Ron Green, Jr.: No Reservations With Greg Norman
In a different life, Greg Norman was the best golfer in the world. Nowadays, Norman is the head of a thriving empire and isn't afraid to speak his mind. The Shark sits down with Global Golf Post's Ron Green, Jr. for this week's edition of No Reservations.
It's late morning on an October Saturday in the Bahamas and Greg Norman has just finished something he rarely does - playing golf.
Norman didn't play a full 18 holes - he went nine holes with a group of sweepstakes winners at his gorgeous Emerald Bay golf course at Sandals Resort then played a handful of holes with other guests who had been invited to join hum during his two-day working visit in this sun-splashed Caribbean getaway.
In a different life, Norman was the best golfer in the world - not for a few weeks but for years. He was ranked No. 1 for 331 weeks, more than three times as long as any player other than Tiger Woods. But that ended two decades ago and only occasionally does the feeling come back.
It happened this morning. For 15 minutes just after 7 a.m., Norman was alone on the practice tee, hitting yellow range balls into the morning air, a precious piece of solitude for a man who will travel 120,000 miles in the fourth quarter of this year.
"Even though I only had 15 minutes to myself, it felt like two hours," Norman says, describing how he felt the comfortable rhythm of his golf swing retuen.
"But it's all gone now."
Norman smiles as he talks.
He count the morning as his eighth round this year and doesn't foresee playing any more golf in 2015.
Norman, who will turn 61 in February, is having a brunch of vegetable quiche, grilled chicken and vegetables. He's wearing navy shorts and a white shirt with his famous Shark logo on the chest.
His once white-blond hair is shorter than it was when it flowed out from beneath the Panama-style hats he wore but he still looks ready for a triathlon.
His shoulders are still wide, he has the narrow waist of a 20-year-old and he has a seemingly endless amount of energy.
Recently, he flew to Kurdistan to do a high-altitude hike, going a week without a shower in a remote corner of the world. "Attack life" is his mantra.
Norman knew 15 years ago it was time to put tournament golf away, practically locking his competitive career in a time capsule. He had "zero desire" to play senior golf and so he didn't. In winning 20 PGA Tour events and 14 European Tour events, Norman won two Opne Championships and finished second eight times in major championships.
Norman never won The Masters but he made The Masters better by being there. He was magnetic on the course, sending a pulse of energy through the place when he was in contention and perhaps no player without a green jacket is as much a part of the Masters' story as Norman remains.
During a question-answer session with guests the previous evening, Norman was asked if he were given on mulligan in his career, where would he take it.
"I'd hit a 5-iron on 18 at Augusta in '86," Norman answered, referencing the flared 4-iron into the 72nd green that led to a bogey that left him one stroke behind Jack Nicklaus in the 1986 Masters.
He didn't sound bitter or disappointed but like a man giving a history lesson.
His own history.
Norman's impact on the game can't be measured by trophies and money won. He is the rare person who transcended the game, creating a name, a lifestyle and a brand that reached beyond golf. His image has stared down from billboards around the world and Norman's second career - built around Great White Shark Enterprises - may exceed his first.
For a man in perpetual motion, Norman has little time for living in the past. Norman's business empire - which stretches from wine to course design to asset-based debt lending - consumes him the way golf once did. He taught himself business, picking the brains of men such as Jack Welch and Roger Penske along the way, but almost always relying on his instinct.
"At the end of the day, it's equally satisfying but with golf I was just passing through. I has a finite time. Mine was from the mid-'80s to the mid-90's. There's a 15-year cycle, which is what happens in golf," Norman says.
"In business, it's a totally different deal. It takes you 15 years to develop something that is a great revenue model and has sustainability."
When Norman talks about his business model, he talks about how he wants his companies to prosper after he's gone, passing what he calls his "mortality test."
On the golf course, Norman - considered by many to be the best driver of the ball in history - played fearlessly. He's more conservative as a businessman.
"In business, I've always been the patient money, just sit back and wait," Norman says.
"Another way of putting it is I'd rather be a mile wide and an inch deep than a mile deep and an inch wide. You can create a massive platform. The more I build that platform with stability and strength underneath, you can do even more growing up, up, up. If you have one silo you can't go anywhere."
Over the next four to six years, Norman says he hopes to streamline his enterprise to the point it will thrive without him in the future, He calls it being multigenerational. Other names, Norman says, will go on tournament trophies but he can leave a lasting imprint on his businesses.
Like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus before him, Norman built a brand from his success in golf. Tiger Woods took it his own way and now there are others, intent on creating their own enterprise in and out of the game.
Norman says he often gets calls from players asking him for advice on building their own empires. Never use your initials as your logo, Norman tells them. Find something, an umbrella, a jump man or a shark, something that pops. And do it yourself.
"They say how did you do it and I say it takes about 15 years to know where you want to go, where you want to commit yourself, how you want to commit resources and the people around you," Norman says. "And you can't do it with a management company because management companies are never going to invest equity in somebody else's brand.
"I wasn't educated. I educated myself. They just expect if they slap their brand or logo on things pixie dust is going to go in the air and they're going to have a multigenerational brand. It never works that way."
When Norman looks at today's generation of golf stars, he's impressed by fellow Australian Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. In them, he sees the cold-blooded streak that separates the most successful players, the way it did Nicklaus and Trevino and Woods.
But Norman doesn't see it in many current players. He admits he can only go by what he dealt with in his prime when he'd show up at a tournament and see Seve Ballesteros or Nick Faldo on the practice tee. The desire to beat each other, Norman says, was palpable.
"You knew when you went to the driving range," Norman says. "If someone had beaten me the week before or I'd beaten somebody the week before I'd go and put my golf bag right behind them and hot golf balls right at the back of their heels.
"I'd get my driver out and I'd hit the first three so hard the sound of it would be different. It was a little gamesmanship because that happened to me with the generation before me, the Trevinos and those guys. The driving range is where you actually set the ground rules.
"I learned from them. It's sport. You have to try to get an advantage. Even walking in the locker room, I learned very early on when you're playing well, you walked in with your head up, chin out, looking straight ahead, go to your locker put your shoes on, get out of there. No banter. No bullshit, I'm here to play today.
"It's amazing how much that would resonate to the other players.
"Tiger was the essence of that but we all had it. To get to the top you had to have that little 'FU' in you, right? That's where it saddens me when you see so many talented players, way more talented than I ever was, that don't have that kill. They don't have that desire. Jason Day does. Jordan Spieth does. Rory does. I think he still does. I think he still has it."
Norman's most direct connection to the professional game today is through his work as analyst on Fox Sports' telecasts. It completes a circle in Norman's mind, having played in front of the cameras before owning a television production company, giving him a window into how the business operates. Now, he sits with announcer Joe Buck at USGA championships and offers his opinions and insights.
It didn't start well. Fox Sports made its major championship debut in June with the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and the television coverage became a significant part of the tournament narrative. A perfect storm of circumstances put Norman and the Fox Sports team at a disadvantage and they didn't help themselves.
There was a natural skepticism among many golf fans when Fox took over the U.S Open, the irony being that viewers who complained for years about Johnny Miller's commentary suddenly missed him. Viewers were afraid Fox wouldn't give the U.S. Open the proper treatment before seeing the first signals beamed from Chambers Bay.
Then there was the golf course, which shattered the traditional U.S. Open model of old, tree-lined courses with thick rough. Chambers Bay was a new age, wild and rolling and provocative. Traditionalists cringed but not Norman.
"I was never really a big fan of the setup of the U.S. Opens. It was the first time I actually wanted to play a U.S. Open because it suited my eye," he says.
When Chambers Bay's fescue fairways turned a baked-out shade of brown, it became difficult for cameramen to follow shots and for views to see what was happening. The putting surfaces were another story, some of them looking like scruffy greens at poorly maintained municipal courses, victims of an attempt to squeeze too much public play on Chambers Bay before the event.
"They made a decision to put a lot of rounds on to try and make money and at the end of they spent more money trying to brig them back. It was a negative endgame for them," Norman says.
Thankfully, Spieth, Day and Dustin Johnson wrote a spellbinding final chapter but Fox Sports' coverage took a beating.
"I could see what was going to happen," Norman says. "I knew what was going to happen because we were hiring talent - I say we and mean the Fox team that was being put together - and we knew people were available at other networks. When you take some of their people you can hear crap going on on behind the scenes about what people are saying.
"I still have contacts in those departments ans it really was childish. Just because you lose a business transaction, don't act like a kid behind the scenes."
Norman says Fox Sports heard "speculation that NBC was paying people to tweet negative comments any time they saw something. If that's true, it's pretty tacky. But if you go through and look at tweet threads that were coming at you that week and a few days afterward you could see how it was all taking place.
"At the end of the day, it's like terrorism. You only have to fail once and you've failed 100 percent of the time.
"There were inevitably screwups. Most of the time it was in the technical department and that comes across the screen. I see it from many different fronts but the last one Joe Buck and I did - the U.S. Amateur - was far better than the first one we did."
It's noon on Saturday now and Norman is headed home to his South Florida compound to do nothing for a couple of days. He made a vow to his family that would try not to be away on weekends any more and he's bent the rules on this trip.
"We should all be home on a Saturday," Norman says.
In the summer, Norman spends weeks at his Colorado ranch, running a bulldozer or grading miles of road. He loves doing ranch work and before his television gig began, Norman would spend 10 straight weeks living the mountain life.
A weekend at home is the simple life for Greg Norman.
"Tomorrow morning I'll get up and probably play a couple of hours of tennis, I'll mess around with the kids, just tinker around the house. I used to in my golf room and I'd spend hours in there making golf clubs. It used to be something I just loved," Norman says.
"I hit the gym around 4 every day, from 4 to 6, and then it's time for a cocktail."
He puts on his sunglasses and heads out into the Bahamian sunshine for the short flight home. A warm breeze rustles the palm trees.
Does he ever slow down?
"I wish I could," Norman says, "but there's only one of me."