Pga Shark Alert: Greg Norman Is Still Hungry—and Circling

We are on I-95, somewhere between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Greg Norman, on his way to price a new Ferrari, is driving hard. He passes a couple of cars on the right, drifts back into the fast lane and…damn! He’s trapped behind an old lady in a Plymouth Reliant.

“Oh God,” he bellows, “she’s on cruise control!”

Cruise control is Norman’s pet hate. His preferred style is foot-to-the-floor-board, and not only on interstates. Fellow travelers on the PGA Tour still have that run-over feeling from last year, when the Great White Shark (as the towheaded, 32-year-old Aussie is known) littered the fairways with hit-and-run also-rans. He won 10 tournaments worldwide, including the revered British Open, and he was the U.S. tour’s top money winner, with a record $653,296 in earnings. Golf Digest proclaimed him “the game’s first new superstar of the decade,” and then, just to make sure nobody missed the point, designated 1986 “The Year of the Shark.”

But is the Shark satisfied? Hardly. In fact, with the Masters in Augusta, Ga. coming up this week, he has the look of a fish with a mission. “Of course, I’m getting my game ready for the Masters,” he says. “I think the Grand Slam is really feasible. And I believe I can do it.” Norman puts a slick move on the little old lady and leaves her to do her cruising in the rearview mirror.

Most pros consider the Grand Slam—winning the Masters, the PGA, the U.S. Open and the British Open in the same year—about as attainable as the Holy Grail. No one has ever done it (Bobby Jones’s fabled 1930 Slam included the U.S. and British amateur championships), but last year Norman came close enough for a whiff of the roses. He not only won the British Open at Turnberry, Scotland, but also led each of the three other tournaments going into the final round. He lost the Masters, the PGA and the U.S. Open by a total of only nine strokes. Some critics accused him of “choking,” but it’s probably more accurate to say the Shark bit off a little more than he could gulp down. At least for now. Listen to what Jack Nicklaus had to say after beating Norman by a stroke in last year’s Masters. “Greg is still young,” said the Bear of the Shark. “He’s doing a lot of the same things [i.e., playing too aggressively] that happened to Tom Watson, to me, to all of us. The guy is too confident, too good not to learn from these things.”

Too good. Too confident. Nicklaus went right to the heart of it. Boundless self-belief is as much a part of Norman’s game as his silken putting or his rocket like drives. Because he is one of the longest hitters on the tour, capable of whacking the ball nearly 350 yards off the tee, Norman is often compared to Nicklaus in his prime. But his style is reminiscent, too, of another golden oldie—Arnold Palmer. “There’s no lay up in the guy,” sportscasters like to say, which is just another way of saying that Norman charges like Arnie, taking electrifying chances instead of playing the safe shots.

Norman also has a Palmer-like rapport with the fans. Right out there in the open, with the sun and the pressure beaming down as one, he laughs, smiles, banters with the gallery. He actually seems to enjoy what he’s doing, whereas most pros, battling both their nerves and the course, look about as happy as Edvard Munch’s famous shrieker.

“Yeah, it’s a cruel game,” says Norman. “One bad shot can ruin a round.” Norman backs off the accelerator as his radar detector starts to whine. “But when you’re in contention, the rest of the world doesn’t even exist. It’s just the little white ball and the flag. Your heart races. Your mind races. I love it.” The son of a Brisbane mining engineer, Norman began his love affair with the game at 16, when he began caddying for his mom. “I was into soccer, rugby, waterskiing, surfing,” he says, but when he fell for golf he fell hard. During class at Aspley High School, he would hide a copy of Jack Nicklaus’ Golf My Way in his fat physics text and would study that book like the cabala. Norman turned pro three years after high school and supplemented his meager salary by playing $100 Nassaus, high-stakes mano à mano shootouts. Norman figures that’s where he got his sangfroid. “I guess you learn to play under pressure,” he says, “when you’ve got to sink a putt for $800 that you don’t have.”

The Shark used the money he took from those poor fish Down Under to launch himself on the international circuit, playing in the Far East, Europe and finally America. It was in June of 1979, enroute from Detroit to New York, that he met a flight attendant named Laura Andrassy, from Plainfield, N.J. She was cute, but jaded. “I’d done charter flights with football and basketball players,” she says. “Crude. Very crude. They thought women just went wild over them.” Laura wasn’t impressed that Greg was an athlete, but she was impressed that he came on like a gentleman. Charming accent. Impeccable manners. Easy smile. Still he was a gentleman with an agenda. Politely—very politely—he asked her that night if she’d like to go with him to the British Open. “I didn’t, of course,” says Laura. “But I think we knew it was right, then and there.” So Greg persisted. Kept calling. “It was chemistry,” he explains. They were married in 1981 and now have two children, Morgan Leigh, 4, and Gregory, 18 months. They have just moved into an airy, eight-room house right on the beach in Lost Tree, one of the tonier sections of Palm Beach, about a three-iron away from his boyhood idol, and now close friend, Jack Nicklaus.

Aside from golf and family, Norman’s passion is for flash on the highway. “When I drive,” he says, “I like to feel my adrenalin flow. Just like when I play golf.” To get his heart pumping, Norman owns a $80,000 red Ferrari, a $125,000 Aston Martin, a $117,000 Rolls and, for mundane occasions, a Jeep Wagoneer. A $121,000 Testarossa is on order, and today he is headed down to Fort Lauderdale to shop for yet another Ferrari. (“I keep telling my wife the cars are good investments,” he says.) Morgan Leigh, in the back seat, watches the traffic whiz past. “Daddy,” she says, “there’s a lot of people behind us.” The Shark, at the wheel, flashes the pearly whites of a man who has grown accustomed to being out front. “And that,” he says, “is exactly where we’re going to keep them.”

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