Sometimes what you need the most can be the hardest to attain.
“You get a lot of white noise at majors,” starts Greg Norman, now 66, but aged 38 at the time of the 1993 Open at Royal St. George’s. “People are always walking around you, talking to you and it can be very hard to concentrate on what you are there to do.”
The “Great White Shark” was ranked No. 4 in the world and hindsight shows he was sandwiched between multiple spells as World No. 1, starting in 1986 and finishing as Tiger Woods took hold of the ranking in 1998. Norman had won the Open at Turnberry in 1986 and he was among the most likely to dethrone Nick Faldo, the defending champ and winner of three of the previous six championships.
Norman wanted to practice uninterrupted with coach Butch Harmon, and as Royal St. George’s has the largest acreage of all Open venues, back in 1993 it was still possible to find some empty practice space, around a corner somewhere.
“Greg was getting into some old habits, like a bit of a slide into the ball,” starts Harmon, 77, talking from his academy at the Rio Secco GC, Las Vegas. “I used to make him practice off a side-hill lie with the ball above his feet, which would flatten out his plane a little and make him rotate more. On the other side of the equipment vans I found a little slope and Greg could hit the balls over the vans and back onto the range.”
"Ball flight is everything on links ... It’s all about how you spin the ball and I just felt in control, no matter the wind conditions. You just have to be aware of what you need." – Greg Norman.
But hitting practice balls over the equipment trucks broke Open protocol and Norman soon had to fend off an agitated R&A official.
Adds Harmon: “The official walked away and I said to Greg: ‘What’s he going to do? Disqualify you?’ Greg said, ‘Who knows, but we need to hit balls here so let’s do it’.”
Recalls Norman: “I felt so good about my game and about my ball flight. I kept looking at Butch because every shot I hit, the ball came out exactly the way I wanted it to.”
“Hitting off the slope helped to flatten the ball trajectory,” says Harmon. “It got the club onto the path I wanted and literally, once we started on that side-hill lie Greg never missed a shot.”
“Ball flight is everything on links,” says Norman. “It’s all about how you spin the ball and I just felt in control, no matter the wind conditions. You just have to be aware of what you need. I say it a lot to players today, that sometimes you need to eliminate the white noise. I came away from that session thinking, ‘Okay, I am really in sync right now.’”
With the course softened by rain and with only calm breezes skipping around, Norman posted a shining 66-68 in the first two rounds, despite opening the championship with a double-bogey.
The 1993 Open was one when the stars aligned. Norman shared third place with Fred Couples, the Masters champ of 1992 and World No. 5, and with Corey Pavin, who was progressing towards a career pinnacle with victory at the 1995 U.S Open. One shot ahead was Germany’s Bernhard Langer, the reigning Masters champion and World No. 2, with Faldo holding a one-shot lead. The Englishman was World No. 1 and in the second round he shot a course record 63, nine under par, backed by an excited home crowd.
Pavin putted magnificently in the third round to post a 68 and claim a share of the 54-hole lead with Faldo. They made the final pair for the fourth round, with Norman and Langer both one shot back. A third round of 67 brought Zimbabwe’s Nick Price into the picture –the World No. 3 at the time – and he began the final round three shots off the lead, along with Australia’s Peter Senior. The chasing pack comprised entirely of past or future major winners: Wayne Grady, Ernie Els, Couples, John Daly and Fuzzy Zoeller.
“It hit me going to the 1st tee on the Sunday,” says Norman. “I looked at the leaderboard and thought, ‘Whoa, this is the Who’s Who of golf’. I knew that probably half of those players were going to come at me hard so I knew I would have to go hard myself. I was excited because I knew those guys wanted to beat me just as much as I wanted to beat them.”
“Greg was an aggressive player anyway ... but he drove the ball so well that week. The control of his ball flight, the shapes of his shots, he was in total control. In the final round he put on a driving clinic and the distance control of his irons, in strong winds, was perfect." – Butch Harmon.
Pavin’s putter ran cold but Faldo, Langer and Norman went at it. It was only after Norman came within an inch of holing his approach to the 9th – to set-up his fourth birdie of the day – that he opened up a two-shot lead.
“Larry Bird [of Boston Celtics fame in the NBA] and I have played a lot of golf together,” adds Norman, “and I always remember he said that if the Celtics were one point down with one second left, he always wanted the ball. I thought about that as I walked to the 10th tee: “Here we are. Larry Bird. Let’s take it to the house now”.
Royal St. George’s can unnerve golfers with all the peaks and hollows of its fairways, and by testing a golfer’s confidence and course knowledge with an array of blind tee shots. Norman did his homework, attacked the course from the tee and reaped the reward.
“Once you know where to drive the golf ball, over all those blind sand dunes, your fairway becomes wider, because often you are driving across a fairway rather than straight down the middle of it,” explains Norman. “A lot of guys were laying up short while I was taking a line that would sometimes even go over the gallery.”
“Greg was an aggressive player anyway,” reflects Harmon, “but he drove the ball so well that week. The control of his ball flight, the shapes of his shots, he was in total control. In the final round he put on a driving clinic and the distance control of his irons, in strong winds, was perfect. Greg was as calm as I have ever seen him in the final round of a major.”
Faldo started to leave crucial putts short on the back nine, while Langer drove out of bounds – onto the neighbouring Prince’s Golf Club – on the narrow 14th hole. Norman was in tunnel vision.
“Langer drove out of bounds but I knew exactly my aim point,” he recalls. “It was four miles in the distance and that was all I saw. I didn’t even think about out of bounds, I didn’t care about it. I just got up to the tee and hit my shot. The wind was coming hard from ten o’clock and that is dangerous when you have out of bounds on the right.”
Norman smashed it down the middle and marched to a two-shot victory over Faldo. The Queenslander had saved his best until the end, shooting 64. Of 14 fairways, Norman found them all.
“From Greg that day, that might have been the best round of golf I have ever witnessed,” admits Langer as he reflects of the fifth of his six top-three Open results and his third near miss at St. George’s. “Greg played flawless golf, and I could have played a lot worse. I shot 67 in the final round.”
At St. George’s in 1981, Bill Rodgers won on 276; in 1985 Sandy Lyle won there on 282; in 1993, Faldo finished on 269, Langer on 270, with Norman on 267, 13 under par, to set an Open scoring record at the time.
“It was phenomenal,” adds Harmon. “Faldo took a one-shot lead into the final round and shot 67. Usually, if you do that, guess what, you win.”
Gene Sarazen – 91 at the time and the oldest living Open champion, who had himself set a low scoring record, next door at Prince’s in winning the Open of 1932 – was on hand to tell Norman, “It was the most awesome display of golf I have seen in 70 years”.
“That is one of the beauties of sport in general – not just golf – when the legends who have gone before you recognise what you have done,” reflects Norman. “Gene was a patriarch of the game and when a legend recognises the quality of what you have delivered it stays with you forever. You don’t get those compliments often. You don’t go out there seeking them but when you receive one it is a validation of all of your preparation, your execution, all the hard work.”
Henrik Stenson is the only champion to better Norman’s 267 – when he posted 264 to win at Royal Troon in 2016. But for The Open at St. George’s, Norman set the mark for today’s generation of stars to chase.
RECORD TOTAL SCORES IN THE OPEN SINCE 1900
(Those who have tied an existing record shown in italics)
1903 Harry Vardon 300, Prestwick
1904 Jack White 296, Royal St George’s
1908 James Braid 291, Prestwick
1926 Bobby Jones 291, Royal Lytham
1927 Bobby Jones 285, St Andrews
1932 Gene Sarazen 283, Princes
1934 Henry Cotton 283, Royal St George’s
1935 Alf Perry 283, Muirfield
1949 Bobby Locke & Harry Bradshaw 283, Royal St George’s
1950 Bobby Locke 279, Troon
1957 Bobby Locke 279, St Andrews
1958 Peter Thomson & Dave Thomas 278, Royal Lytham
1960 Kel Nagle 278, St Andrews
1962 Arnold Palmer 276, Troon
1973 Tom Weiskopf 276, Troon
1977 Tom Watson 268, Turnberry
1993 Greg Norman 267, Royal St George’s
2016 Henrik Stenson 264, Royal Troon