Mark Garrod looks ahead to Greg Norman’s return to The Masters in his latest column.
Greg Norman is not among the favourites to win The Masters this week – but he is certain to be a crowd favourite.
Just like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were cheered and applauded onto every green in the years they decided to end their Augusta careers, so the 54-year-old Australian can expect a succession of rapturous receptions because he is back.
And back with former tennis great Chris Evert at his side.
The pair married last June and less than a month later Norman, on his own admission a part-time golfer, led The Open with 18 and nine holes to play. It was an amazing advertisement for the power of love.
Padraig Harrington and Ian Poulter overtook him on the closing stretch, but third place earned the ‘Great White Shark’ a return to the course on which he finished runner-up to Nicklaus in 1986, Larry Mize in 1987 and Nick Faldo in 1996.
Absolute thrillers all of them and events which have greatly shaped how Norman – twice an Open champion – is regarded.
“I think the reaction is going to be incredible to tell you the truth,” he said as he prepared for what is certain to be an emotional week.
When he practised at the course last month Norman had a taste of what was to come.
“I walked into the locker room and the attendant Richard came up and gave me a big hug, like ‘Greg, welcome back, we’ve missed you around here’,” he continued.
“I’m sure it’s going to be positive. As for Chrissie, we talk about it a lot.
“She came out to watch me practise and I’ve talked about my losses with her a lot to make her understand the dynamics of it.
“She completely understands. In her world she lost majors – she lost to Martina Navratilova and finally got over the hump in that.
“She’s great and she’s a great sounding board. She’s very understanding and she even gives me a few little anecdotes to take with me when I go to practice sessions.”
Norman’s 22-year-old son Greg will caddie for him in the tournament, but despite speculation it is not expected that his wife will carry his clubs for the traditional eve-of-Masters par-three competition.
“She’s a famous figure and is going to be a very popular person when she goes there, but the age group of the spectators means they have a lot of relationships with her via her success in her sporting world,” Norman said.
“I said to her, ‘Chrissie, you’re going to be inundated up there. This is a great sporting event and people are going to be excited about seeing you there’.
“She wants to go in under the radar screen.”
Unless something even more remarkable than Birkdale happens in the coming year then Norman’s return is for one year only.
He is unlikely ever to have a seat at the Tuesday night champions dinner or be helped into a green jacket.
From 1981 to 2002, however, he was part of The Masters story. A very big part.
And now people have an unexpected chance to express their appreciation for all that he did – and did not quite do.
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