exacting his measure of revenge for Sandwich with his astonishing comeback victory at the Masters three years later.
‘Of course I thought I’d win more after ’93, but that’s how it goes in top-class sport,’ says Norman. ‘At the Olympics we’ll see people who time it perfectly and others who are just a fraction off. When you look back on your own career, there are moments where you execute your plan completely and there are others where someone was just way better than you.’
Now 66, Norman’s thriving business empire remains vast and he has no plans to slow down, having recovered fully from a nasty bout of coronavirus last December that resulted in two hospital stays. ‘It certainly took me a few weeks to get my strength back,’ he said.
As you can imagine, he was thrilled watching Phil Mickelson break the glass ceiling for senior major winners at the US PGA. It was at the 2008 Open, with a spirited third-place finish at the age of 53, that Norman first seriously raised the possibility.
‘I just thought Phil’s win was compelling to watch and fantastic for the game,’ he said. ‘I can see more players around the same age getting it done as well over the next few years. You could certainly see a fiftysomething winning the Open, or someone nearly 50 like Lee Westwood, who has that ball flight, where it doesn’t get knocked down by the wind.
‘Of course, we have to remember you putt differently on Sunday when you get older than you do on Thursday. Can you still hole those putts that matter inside 10ft?’
Norman hardly plays at all these days but it’s obvious his passion remains. The thrilling shotmaker has evolved into an equally thoughtful guardian.
This is article appears courtesy of Derek Lawrenson and the Daily Mail.