Australian Greg Norman dominated the golf world for much of the 1980s and early 1990s with his aggressive game and charismatic demeanor. Labeled the “Great White Shark” by a newspaper columnist during the 1981 Masters, he is one of the most recognizable sports figures whose professional career produced 86 international victories, including two British Opens.
He topped the World Ranking for a total of six years and he represented his country in three Presidents Cups. For his countless accomplishments, Norman garnered the highest percentage of votes of anyone who has been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame via the PGA TOUR Ballot, with 82 percent.
Norman was born in Mt. Isa, Queensland, Australia, Feb. 10, 1955. At 15, he tagged along with his mother, Toini, to Virginia G.C. where she was club champion. He quickly grew attached to the game. Norman’s first taste of golf instruction came from Jack Nicklaus’ book, Golf My Way. After turning pro in 1976, Norman’s highflying lifestyle today is a far cry from his humble beginning as a $28-a-week assistant at Royal Queensland.
Norman won 20 times on the PGA Tour and was the first to surpass $10 million in career earnings. He won three Arnold Palmer Awards as the tour’s leading money winner (1986, 1990 and 1995) and three Vardon Trophies (1988, 1989 and 1994). He was PGA TOUR Player of the Year in 1995. But despite his numerous wins, Norman is frequently remembered for his historic losses. He is the only player to have lost all four majors in playoffs.
"Sometimes I think I have an almost perverse love of being down, even being defeated, because I know it will spur me on to greater things."
Norman’s 1986 season most accurately captures his exploits and crushing defeats. He led going into the final round of all four majors. On Sunday at the Masters, he hit an errant approach at 18 and couldn’t save par to lose to then 46-year-old Nicklaus, who closed with a memorable six-under-par 30 on the back nine.
At the U.S. Open Norman ballooned to a closing 78, but that paled when he had victory snatched from his grasp at the PGA Championship when Bob Tway holed an improbable bunker shot at the last hole to beat the Shark by a stroke.
Norman won only the British Open in ’86 when he authored a second-round 63 in windy conditions at Turnberry to open a five-shot advantage and cruise to an eventual two-stroke victory. The ovation he received as he walked to the 72nd green remains one of golf’s most memorable scenes.
Despite losing three of the four majors in excruciating fashion, Norman’s 1986 campaign ranks among the all-time best. He won 10 times worldwide and led both the U.S. and Australasian money lists.
Greg Norman’s lone career albatross came at the 1990 Australian Open.
Norman’s career is littered with many other near misses. He has been cruelly denied major tournament success perhaps more than any other player in history. While Norman scheduled his season around the majors, the Masters was his true goal. When he first played at Augusta in 1981, he tied for fourth and seemed destined to be fitted for a green jacket soon after. But after losing to Nicklaus in 1986, the next year was more excruciating, losing to Larry Mize on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff when Mize chipped in from an impossible spot to the right of the 11th green.
In 1996, Norman suffered a historic collapse in the final round at Augusta when, leading by six strokes, he skied to a 78 and lost to Nick Faldo, who rallied with a flawless 67.
Norman could have been defeated by his heartbreaking losses, but he wasn’t. In his instructional book, Shark Attack, Norman wrote, “Sometimes I think I have an almost perverse love of being down, even being defeated, because I know it will spur me on to greater things.”
At the 1993 British Open, Norman did add to his major tournament victories when he fired a remarkable final-round 64 to beat Faldo by two strokes at Royal St. George’s.
Through his historic losses and gallant victories, Norman played the game with an intensity second to none.