Commentary

Norman goes under the microscope

Originally Published: October 5, 2009
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- There is the turf company, and the golf design business, and the production company, and the clothing line. And don't forget the wine. Greg Norman is into that, too.

Australia's most famous golfer has plenty to keep him busy, so you wonder just how important this week's gig -- the captaincy of the International team in the Presidents Cup -- is to a man who has a conglomerate over which to preside.

As it turns out, this is a pretty big deal for Norman, who long ago supported the idea of the Presidents Cup to give players from outside the United States and Europe a chance to experience a Ryder Cup-style event. Norman played in the competition three times.

[+] EnlargeNorman
Chris Condon/Getty ImagesGreg Norman owns a 7-6-1 career Presidents Cup record and was a key cog in the International squad's lone victory in 1998. That year, Norman posted a 3-1-1 record, with his only loss coming against a 22-year-old Tiger Woods in a Sunday singles match.

"I was always hoping I'd be asked to be the captain for the Presidents Cup in Australia, and I was shocked that I was asked to be the captain at Harding Park," Norman said. "I was very open and honest with the commissioner [Tim Finchem]: 'You know what, if I don't have a chance to be the captain in Australia, then I'm going to turn this down. I'd rather defer.'

"We talked about that issue, because it would be a bad judgment call on my part to be the Presidents Cup captain here and not Australia. That would be a slap in the face to my country."

So that would lead you to believe this is not a one-off deal for Norman, because the Presidents Cup will be played in Australia in 2011. The two-time major winner will attempt to guide the International team to its first victory on U.S. soil in the eighth playing of the Presidents Cup that begins Thursday.

Norman might have a lot going on, but this is apparently a serious deal to him. He has spoken often of the sportsmanship involved and how he wants it to be a fun experience for his players, whether they win or lose. He has been gracious toward U.S. captain Fred Couples and even asked him to be his partner later this year at the Shark Shootout.

But Norman says he is not just showing up in some ceremonial role. He made the trip from his Florida home to San Francisco on Sunday with assistant captain Frank Nobilo, with plans to discuss strategy for the week.

"You don't wing it," Norman said. "I have a formula for the way I'm going to approach this and have for the last month and a half. I'm not going to divulge the formula. … I have my ideas, there's no question about it. I'm very methodical in my due diligence and analyzing of players and golf balls and styles.

"I [came] to Harding Park to play it deliberately for that reason, to understand the golf course, to marry up what I think are players playability-wise just to the golf course. I've done a lot of due diligence on it.

"It doesn't mean to say you're going to do the right thing, but at the end of the day, it's totally up to the players. You put them together, and you just hope they go out there and perform to the level they want."

As Norman, 54, walks the grounds at Harding Park leading the International team this week, he does so with a heavy heart and his right arm in a sling.

Last week, Norman announced in a statement that he had separated from his wife of 15 months, tennis legend Chris Evert. And that came just a few days after Norman had surgery on his right shoulder that will keep him from slapping too many high fives this week but should allow him to compete later this year at the Australian Open and the Shark Shootout, his 21-year-old offseason PGA Tour event.

A 20-time winner on the PGA Tour, including two British Open victories, Norman posted a 7-6-1 record in three Presidents Cup matches (1996, 1998, 2000), including a 3-1-1 mark the only time the International side won -- in 1998 in Australia.

The Americans seemingly were never in the competition, but there was still intrigue on the final day, as Norman was matched against then-22-year-old Tiger Woods in a Sunday singles match that went to the wire, with Woods winning 1-up.

"You're playing against probably -- I'd have to say he is the biggest icon that Australia has produced," Woods said. "Certainly there was a lot of people following our match, because one, they had already secured the Presidents Cup. They were, I don't know, 50,000 points ahead of us or something. It was a whitewash there. That was kind of the key matchup. [Captain] Jack [Nicklaus] asked, 'Would you like to go against Greg?' And I said, 'Hell, why not?' To go against Greg in his home country like that …"

Ernie Els, whose Presidents Cup experience dates to the inaugural competition in 1994 (he missed it in 2005 thanks to injury), expects the Norman he knew as a player this week as his captain.

"He was very intense when we played," Els said. "He was world No. 1 or close to world No. 1. He was very professional, and he embraced the team. He wasn't off on his own. He was in the team kind of talk and in the spirit of things, let me put it that way. He was that kind of a guy. And there's enough Aussies on this team so he can feel comfortable again."

One of those Aussies is Adam Scott, a controversial captain's selection by Norman, who chose his countryman to the 12-man team despite a poor record this year. His 35th-place finish on Sunday at the Turning Stone Resort Championship was Scott's best in a stroke-play event since finishing second back in January at the Sony Open.

"We all grew up watching Greg in Australia and what he did for the game down there and the game around the world," Scott said. "He's been a great ambassador for the game.

"I think he'll be a great captain as well. I think he's going to bring something different to the Presidents Cup this year than we've had in the last few years, which happens with every new captain, and I think the guys are really excited."

Whatever Norman's ideas on the captaincy, he knows that in the end it all comes down the pairings. Paul Azinger's pod system at last year's Ryder Cup worked beautifully for the United States team, but if players such as Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Kenny Perry had not performed well, all would have been forgotten.

Likewise, European captain Nick Faldo took the heat for the defeat, even though he got substandard performances from his star players such as Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.

Norman knows all about it.

"Look, this tournament is about the players, it's not about the captains. And I can just tell you that point-blank," he said. "I think that from my perspective, and I'm sure Freddie is going to be the same way, we should stand in the background. We've done all our work. Like I said, we've just got the minor details of just doing pairings. All the work a captain is responsible for doing happens in the two years leading up to the event. So now it just becomes the players."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com