1997 Canadian Skins Game
Nicklaus North Golf Course
Whistler, BC, Canada

Norman Prevails in Skins Playoff

Greg Norman captured the Canadian Skins Game yesterday at Nicklaus North Golf Course, sinking an 8-foot birdie putt on a playoff hole to defeat the rest of his fabulous foursome.

The always charismatic Australian won an eight-hole carry over worth $190,000 with his final putt. Combined with a $40,000 skin at the 10th and $45,000 for three skins Saturday, Norman left with $275,000 after his Sunday sweep. But the victory was more important.

“Everybody talks about the money, but in all honesty, you love to play because you love to make those shots,” Norman said. “We love the competition.”

Norman had plenty of it. Fred Couples might have been blanked yesterday, but he will show up at Inglewood Golf Club today for his own invitational with $50,000 that he earned with three skins on Saturday.

In spite of being at least 15 years older than the others, Jack Nicklaus, 57, won $35,000, his entire total also being amassed on the first nine holes of the course he designed at the base of the British Columbia coastal range.

But while the Great White Shark was swirling like the winds here, Nick Faldo was last seen going down the drain, heading home with nothing in his pocket but a tee and ball marker.

Norman hit it to 8 feet on the 18th, the first playoff hole, from a fairway bunker 191 yards away with a 5-iron. That was his best shot of the day, but it wasn’t the highlight of the weekend.

“My little boy (11-year-old Greg Jr.) caught his first salmon, about 17 pounds,” said Norman, who stayed at Sonora Lodge and went fishing out of Campbell River on Vancouver Island.

After the first nine holes on Saturday, Couples, the defending champion in this event, led with $50,000 in earnings after shooting a 5-under 31 and taking three skins.

“It’s all luck, making the right shot at the right time,” Couples said Saturday. Like Faldo and Nicklaus, he had his problems yesterday, the wrong shots popping up at inopportune times.

For TSN’s telecast across Canada, the participants were hooked up with microphones, which made the format even more interesting. You could hear every one of their disgusted remarks and wisecracks.

On No. 11, Nicklaus sized up his shot from a fairway bunker, needing part of the gallery to move.

“I don’t want to hurt anybody,” he said. “Plus you’ll stop the golf ball.”

At the par-3 12th, someone actually did. Norman’s Maxfli grazed a spectator’s forehead, causing bleeding but not hospitalization. Norman asked for his address so he could drop the man a note later.

On the 12th green, a cellular phone rang, disturbing Norman.

“If that’s for me, can you tell ’em I’m busy,” Norman said, drawing chuckles.

At 13, as the skins began to pile up, Couples had a tap-in left for a winning birdie. But Nicklaus looked at a 6-footer to tie.

“What’s it worth to you Freddie?” Nicklaus asked.

“I’ll split it with you,” Couples replied before adding: “Sixty-five thousand is what it’s worth to me.”

Nicklaus sank the putt and laughed as he put an arm around Couples.

“I said I’d split it with you,” Couples said in a playful reprimand.

“You did?” Nicklaus said, feigning shock. “I didn’t hear you.”

At 16, with the pot up to $140,000, emotions increased, too.

“What are you trying to do here?” Norman asked a photographer whose shutter clicked, breaking the silence surrounding the green.

“It misfired,” Norman was told.

“I’ve never heard of a camera misfiring,” Norman said. Then he stroked his putt and missed, walking away muttering “Camera misfiring.”

On the par-3 213-yard 17th, fans around the green that juts onto the shore of Green Lake had a strange reaction. They cheered when Couples’ tee shot found the sand.

“What are they cheering for?” Nicklaus said. “Did they move the flag into the bunker?”

Nicklaus had a red, blue and orange sailboat in the background of his putting line and jokingly asked the skipper to move. Perhaps it was the motion that bothered him; it could not have been the sail because Nicklaus is color blind.

By the time the foursome got to the 18th, the total was $190,000, enough to even unnerve players of this caliber. Nicklaus left his putt from the fringe three feet short and coughed into his mike, alerting viewers that the Golden Bear had indeed choked.

When Nicklaus marked his ball, he did it with one of three pennies that he always carries in his pocket for a round. He has three just in case he loses one and somebody else needs to borrow another. He always marks his ball with tails up.

Faldo had his head down. He pulled an 8-foot birdie putt at 18 that would have ended his drought and the Skins Game. Instead, they headed back to the 18th tee for the playoff.