LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England
This year’s British Open should be a proud moment for Greg Norman.
Sure, it was painful to watch Adam Scott throw away a four-shot lead with four holes to play, to walk away from Royal Lytham & St. Annes with a silver salver as the runner-up instead of the silver claret jug as the winner of his first major championship.
What should be mandatory viewing, however, is the hour that followed such a devastating loss.
Scott stood before a television camera with such composure that it looked like the interview had taken place a week after his meltdown, not mere minutes after the Australian signed a scorecard that showed four bogeys on the last four holes for a 75.
“It wasn’t to be,” he said. “That’s golf, isn’t it?”
Then, the former UNLV player was whisked away to the media center and answered every question with clarity and honesty, and without excuses. As he stepped outside, he met with four Australian reporters – one who was in London for the Olympics and came over to Lytham to see Australia’s first major champion in six years – and answered many of the same questions. When it was over, Scott reached out to shake their hands without prompting.
For Scott to be linked with Norman is to be expected – Scott said so himself. Norman lost far more majors than he won through a combination of bad golf and bad luck. To no one’s surprise, it was that six-shot lead he squandered at the 1996 Masters that came up more than once Sunday.
But if comparisons are to be made, don’t stop with the last putt.
“Greg was my hero when I was a kid, and I thought he was a great role model, how he handled himself in victory and defeat,” said Scott, who wept in front of the TV as a teenager when the Shark blew up at Augusta National against Nick Faldo.
“He set a good example for us,” Scott said. “It’s tough. You don’t want to sit here and have to … I can’t justify anything that I’ve done out there. I didn’t finish the tournament well today. But next time … I’m sure there will be a next time, and I can do a better job of it.”
Norman was headed this week to the Senior British Open at Turnberry, where he won his lone major of 1986 after being the 54-hole leader in all four majors. That became known as the “Saturday Slam,” except that Norman was the one who more often than not got slammed.
The only player to lose all four majors in a playoff in stroke play. The Masters meltdown. Losing a four-shot lead in the PGA Championship to Bob Tway, who holed out a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to beat him. Missing a 4-foot par putt in a playoff to lose another PGA to Paul Azinger. Twice going into the final round at Shinnecock Hills with his name atop the U.S. Open leaderboard only to close with 75 one time and 73 another.
The most famous, of course, is the Masters. No one has ever lost more than a six-shot lead in a major except for Norman at Augusta National. He wound up five shots behind Faldo, who years later revealed what he shared with the Shark as they embraced on the 18th green.
“Don’t let the (critics) get you down.”
Ernie Els offered a similar message to Scott during a quiet moment they shared before the trophy presentation.
“He said he felt for me and not to beat myself up,” Scott said. “He said he beat himself up a little bit when he’d lost or had a chance to win. And he felt I’m a great player and I can go on to win majors, which is nice. We have a close friendship. We’ve had some good battles in the past, and it’s nice to hear that from him. I respect Ernie a lot, and he’s a player who is a worthy champion here for sure.”
Scott thought so highly of Norman that he tried to follow in his steps, starting his career in Europe and wanting to be on the roll call of champions at all the tournaments Norman won. When he turned pro, the comparisons were with Tiger Woods because of Scott’s pure swing that was honed while working with Butch Harmon. He even briefly hired as a caddie the brother of Steve Williams, who spent a dozen years working for Woods.
Being compared with Norman can be twisted into a joke. But few players were better at handling defeat than Norman, perhaps because he had so much practice.
Then again, Scott has carried himself with dignity for his entire career. When he was in a slump three years ago, missing the seven cuts over eight tournaments, he took the criticism in stride and answered every question, even after he shot an 81.
Golf is filled with gracious losers. That’s the nature of the sport. There was Mike Reid at the 1989 PGA Championship, Phil Mickelson at five U.S. Opens, a British Open and a PGA Championship. Who could forget Mickelson at Winged Foot when he took double bogey on the 18th hole of the final round to lose by one shot and said, “I am such an idiot.”
And, of course, there was Norman.
“I screwed up. I really screwed up,” he said right after he threw away the Masters.
Els walks away from this Open with his fourth major championship. Scott limped away, hopeful he won’t have to wait another decade to play in the final group at a major. Perhaps another player can be added to the memories at Royal Lytham – Norman, who by example showed a teenager from Queensland that losing with dignity is half the battle.
Before his 2001 induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Norman said his resilience was his strength.
“What’s done is done,” he said. “You cannot change history, even though you want to blame yourself for some and blame history for others. I’ve never really dwelled in the past.”
Scott would do well to follow that advice, too.