The Shark Stripped Bare
Ripped at 64, golfing-icon-turned-magnate Greg Norman is ready to shed light on his remarkable life. In this exclusive interview with Mens Health, the Shark reveals the secrets behind his stellar midlife fitness and opens up about his personal and professional challenges. What becomes clear is that beneath the glamorous exterior is a longing not normally associated with a man who appears to have everything.
It’s 9.30 on a Wednesday morning in Florida and the Australian-American accent is coming through rich and strong from one of the humbler nooks of a grand estate. “I’m in my work room down below, where I still have golf clubs that I used to tinker with all the time. You know, it’s great to see what the kids can do today. But back in the day our clubs were so heavy, and for us to generate the clubhead speed that we did was just mind- blowingly impressive.”
A manly dexterity. A certain wistfulness. Fatherly feelings for the champions of today. And a bit of a brag. Yep, in case there was any doubt, that can only be the Shark on the other end of the line. And I’ll be honest: even for a seasoned – some might say jaded – sports hack, it’s a tell-your-mates thrill to have him there.
If Greg Norman’s heyday predates you, know this: it’s hard to overstate how big a deal he was in the 1980s and ’90s. The No. 1 golfer in the world for 331 weeks, Norman won 90 tournaments as a professional, including the Open Championships of 1986 and 1993. The first player to reach $10 million in prize money, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2001.
But numbers don’t do justice to the Norman phenomenon any better than notes on a page capture the force of a masterful symphony. For a quarter-century Norman’s magnetism pulled legions of sports fans out of their beds and in front of their televisions to rise and fall through his latest quest for one of the major titles that proved so elusive. Blond and suntanned with ice-blue eyes, sporting the wide-shouldered, slim-waisted physique of an Olympic gymnast at a time when most leading golfers could have been mistaken for accountants or truck drivers, Norman bestrode the fairways like a gunslinger, his game as big as his style was bold. Only Arnold Palmer before him and Tiger Woods since have made golf so enticing for so many.
His return of two major titles (Woods has 15; the GOAT, Jack Nicklaus, 18) is a wholly misleading reflection of his outsized talent and influence. And yet his history of near-misses – he had eight runner-up and 30 top-10 finishes in majors – allowed him to show arguably the defining feature of his competitive being: an unsurpassed dignity and magnanimity in defeat. Of the many things you could borrow from the Shark, that might just be the most uplifting.
As great a player as he was, Norman has found success easier to come by – or at least heartbreaking failures simpler to avoid – in business, where as chairman and CEO of The Greg Norman Company he’s amassed a fortune in excess of $300 million. He’s spent freely and lived large, married three times, golfed with Presidents. Some would say it’s hard to find a trace of the surfie kid from Townsville in the self-assured juggernaut Norman presents to the world. And yet, scratch the surface and you can begin to wonder whether his uber-confidence overlays a fault-line of vulnerability. Norman the golfer has long since left the scene. Norman the man remains as intriguing as ever.
MH: The word is you still train five days a week and your workouts, which combine cardio and weights, can last for up to two hours. What drives you to maintain such a demanding regimen?
GN: I think it’s just my DNA. My whole life I’ve been a very disciplined guy. I was a fit kid growing up in Townsville, running on the beach, skid-boarding every afternoon I possibly could, riding a horse bareback along Pallarenda. You know, snorkelling, SCUBA diving, Aussie Rules, rugby. And now, because of my work in golf-course design, I do a lot of walking on virgin sites. I’ve just been in Saudi Arabia and we were walking up and down hills in 118-degree [48°C] heat. So that all bodes well at my age. Apart from that, I just enjoy doing it, quite honestly.
MH: Have you ever been out of shape?
GN: There was a time I probably drank one or two too many beers of a night-time than I should have. I’ve always been pretty good with my eating habits. In ’91, I decided to get off pretty much everything white. Even now if I have sushi I’ll eat just the fish and not the rice. I’m way more meticulous now than when I was playing.
MH: Back in September you attended the state dinner in Washington for PM Scott Morrison, and on the menu was fish and apple pie. Does Greg Norman eat the pie?
GN: No. I did not. I don’t eat dessert. Look, I tell a lie there. If someone gives me a really good carrot cake, yes. And there are certain pies I love to eat. But I won’t eat a whole slice of it. I’ll eat one or two mouthfuls.
MH: How do you feel physically? Are you convinced your habits make a difference?
GN: Oh, for sure. I would have no problems walking 36 holes around a hilly golf course in Colorado. I have no doubt my cardio is very good. I’ll give you an example. I was just in Tibet, in the Himalayas, and I’m going to the Himalayas again in less than a year from now, and I’m going to go up to over 20,000ft [6096m]. Even on my ranch in Colorado, at half that altitude, if I need to do something, some heavy lifting or maintenance, I don’t have to say to myself, “Oh, can you do this?” Or, “Oh, you’re going to wake up tomorrow feeling like crap”. I don’t have those thoughts.
MH: You feel like a 24-year-old?
GN: All I can tell you is I don’t take any medication, any painkillers anymore like I used to when I was playing golf. I’m free of everything. My body has been cleansed.
MH: Do you make the choices you do with longevity in mind?
GN: I’ve been very open about the fact that I want to be the longest-living Norman. And the Normans have got some really good genes. On my mother’s side, it’s 90s and 100s. My dad [Mervyn] is 93 this year. And I’d like to hit 108, 110.
MH: You’re an example to our readers.
GN: Well, look, I hope I’m an example, but I don’t try to be. But if my health becomes something for others to try and emulate and feel better in themselves... there’s no reason you can’t do it. Sometimes, when I travel the world and I meet people younger than me and they look like they’re older than me, geez, I feel pretty good, you know? And you take these people out on site, whether they’re developers or owners, and you start walking the site for three, four, five hours... they last about 20 minutes and then they’re gone. I’m not trying to be a show-off or anything, but if they sit back and say, “Boy, I want to change and be like Greg”, then great.
MH: Guys who read this might think, “Well, why aren’t you still playing pro golf?” Is it that you could play but choose not to?
GN: I could play. For example, if I wanted to go play the US Senior Open next June, and I start- ed preparing my body in January, I’d be ready to go. I’d completely change my workout routine. I’d start stretching more. I’d do more rotational stuff. Even when I’m playing now I can sometimes touch 300 yards, so I’m not really out of it. Just my timing’s out, my rotation’s not the same, and my flexibility’s nowhere near the same. I wouldn’t say I could get it all back, but I’d get a long way down the road, that’s for sure. But I’m not interested in slamming balls anymore. I’ve hit more than five million golf balls in my life. I’m not interested in going on the driving range and doing that anymore. I have a lot of other things that I love doing – golf-course design; doing what we’re doing on a global basis with 106 golf courses is a stimulant in its own right. And I want to do 200, 300 golf courses and grow the game in every corner of the world. Going [on the Tour] and being in a hotel from Tuesday to Sunday – I ain’t doing that again. I did that for 40 years of my life and it is the most boring thing you can do. Being on the golf course isn’t boring, but being in a hotel – it’s miserable, quite honestly.
MH: You brought athleticism and physical presence to golf at a time when the game wasn’t synonymous with those qualities. Do you look at today’s players, many of them super-fit, and think, “That fitness is one of my legacies”?
GN: Oh, I’m going to say I truly believe that. Because I was the guy who designed the first fitness trailer on the PGA Tour back in ’92-93. I’m the one who really forced the issue from the PGA Tour’s standpoint about giving us the facilities, not only to work out and stretch in the morning, but also to give us therapists to help us get a massage at the end of the day, readjust our hip alignment or whatever. We didn’t have that in the early part of my career. [Jack] Nicklaus never had it. [Tom] Watson. [Raymond] Floyd. [Byron] Nelson. Gary Player did work out but he didn’t have the facilities. I still remember to this day designing the fitness trailer with my then coach and fitness trainer Pete Draovitch. So, yes, I would say I was probably the tip of the spear for these kids today.
MH: As good as you feel, have those five million swings of the club taken a toll on your body?
GN: For sure. I’ve had 13 surgeries, 11 of which are the direct result of the repetitive motion of the golf swing. I’ve had knee surgeries, hip surgeries, back surgeries, shoulder surgeries.
MH: How often do you tee it up nowadays?
GN: Last year I played six times. This year, I think I’ve played maybe eight times. Look, if I do once a month that’s a big year for me.
MH: And does a sweetly struck shot still give you a thrill?
GN: Sure. Look, I don’t care what level of golf you play at, whether you’re a 30-handicapper or whether you’re the No. 1 golfer in the world, I think a pure golf shot – I mean an absolute pure golf shot – is as good as having an orgasm. I’m deadly serious. There’s an absolute rush. Because you think about all the components that go together to hit a perfect golf shot – the rotation of your body, the timing, the feel, the sound, the end result, the visual side of the ball taking off from the clubface... I can keep going. It’s just such a sensual feeling.
MH: What did you feel when Tiger Woods won the US Masters this year? I ask because there doesn’t seem to be any bond between the two of you.
GN: Yeah, look, I’m happy to clear that up for you. Like, when you ask me a question, I’m going to give you an honest answer. I’m not going to bullshit to you. I’m also going to draw on my experience of the past in terms of what Jack Nicklaus did for me, what Arnold Palmer did for me... where there was that respect handed off from the generation before you. It’s a code of conduct in a lot of ways. Very few people know this: when Tiger won the Masters this year, I wrote him a handwritten note and drove down my road, maybe a quarter of a mile, and hand-delivered it to his guard at his gate. I said, “Hey, this is Greg Norman here. I’ve got a note for Tiger – can you please hand-deliver it to him?” Well, I never heard a word back from the guy. When I won my first major championship, Jack Nicklaus was the first person to walk down out of the TV tower and congratulate me. I don’t know – maybe Tiger just dislikes me. I have no idea. I’ve never had a conversation with him about it. I’ve always been respectful about what his father did for him. I played nine holes with him at his father’s and IMG’s request when Tiger was 14 or 15 and I was the No.1 player in the world, to give an assessment of this kid. So, I have always been willing.
MH: Sorry to raise your near-misses in major titles. I know you say the only time you think about them is when guys like me bring them up. I’ll approach from this angle: the 2008 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, where you mounted a final and quixotic challenge for a third major at the age of 53, and lead by two shots going into the final round. I remember being abuzz at the prospect of you winning that one and erasing a lot of anguish, but it didn’t happen. Did you view that tournament as a chance to soothe the hurts and put an exclamation mark on your career?
GN: No. I never think that way. I never relate what I’m doing today to the past. The past is the past. I don’t sit there reflecting over spilt milk. There’s no point. But in 2008 I was about ready to withdraw from that tournament on the Friday before. I was playing so bad. I was practising poorly. I wasn’t into the game. There were other issues going on and I almost withdrew and flew home. And what hap- pened was, on the Friday when I was thinking, “This is going to be an embarrassment”, I sat back and said, “Look, just go back out in the morning, hit some more balls and see how you feel”. And the next morning it was like windy as shit and it was raining and it was miserable, and I made myself go out there with a bag of golf balls and I stood in the rain and I hit balls. And I told myself, “You’re going to practice with feel, not trying to correct anything in your swing”. And just that change of mindset, being in the shitty elements, being on your own, going back to the bare bones of what is innate inside me, to the feel of the game of golf, all of a sudden I came out of that session going, “Holy shit, okay, I’ve got it!” And fortunately for me the weather that week stayed miserable, and I actually loved the way the golf course was set up, so all these positives were falling into place for me. Come Sunday, I finished the ninth hole with the lead, we were walking to the 10th tee and I could see three or four groups [banked up], and I go like, “Oh, shit!”, because you want to keep your momentum going. So, I was like, “Okay, now what do I do for the next 45 minutes?” Because at 53, I needed to keep walking and stay loose. I mean, I did hamstring stretches. I stretched everything from glutes to quads to lower back, as elegantly as you could do in front of thousands of people. But when I got up to hit my tee shot I was so stiff. I hooked my tee shot – and I never hook a golf ball – took bogey and that was the end of it.
MH: You moved to the US way back in 1981. Do you feel more American than Australian nowadays?
GN: No, I’m quintessential Australian. Numerous times I’ve been pressured by people in the US government, former leaders of this country, about getting a US passport – carrying two passports, right? And I have resisted. I have resisted because [while] I have allegiance to both countries, I’m an Australian before I am anything else. And for me to carry two citizenships... it would kind of break that allegiance. Now, where I eventually hang up my stirrups... it could be a different answer. If I decide to sell my business tomorrow and say, “Okay, I really love America and I’m going to stay here”, I’d probably go get a US passport and have both. But right now, I’m still of the belief that I’ll end up in Australia. You know, just work out of there. Just be home. Finally be home after all these years.
MH: How often do you come home? Would you get back once a year?
GN: Ah, see? I get back sometimes three to six times a year. I have flown to Australia just to have a dinner and turned around and come back the next day. I can tell you I’ll be in Australia in February to make a pretty impressive announcement about something that’s never been done before to raise money for the Movember Foundation. And I’m very proud of it. And I’m going to do it with four other Aussies. It’s going to be a pretty cool experience and every time I talk to somebody about it, they go, “Holy shit, really?”
MH: You once said, “In the US, they see a big car and they want to get a car like that. In Australia, they run a key down the side of it.” Is that a mentality you still perceive in Australians?
GN: I’ll put it to you this way: I hate prejudging people. With social media, it’s a lot easier today to put the record straight. But [in the past], especially in Australia, the headline would come out of one word that may have been said and [the story] is blown out of all proportion. I’m proud of what I’ve done for Australia and the game of golf, and yet you sit back and read some of the garbage that people write about you. If you want to know the facts and the truth about me, ask me. I’m not going to sugar-coat it. I’ve never sug- ar-coated anything in my life. My father told me very early on, “Greg, when someone asks you a question, tell them the truth.”
MH: In what way have you felt most misunderstood? Because we both know what’s been said about you over the years: that you’re ego-driven, money-driven, narcissistic. What’s hurt you the most?
GN: Look, I’m pretty sure people don’t understand my generosity – what I’m willing to do for people, no quid pro quo. I’m surprised and probably a little bit dismayed by the fact that [despite] all the experience and knowledge I have, whether it’s golf or business or building a brand, that you don’t get to be a mentor to some degree to some people. I think that really hit home for me when Andre Agassi, in his prime, reached out to me, because he was with Nike and wanted to start his own brand. And I thought that was pretty cool, but it was like, another sport. So, over the years you sit back and go, “Okay, I’ve tried. I’ve tried to reach out”. And even today when I see some of these guys – and I know they have their swing coaches and I know they have their coaches in general – but as someone [with] a really fine eye for the golf swing... Occasionally I’ll send out a text or two to players I really do like and respect, and you never hear anything back. It’s no different to sending Tiger that handwritten note, probably one of a dozen I’ve sent to him over the years. There’s no reciprocity.
MH: You’ve been married since 2010 to your third wife, Kirsten. Do you feel you’ve gotten better at marriage over the years?
GN: [Laughs] Sorry, how did you word the question?
MH: Do you feel you’ve gotten better at marriage over the years?
GN: That’s a great question that nobody’s ever, ever asked me. That’s why I had to ask you to say it again so I could collect my thoughts. When you break down what I’ve been through in life, it’s been an interesting journey. Because in the beginning [with first wife, Laura], to be successful you have to be extremely selfish. And being extremely selfish leads to a lot of other dynamics that eventual- ly come into play. You know, I travelled a lot. I was gone 40 weeks a year. And when I came home I was focused on my golf. I hit golf balls for 8-10 hours a day. So even though you’re trying to manage your private life your best way, it’s very difficult to park your professional career to the side. There are things that as you grow up you don’t know about. Nobody’s really advised you and you’re doing it by osmosis, right? You’re just spinning out the shit and trying to keep the good stuff in the glass. So, you know, things start eroding away that you don’t realise at the time. And then, look, my second one [to tennis great Chris Evert, in 2008], I don’t know if you want to call that a rebound deal or not, but I still speak to Chrissie. We go back and forth [with texts] when she’s commentating on tournaments and stuff like that. That was a situation where two strong personalities. . . you know, maybe we were better being friends than being married. And finally, I’m away from golf, I’m focusing on my business, and all of a sudden, somebody else comes along who’s been in that same position in a lot of ways from being a successful interior designer on a global basis, who understands the components of business because her mother was an extremely successful businesswoman and she instilled certain values into Kirsten. Those values have rubbed off to some degree because we have conversations about them. So, it’s all just a learning curve.
MH: And it goes on...
GN: And it goes on. Exactly right. You’ve got to live in the moment. Whatever the moment presents you, you’ve got to live in the moment. And, you know, seize the moment, too.
MH: Reading the biography of you by Lauren St John, there’s a sense your relationship with your father wasn’t always smooth, that he didn’t exude confidence in your capacity to achieve the things you’d set your sights on. How did your relationship with your father affect the way you fathered your own children?
GN: My father never had belief in the [idea] that I could be a professional golfer. Whatever that was, whether it was a club professional at Royal Queensland Golf Club, selling golf tees and golf balls for the rest of my life, or whether it was being a touring pro, being successful on the global stage playing tournament golf, I knew my father had doubt in my ability. So that drove me even harder, made me more determined, not to prove him wrong but to prove myself right. And everything I’ve done in life, quite honestly, I’ve done on my own. So, over the decades, my father and I have gone from fairly, you know, not open, free-flowing, caring conversations to now, very open, free-flowing conversations about business. My father’s very, very intelligent. Even at 93 he’s extremely mentally sharp. Now you can have a conversation with him and I go, “Fuck, I wish I had that 40 years ago!” You know? Because when you see people like Tiger Woods’ dad, like Jack Nicklaus’ dad, like you see Roger Federer’s dad sitting in the box, you see all these fathers who’ve been beside their daughter or son as they’ve evolved... you know, I look back and go, “Holy shit, I missed all that with my father”. And it’s so sad. It’s so sad. My father was a product of his parents, so I didn’t want my kids to be a product of my father. So, I actually made a very conscious effort to instil certain values in my kids. Now, both my kids are different, right? My daughter [Morgan-Leigh] is totally different to my son. My daughter has probably got the same DNA as I have: she’s a go-getter; she works extremely hard. My son [Greg Jr], I would say he’s blessed in a lot of ways because he has a photographic memory, so at school he didn’t have to study and he just walked right through like it was, “Okay, so what’s so hard about all this?” I think there are times when you’ve got to feel the adversity of life to really respect and appreciate the ecstasy of life, or the enjoyment of succeeding in something that you never even thought you could do.
MH: How did the late Kerry Packer help mould you into the man you became?
GN: Kerry would talk to me about having a little bit more personality, a little bit more flair – even though I had those things. He was the one who said, “Hey, Greg, people are going to turn on their TV because you’re a little different, not just because you can hit a golf ball great”. He would give me analogies from past cricketers. I can remember him saying, “Look, you don’t want to be like Bill Lawry. You want to have a little bit of flair like Dennis Lillee”. It’s about how you project yourself, how you position yourself with pride and confidence. You know, Kerry was never intimidated by anybody. But everybody was intimidated by Kerry. And that helps you a lot.
MH: It seems that confidence has been your secret since the word go. Would you agree you’re someone who knows exactly what you want and harbours no doubts that you have everything needed to achieve it?
GN: A hundred per cent. And confidence – it’s an interesting word, right? Because confi- dence can have people believe that you’re an egomaniac, that you think you can do anything. But if my team feels like I am confident with where I’m taking the company, they’re going to go with me. Whereas if I didn’t instil confidence in them, if I walked around my office going, “Oh, Jesus, everything sucks” and “Why did this happen?” and “Nobody’s doing the right thing”... you know, the attitude and atmosphere in my office would be the same. I guarantee there’s not a CEO or entrepreneur in this world, or a player in this world in any sport, who doesn’t exude confidence in their ability to do what they need to do. You’re not going to get far without it, I can tell you that.