When a golfer wins a major, the question often arises as to where he ranks in his country’s list of top golfers. Adam Scott’s stirring win in the Masters brings up the subject again, this time as it refers to Australian golfers.
It’s unlikely that Scott himself would rate himself at Australia’s best golfer yet. His respect for and admiration of his countryman Greg Norman has been evident in every public forum where he’s spoken since he holed the winning putt on the second hole of the playoff against Angel Cabrera.
Cabrera, by the way, must be accorded the honour of “top sportsman” in the game for the moment. Or make that “Sportsman,” as a friend capitalized the word in a note the other day. The thumbs-up he offered Scott during the playoff after his shot to the second playoff hole was a splendid gesture. Scott returned the gesture. The exchange provided a beautiful moment in the playoff.
As for Scott, the latest Australian major champion, well, who knows what he will do now that he has won his first major? Who knows what he will accomplish now that he has provided Australia with its first Masters? Norman, who has guided Scott and been both example and mentor to him, believes Scott is an even better driver of the golf ball than he, and that he will go on and win more majors.
The camaraderie among Australian golfers is extraordinary. Scott returned from the airport in New York to the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. after his fellow Australian Geoff Ogilvy won the 2006 U.S. Open. Golf World’s superb writer Jaime Diaz spoke with Ogilvy after Scott’s win. As Diaz wrote, Ogilvy wasn’t planning to watch the Masters, because he hadn’t qualified to play. But he did watch. How could he not, when not only Scott but also Aussies Jason Day and Marc Leishman were contending for the green jacket in the final round?
“I’ve known him since he was 14, and he’s always been like that,” Ogilvy told Diaz of Scott. “So his victory is very personally gratifying for me, but also because the Masters is like the last Australian sports frontier, since we finally got the Tour de France last year. We had Greg Norman, who was the favorite in the tournament for a 10-year stretch, and should have won a few. Everyone in Australia stays up all night to watch the final round and comes to work late. For anyone my age, it’s been like 25 years of desperate craving.”
I’ll never forget the Masters that Norman should have won, if there’s such a thing as “should” in golf. (There isn’t). He took a six-shot lead into the final round of the 1996 Masters, but betrayed increasing anxiety during the round. He took varying amounts of time over the ball, short-sided himself on numerous approach shots, and, well, it was sad to see. He played with Nick Faldo, who hit the ball in all the right places. Faldo shot 67, Norman shot 78. Faldo won the green jacket. Norman did not. That was that.
Norman has won two majors, the 1986 and 1993 Open Championships. He was second or tied for second in the Masters three times. He finished second in the 1984 and 1995 U.S. Opens. He finished second in the 1986 and 1993 PGA Championships. It’s difficult to argue against the view that he’s the greatest Australian golfer ever.
At the same time, it’s fair to say that Norman, given his prodigious talents, ought to have won more majors. The fates seem to have conspired against him. Bob Tway holed from a greenside bunker on the last hole to win the 1986 PGA Championship at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio by two shots over Norman. Larry Mize holed that famous pitch and run from 110’ to win the 1987 Masters against Norman on the 11th hole, the second of their playoff.
Norman, however, was also the architect of some of his own major disappointments. He took the lead into each of the four majors in 1986. Norman needed to par the last hole at the Masters to get into a playoff against Jack Nicklaus, but pushed his 4-iron approach well right of the green and bogeyed the hole. He held a one-shot lead after 54 holes of the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y., but shot 75 as Ray Floyd won. He did win the Open that summer at the Royal St. George’s club in Sandwich, England, where he shredded the stalwart links in the second round while shooting 63. He shot 69 the final round and won by five shots. At the PGA that Mize won, Norman shot 76 in the last round.
Still, Norman was there or thereabouts in so many majors. What about other Australians at majors? Kel Nagle won the 1960 Open Championship and was second in the 1965 U.S. Open. (He also won the 1964 Canadian Open, where Arnold Palmer was second). Then there’s Peter Thomson, the winner of five–yes, five–Open Championships.
Thomson won in 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, and 1965. He tied for fourth at the 1956 U.S. Open and for fifth in the 1957 Masters. He was Hogan-like in his precision for much of his career.
These Australians have also won men’s majors: David Graham (1979 PGA, 1980 U.S. Open); Wayne Grady (1990 PGA); Ian Baker-Finch (1991 Open Championship); Steve Elkington (1995 PGA). Now Scott joins the list. Norman, the golfer I consider the best Australian golfer yet–notwithstanding the fact that he did win only those two Opens–is thrilled “This is a big day for Greg [Norman], especially,” Ogilvy told Diaz. “It’s very appropriate that of all the Australians, it was Adam who did it, because he is the closest of all of us to Greg. Right now, I know Greg is 100 per cent joyous.”
Ogilvy used the word “joyous,” not “jealous.” Scott’s win felt to Norman, and all Australians who follow golf, as a major for the country; major, and a Masters at that. Norman believes Scott will go on to win more majors than any Australian. He needs six to pass Thomson.
That would be quite an accomplishment, and would probably make Scott the greatest Australian golfer. For now, he’s a great Australian golfer, and the first from the country to wear the green jacket that goes to the Masters winner. Good for Scott, and good for Australia.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein