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Holding On
Seth Davis
April 23, 2001
Despite a major disaster, Greg Norman isn't ready to call it a career
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April 23, 2001

Holding On

Despite a major disaster, Greg Norman isn't ready to call it a career

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Greg Norman doesn't consider himself a wine connoisseur, but he does believe he has good taste. So before launching a line of wines in August 1999, he invited his partner, Mildara Blass Limited, a 113-year-old Australian vintner, to bring its experts to his home in Hobe Sound, Fla., where Norman keeps upward of 2,100 bottles in his cellar. He also participated in several tastings and was granted the final say over which wines would carry his name. The ensuing venture, Greg Norman Estates, has been a huge success, reportedly grossing more than $17 million wholesale in its first year. Norman expects the company to double that in year two. "Paul Fireman [the CEO of Reebok] told me it's the best case study of branding he has ever seen," Norman says. "The quality of the wine is what has sold it more than anything else."

While Norman continues to toast the good life in the business world, life between the ropes has not been as sweet. Unlike fine wine, golfers don't improve with age, and the 46-year-old Norman hasn't won a Tour event in almost four years, the longest dry spell in his 18-year Tour career. Norman has missed the cut in six of the last nine majors, including this year's Masters, in which he shot an 82 in the second round—his worst score in his 21 years at Augusta National. Norman has dropped to 55th in the World Ranking. If he remains below 50th, he won't get an automatic exemption for the U.S. Open or for next year's Masters. "It's hard to think you'll never get another chance," he said after this year's Masters disaster. "It's sad. This place may have finally done me in."

Yet if Shark watchers were looking for signs that Norman is ready to throw in the great white towel, few were to be found last week on Hilton Head Island, S.C., where he shot a four-under 280 to finish 38th in the WorldCom Classic at Harbour Town Golf Links, seven strokes behind winner Jos� Coceres. While Norman did not exhibit the power that defined his game in the mid-'80s—he ranked 44th in driving distance (268 yards) for the tournament—he did exude a grinder's intensity. After shooting an even-par 71 last Friday, Norman got a practice-range tip from Vijay Singh on the position of his hands at the top of his backswing, and then spent 2� hours whacking balls under a baking sun. The only time Norman stopped was when he warily watched an eight-foot alligator climb out of the water and lie down about 40 feet away.

Afterward, in his rented one-bedroom condo overlooking the Harbour Town marina, Norman bristled at the suggestion that his days as a contender are behind him, and his face flushed at the mention of the Masters. "I'm getting sick and tired of everybody asking me about Augusta," he said. "Of course I was frustrated—everyone gets that way after missing a cut at a major—but I wouldn't be out here hitting balls for 2� hours at the end of a day if I didn't think I could be competitive again. It's as simple as that."

To be fair, Norman's struggles in the past few years resulted largely from injuries. Chronic tendinitis in his left shoulder forced him to undergo surgery in April 1998, and that year he played only three events. After going 17 over to miss the cut at last year's U.S. Open, Norman had surgery on his right hip to repair a torn labrum that had been bothering him for several years. He was out for six weeks.

By his own admission, however, Norman's recent troubles have had nothing to do with his physical condition. Last week he proclaimed himself "totally pain free" and said his range of motion has not been affected by the surgeries. "Everybody wants to think there's something physically wrong with me, but there isn't," he said. Norman tied for fourth at the Bay Hill Invitational in March—his second top four finish since last August, when he returned from the hip surgery—and he believes similar successes await if he puts in the time. "Right now I'd give my game a four or five out of 10," he says, "but that's mostly from a lack of playing [in tournaments]."

Even if his body holds up, Norman must decide how devoutly he wants to dedicate himself to golf at a stage of his life when wins will be hard to come by no matter how many hours he spends on the range. "Take any 25-year-old out here, and I guarantee you Greg can match up with him from a fitness standpoint," says 44-year-old Nick Price, one of Norman's closest friends on Tour. "The question for most of us when we get into our 40s is, Are you prepared to put in all the work but only contend about 25 percent of the time?"

Price's advice to Norman is to "play golf and enjoy it, and to hell with what anyone else thinks." But the Shark's not taking that bait. "I'm a realist," he says. "I don't want to play just to play. If I can't do what I think I'm capable of doing, I'll take my competitive juices somewhere else."

That somewhere else is the business world. In the last eight years Norman has built his Great White Shark Enterprises into an international conglomerate that includes, in addition to the wine business, a clothing line, a turf company, a golf-events production company and, most recently, a yacht dealership. Great White Shark Enterprises' reported value of $142 million dwarfs the $13.3 million Norman has earned playing golf, and running a company has provided him with a surprisingly satisfying outlet for those competitive juices. "The difference between my business and my golf is that my business is private," he says. "I love that aspect of it because my life isn't an open book. That's a wonderful feeling.

"Success can be a nuisance," adds Norman. "You're under the microscope for so long, and you have to be careful about who your friends are. At the end of the day most of your best friends are the people who work for you."

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