Greg Norman Talks About Favorite Golfers, World Class Course Design And The “Little Man” Inside His Head
Greg Norman is regarded as one of the biggest names in golf today, even two decades after leaving the PGA Tour. The longtime World No. 1 and two-time British Open winner was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001, but the man known as “The Shark” hasn’t really slowed his pace or let up on his personal motto of “Attack Life.”
The week Norman was at the island of Great Exuma in the Bahamas to drop in on the Korn Ferry Tour’s Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, which is being played at his own course at Sandals Emerald Bay. Because of Exuma and over a hundred other courses he’s designed, Norman is known almost as well as the world’s premier golf course designer as he is for his golf game and his multimillion dollar brand.
On Sunday I was fortunate to grab an interview with the golf legend and business magnate. We spoke about his time as a player, course design and today’s game.
Andy Frye: You had a great career as a world class golfer, but when did you get your first ideas about designing world class golf courses?
Greg Norman: Back in 1985 and ’86, I was asked to consult on a project in Hawaii called The Experience at Koele, with a guy called Ted Robinson. Ted was the architect and I was there to consult on the shotmaking parts. We finished the project and I was enamored by it all, but Ted’s take on it was focused more on scenic things like waterfalls and flowerbeds, not so much on the strategic aspects of golf.
The technical parts of the ideal course in my mind came from my time playing so many great golf courses, and why those golf courses were so great. So I became a student of golf courses I enjoyed and also of golf holes I didn’t like and why I didn’t like them. But I initially didn’t have any aspirations of being a course designer. Then I did a second one with Ted in Chicago, Royal Melbourne (in Long Grove, Ill.), and I realized how much I enjoyed it and started thinking every time I’d see a piece of property what I’d do with it, which way the greens would go, how I’d lay it out.
Once we got some accolades and a PGA Tour event at Sugarloaf, we let it roll out from there. More important was feedback I was getting from some PGA Tour guys, who liked my ‘least disturbance’ approach, and when they began to say “this guy really knows what he’s doing.”
AF: Exuma’s back nine is on a beautiful coastline against some tough winds. Did the landscape dictate the design of your par-72 course?
Norman: Most of the time (in golf course design) you get the direction from the developer. We give recommendations and ask fundamental questions based on their development budget, ongoing annual budget, and what kind of events they expect to have at a course after it’s finished.
When we were first walking this site, I fell in love with it. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Bahamas and I loved the Exuma Sound—it’s dead calm one day, lively the next, and has that turquoise water. Plus, it was a site that had two ecosystems, so I said to my guys that we should fuse two different golf courses.
AF: At Exuma you’ve placed a lot of short distance holes too.
Norman: A lot of times with the land plan you just have to fit the golf course in, and on the back nine area there was already a lot of developed real estate. You mention there’s a lot of short holes, but that was the property they gave us to work with. Designing courses, you have to make the best with what you have. But I’m a green-to-tee guy, and I hate long transitions from hole to hole. So I felt that the limitations of the space combined with the beautiful coast gave us a unique opportunity to create a lot of successive green-to-tee movement.
AF: Which golfers on today’s PGA Tour do you most enjoy watching?
Norman: I like to watch Rory McIlroy. I think Rory’s got a lot of my style—he’s a really good driver of the golf ball. He’s an aggressive driver of the ball, and backs it up. And I like his ambassadorial demeanor. He’s by far the best, I think, in the way he caries himself and he represents the game extremely well. He’s a very humble guy, and when he screws up he admits it. And I like all that about him.
But I also like to follow DJ (Dustin Johnson). DJ’s probably utilized only about 65% to 70% of his talent. If someone ever asked me who I’d like to mentor, I’d love to mentor him. Watching him a lot on TV, I think he should have won a lot more.
AF: Which golfers were your toughest opponents?
Norman: Oh, well I definitely hated playing against Seve Ballesteros and also Curtis Strange. But I love both of them—they’re my best friends. The reason why I say it was, with Seve you didn’t know what to expect. He was a god-awful driver of the golf ball and I was the best, but he had the best short game. We had a very unusual friendship and ended up coaching each other in small ways.
AF: Every golfer has tough games. On days when you started poorly, what did you do to get your head back into the game?
Norman: That’s an interesting question that, believe it or not, I don’t get a lot. There were three things I did to get the negativity out of my head.
One was that I’d squat down on the green—and this might sound stupid—but I always have a my big hat, so I’d pull it low over my face and look at the ground. I’d take a few seconds, maybe just five or ten seconds, and take the negative thoughts and ‘dump them out’ on the green, so to speak.
Second thing—if I was on the fairway, I’d check in with the soles of my shoes, take note of my senses, maybe note that I’d stepped on a pebble and tell myself the story of where I was that moment in time, to break the negativity. Sometimes, I’d take my thumb or something and plug it into my chest or arm and physically hurt myself just a little to take my mind off the thoughts in my head and redirect them.
Then the final thing is, that I always had a little man in my head. And I’d walk around, saying, “Hey little man, are you ready to go? Are you falling asleep? You ready to play?” It’s important to have those kind of conversations during your game.
AF: You probably get asked this a lot, but let’s say at your prime and on the best day you’ve played, who wins a round of golf—you, Jack Nicklaus or Tiger?
Norman: With the elite of the elite golfers it’s up in the air on any given day. It depends on who wakes up feeling great, feeling loose, and feeling the most confident.
This article is courtesy of Andy Frye and Forbes.com.