Norman wants a successor


Norman wants a successor - 16th November 2003
(Credit: Fairfax)


There's only one Greg Norman. Without him, and no sign of a charismatic successor to fill the void, the golfing vibe in Australia is fading, writes Peter Stone.

Australian golf, as a hospital spokesperson would say, is in a serious but stable condition.

The cure is known, but has yet to be found. Australian golf needs a player to emerge from the considerable shadow cast by Greg Norman through the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. But not even the man himself can see a replacement.

His was a charismatic approach to the game, one laced with considerable triumph and well-documented disaster, but one that was always worth watching.

Norman is aware of the void he has left. Once he anointed Craig Parry as his likely successor, but that never eventuated, with the little bloke finally winning his first tournament on the US tour last year in the WGC-NEC Invitational, which was his 236th start in the US.

Now, Norman is reluctant to name names. Not Robert Allenby, nor Stuart Appleby, who are both in their early 30s. Not Adam Scott, nor Aaron Baddeley, who are in their early 20s and a generation apart.

"It's very difficult in Australia because the expectations are very, very high. I set the bar and, no matter who comes along, the expectation is for someone to jump over that bar even higher," Norman told the Sunday Age in an interview from his Florida home.

It wasn't an immodest statement, just a matter of fact.

"But I wouldn't be surprised if there is a kid aged 16 or 17, maybe even 15, who has got a lot of style and charisma, and panache, out there. He could be the guy. I don't know who he is. He might be quietly working his way through.

"Maybe a Nick Flanagan (winner of this year's US Amateur). I watched him during the amateur and was very impressed with the way he handled himself for a guy who supposedly said he was so nervous."

Greg Norman claims Australia's lack of emerging talent is a reflection of the sport's stagnation around the world.

Next month, Norman is playing in the Australian PGA Championship at Coolum on the Sunshine Coast. Then, in the new year, he will play in the $2 million Heineken Classic at Royal Melbourne. His Great White Shark Enterprises has financial equity in SFX, promoter of both events, and even at age 48, he will drag the crowds through the gate.

The collective will of thousands is always behind him to win once again for the first time since 1998, when he lifted his own trophy in Sydney in the Greg Norman Holden International.

That tournament is now departed. A further one less on an ever-diminishing Australasian tour. The International Management Group talked for three years of creating a new tournament, the Perth International, but has not delivered, cancelling the inaugural event just three weeks ago. The reason: lack of sponsorship.

The Australian Open goes ahead at the new Moonah Links course, on the Mornington Peninsula, but without a naming-rights sponsor.

Norman said the lack of support dollars for golf tournaments was global. "It's pretty consistent around the world," he said. "There has been sponsorship problems over here on the US PGA Tour, even though you guys don't see it with the level of prize money (next year $504 million) the way it is, but there have been corrections over here and there will continue to be corrections.

"The European tour has gone through the same thing, so I don't see the Australasian tour is in any worse a predicament. It might not be great but the whole golfing scene on a sponsorship basis, and golf in general, is really struggling. It's stagnant.

"Golf TV ratings over here aren't great unless Tiger Woods is playing. What golf needs now is more of a cast, more players to challenge Tiger. We have a lot of great players but we only have one guy who consistently carries the sponsorship and the TV ratings. For someone to come on the heels of Tiger right now is going to have a hard time because, until Tiger gets to the age that he says, 'I'm going to slow down, I've had enough,' it's going to be very difficult to step into the vortex of a player of the magnitude of Tiger Woods.

"I had a supporting cast around me - Nick Faldo, Nick Price, Curtis Strange, Seve (Ballesteros), Ian Woosnam, Freddie Couples - which was wonderful. That can't be said of today."

There is truth in that, for while Norman dominated the world No. 1 ranking for almost seven years, those other six players also were world No. 1 at one stage or another. For Woods, the top ranking has been his right for about five years.

The Shark hasn't played tournament golf for nine weeks, but returns next week to partner fellow Australian Steve Elkington, who is coming off shoulder surgery, in the Shark Shootout in Florida.

"I only started hitting balls again five days ago, but I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing in a relaxed mode. But, I wouldn't put my golf on a very high rating right now," Norman said.

Links:

Official websites

Shark.com

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