Alex Massie

Shark Attack

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American golf writers are a rum bunch. Here, for instance, is Damon Hack, late of the New York Times and currently berthed at Sports Illustrated:

Norman could be on the verge of turning the sports world upside down and righting a dozen wrongs from his career. A Norman win would arguably top Tiger Woods's U.S. Open triumph from a month ago, and it might even surpass Jack Nicklaus's 1986 Masters triumph at age 46. Nicklaus hadn't won a major in six years when he shot 30 in the gloaming on the back nine at Augusta National and won his 18th professional major title. Norman, seven years older than Nicklaus was then, hasn't won a major in 15 years.

Arguably better than Tiger at Torrey Pines? This is madness: there's no comparison. Surpass Nicklaus in 1986? Why, yes it would. Nicklaus's storming back nine at Augusta (to beat, inter alia, Norman) was startling but it has nothing on this. As for Woods? Yes, he was injured but World's Greatest Golfer Wins Tournament He Was Favourite to Win doesn't seem quite as extraordinary as Norman's Second Coming.

Then again, American golf writers can't shake the suspicion that Norman is a choker. And there's no greater insult than that, in their eyes. It's un-manly to choke. Hence the determination to remember Norman for his loss at Augusta in 1996. Yes, he shot a 78 that day and yes it was a startling collapse. But there should be some credit apportioned to Nick Faldo who went round in 67 that day.

Anyway, cataloguing Norman's failures is an exercise of questionable utility: it's not his fault that Larry Mize chipped in from 40 yards or that Bob Tway holed a bunker shot at the 72nd hole to snatch  USPGA title away from Norman. Those titles were pilfered from him through little fault of his. There's only so much you can control yourself.

In any case, in the last 30 years only five players have won the greatest major of them all more than once. They are Tom Watson, Severiano Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods and, yes, Greg Norman. Perhaps it is not a complete coincidence they are the five best golfers since 1980. (Granted, all this may need to be looked at again if Padraig Harrington is crowned Champion Golfer of the year again this afternoon, but still...)

But, look: if Norman loses today it does not "reinforce" the notion that he's a choker. This is a glorious one-off that doesn't have much bearing on anything that has happened before. It's something that just needs to be enjoyed for what it is and nothing more or less than that. Or, to put it another way, it isn't going to be the end of Greg Norman's world if he loses today. But what he has done is remind us what a wonderful golfer he was. That's enough.

PS: Please, let's also hear nothing more of this American nonsense about putting an "asterisk" next to this year's winner on the grounds that Tiger Woods ain't competing. In any case, I'm far form convinced that a fully-fit Tiger would be in the final group today. Of course hes the greatest golfer of our time, but that's not to say that he's necessarily the greatest bad weather golfer of the moment.

UPDATE: Commenter Tommy says "but Norman is a choker". Well, sure, he didn't win as many majors as his talent warranted. Five or six would have been a better return. But I suppose I prefer to remember people for what they did, rather than for what they didn't. Equally, I dislike the brash, aggressive tinge to some current golf journalism that writes off players as "failures" and "chokers" simply because they haven't achieved everything they might have. There's an unpleasant boorishness to some of it that comes close to bullying. (Yes, rick Reilly, you're one of the prime offenders.) You know, the sort of stuff along the lines of, "So and So has done nothing for me..." as though that were the player's primary responsibility?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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