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Norman Jr. follows in the shadow of a shark

11/4/2008 - Golf Greg Norman

AVENTURA, Fla. -- This past summer, Greg Norman Jr. decided it was time to check out the idea of following in his dad's footsteps in a little more detail.

But make no mistake about it -- the soon-to-be college graduate is neither attempting nor intending to become a close facsimile of his famous father.
His independent streak goes right down to preferring to be called Gregory rather than Greg.


Nevertheless, the 23-year-old Norman heir inherited more than his father's crystal clear blue eyes. While he's taken his own path, most notably by seeking the thrills and chills of extreme sports as a professional kiteboarder, it turns out he does possess some passion for golf.


In the last couple of years, he's been on his father's bag, paired with him at the Del Webb Father Son Golf Challenge (they tied for sixth place in 2007) and competed at some prestigious amateur events.


Monday, the younger Norman assumed the role of hero when he partnered with his dad in the 2008 ADT Golf Skills Challenge, a competition in which this year's theme was pairing pros with their caddies.


The other players were Rocco Mediate and caddie Matthew Achatz, Fred Couples and caddie Joe LaCava, and Peter Jacobsen and caddie Mike "Fluff" Cowan. The event featured eight skills challenges -- long drive, greenside bunker shot, putting, long iron play, a trouble shot, a fairway bunker shot, a chip shot and short iron play -- with the final discipline offering the serious prize money, $250,000 for the winning team.


Gregory Norman made an incredible short iron shot that landed only one inch from the hole -- Gregory declared the shot "lucky" -- which nearly was bested by Mediate, who lipped out. The Normans ended up winning three skills -- Greg Sr. holed on the pitch over hazard and putting -- to split $290,000.


"Playing with my dad is pretty neat, being on his turf and his territory," said Gregory, who heads back to his final weeks of classes before graduating from the University of Miami with a degree in management $145,000 richer. "We have fun out there. We laugh and have good times, and we don't think about where we're at even. It's just we're playing golf together."


A fan of surfing -- an endeavor better suited to his father's native Australia than the calm seas off of Florida, where Gregory grew up -- Gregory discovered kiteboarding and was instantly hooked.


"I wanted to do my own thing," he explained of what attracted him to the sport that fuses surfing, windsurfing and wakeboarding and has attracted about 13,000 participants in the U.S.


While many golfers have had offspring pick up clubs professionally -- Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Craig Stadler, Raymond Floyd, Jay Haas, to name just a few -- it's not surprising that Gregory would hesitate to chase his father, considering he is nicknamed The Shark and poses more than a life-sized shadow. The senior Norman, 53, with 83 career titles including two celebrated British Open victories, keeps to an abbreviated schedule on the PGA and Champions Tour these days -- his best 2008 PGA finish was a stunning tie for third at the British Open.


While kiteboarding has the younger Norman's attention, golf has never been out of the picture. So after three years as a professional rider, Gregory took a leave of absence from the extreme sport this summer, dropping all of his sponsors, to devote himself totally to golf. He caddied for his father at the British Open and played some key amateur events, missing the cut at the Western Amateur after coming in at 24-over-par, shooting a 164 for two rounds.


The time he spent focused on golf helped Gregory arrive at a quick determination -- kiteboarding is where he belongs.


"While I really love and enjoy golf, and enjoy the traveling around, I realize my sport is kiteboarding. That's where I have most of my talent."


Beaming proudly after his son's winning short iron showing, the elder Norman said he's not at all unhappy his son won't be pursuing golf full-time.


"You have to follow your heart and what you feel passionate about," Norman Sr. said. "I know he loves his golf but he has a short window for kiteboarding. I don't think [Gregory] ever had aspirations to be anything other than a good amateur player. So I'm fully supportive of whatever direction he chooses to take. He's found his niche."

That conclusion, however, in no way means Gregory plans to walk away from golf cold-turkey. Quite the opposite -- he's going to try to enjoy the best of both worlds.


"I'm not going to ever stop playing golf," Gregory said. "I realized how much I enjoy kiteboarding. But I'm going to keep improving my golf. I realize you can't be full-time in both, so the majority of my time will be in kiteboarding. But I'll play golf whenever I can. I'm going to play tournaments and keep trying to qualify for the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open, tournaments like those."


It wouldn't be surprising if the son's outlook on golf was influenced not only by his interest in a different athletic endeavor, but by the inevitable comparisons. His father is a tough act to follow.


"The positives [are] I have one of the world's best teachers teaching me and all the opportunity in the world to get the information I need," he said. "The negative, of course, is you always have that shadow hanging over you. It's like, 'Oh my God, this kid has to be really, really good' and you have to live up to that expectation every time you step on the course. That's one of the hardest things to do. Like all these other amateurs out there, they don't have that hanging over them. I played in the Western Amateur this year and the first round I had reporters and cameramen coming up to me the whole time and it completely destroyed my first round."


Kevin Stadler can relate to the additional pressures that come with mimicking a father who possesses a vast umbrage. Stadler's father, Craig, known as The Walrus because of his bushy mustache, has been an imposing figure in professional golf, winning 13 PGA tour events including the 1982 Masters.


At 28, Stadler the younger bears patriarchal resemblance in his stocky stature as well as his more streamlined mustache. Turning pro in 2002 -- the same year he graduated from his father's alma mater, the University of Southern California -- Stadler stands at 147th on the 2008 PGA Tour money list with one event remaining. His best 2008 result was tying for fourth at the Puerto Rico Open.


Finding the PGA Tour experience intractable, Stadler confesses he still hasn't formulated the perfect response to dealing with the grandiose expectations that come with being his father's son -- though none of the expectations come from the elder Stadler himself.


"The hardest and most annoying thing for me is that everybody for some reason likes to think I'm my dad," Stadler said. "I mean, people actually do call me Craig, or will tend to call me the Walrus, too, which I'm sure is just name recognition. That tends to wear me out a little bit."


Norman Jr. can't avoid being called Greg when he's around golf. But whether he plays enough to be mistakenly called the Shark, or nicknamed Shark Jr., is still to be determined.


One father who has watched his sons, Raymond Jr. and Robert, struggle to find their place in the world of golf is Raymond Floyd, who has won the Del Webb Father & Son Challenge with one or the other of his offspring four times. The elder Floyd, who won four majors, never discouraged his children from playing golf. But he always explained the pitfalls: some doors might open because they're Floyds, but they're also likely to be held to a higher, even unrealistic, standard.


Except for an occasional father-son outing, Raymond Jr. has moved on to have a successful career on Wall Street. But dad says Robert, 33, "still aspires to make it but has never made the big show."


"If you look back in history, any son following a highly successful father in no matter what [profession], it's very hard," said Floyd Sr., who recently redesigned the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort and Club course where the ADT Golf Skills Challenge took place. "Everybody is talking about your dad all the time. 'Your dad this, I remember when your dad did that.' It's almost like you don't have your own identity. It's very, very difficult for one's ego and I always wanted them to be aware."


Jacobsen, who went into the ADT Skill Challenge believing the Normans were the team to beat, has watched Gregory Norman grow up.


"It's always fun to watch the dynamics of a father-son because there's more pride I think from the father's side," Jacobsen said. "I think Greg takes pride in the fine young man Gregory's become and how he has such a great command of the game. And I think Gregory already thinks he's a better player than his dad because he's the kind of kid who believes in his talent and his skills."


The one given for now is that Greg Norman Jr. is just starting out. Whether he sticks with kiteboarding or eventually decides grass and golf clubs are safer and more lucrative than flying and twisting on a board on water, is something time will tell. But if he does turn to golf, many around the game believe he has the goods and personality to be successful.


Sandra Harwitt is a freelance golf writer for ESPN.com.