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GREG NORMAN MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 20, 2009
LEE PATTERSON: Thank you for joining us today to discuss Greg's preparations for the upcoming Masters Tournament. This will be Greg's 23rd appearance at Augusta National and his first time competing since 2002.
Now, in an effort to keep this as orderly as possible and make the most out of our time, I want to have Greg make a few opening comments and then we'll do a role call of sorts and give you a chance to ask a question and a follow up.
Greg, at this point if you could just share a few thoughts regarding your preparations for the 2009 Masters Tournament, and you were up there Wednesday, if I'm correct.
GREG NORMAN: I, appreciate you guys being on this call, and I know there's been a lot of interest about my return after seven years. Now that having been said, not having played in the tournament for seven years, a lot of changes have been made to Augusta National. But I just want to make sure that everybody manages their expectations, and I manage my expectations going into this event.
There's a lot of interest involved in my return and I think that's wonderful, but at the same time, I'm going to be going into this tournament, just like I said, back in July of last year, and post July, just try to go down there and enjoy myself and have fun without putting any expectations on myself.
Q. When you became eligible through the Open, you didn't say right away that you would play in the Masters. Just curious what made you decide to play?
GREG NORMAN: Just the fact that it's the Masters, and I wanted to get back there for a lot of reasons. A, to see the changes and the conditions of the golf course. When you have played that course a certain way for so many years when there's very few changes made, and then over a period of time, seven years goes by; it's one of my favorite tournaments, too. A couple of people really wanted me to go there, and also, Chrissie has never seen the Masters. So to get her there and to see what I think is the greatest golf championship and my favorite golf tournament of all time was another factor, as well.
Q. I was curious what you felt like when you left in '02, but I think for now I'd be more interested in what you recall about the first time you went there, I think you finished fourth that year. Just what your recollections were of your first experience at Augusta.
GREG NORMAN: Well, 1981, my only visual was seeing Augusta National on television, so I had a preconceived notion of what it was going to be like. And when I walked out on the other side of the clubhouse in April of '81, I was shocked at the undulations and magnitude of the undulations. I was shocked that you never really had a flat lie unless you were on the tee. That never came across as I was growing up watching the Masters. So that impacted me the most.
Q. Your toughest moment, you said that dagger was the Mize chip in, and also something people probably don't ask you about, your favorite moment, on the flipside.
GREG NORMAN: Probably shooting 30 on the front nine. Everybody said the front nine was the hardest nine at Augusta and the back nine was the moving nine. I believe when I shot 30 on the front nine, that really put me back into contention. I can't remember what year it was, but I remember at one point going down 7 and 8, I thought about the fact that I could shoot 29 on the front nine. That was the number in my mind at the time.
Q. And the toughest loss, was it I know you said the mulligan you would want would be in '86, the approach to 18, but you also said that the dagger was the Mize chip in.
GREG NORMAN: Yeah, I mean, it was. Matter of fact I went to Augusta two days ago to play, just to get a feel of what the golf course changes are like, and I went up there and I was playing with one of the members, one of my member friends up there and two other guests. You walk back and they say, where was Larry Mize when he chipped in. 11 has changed a little bit but I said that's where he was. As a matter of fact when we played on Wednesday, the pin position was almost identical to where Larry chipped it in. I said: "That's where he was. Now you go over there and try to hit this shot."
It was one of those situations that sticks in your mind. It was a phenomenal shot and you never expected it to go in, and it went in. I made the comment many times: "I never expected him to get up and down in two, and he did get up and down in one."
But nothing beyond that scale where I had no control over it. And the other bad loss to me, was when I lost in '96, when I had the six shot lead. That was another one of the bad ones. I put those two on an equal but for different reasons.
Q. You talked at Birkdale one of the reasons why you played so well was your expectations were so low and you were preparing for the Senior Open at the time; can you do that this time, or is it hard because of the buildup, expectations and the long wait between July and April?
GREG NORMAN: No, I think it's going to be harder to tell you the truth. I'm getting a lot of people saying they are flying over from Australia to see me play. Or every time I go to the golf club in Florida or Tennessee, saying that they are going to come down and watch me play. I'm just like: "Just show up and watch golf, don't come down to watch me play."
It's been great. It's been a bit of an eye opener. Sometimes you're so far out of the radar screen, like I have been the last couple of years, to get back into it, really is poignant in a lot of ways. The fact that, hey, a lot of people did follow my career in a lot of ways and are very excited about me getting back to Augusta. You are absolutely 100% right. It's going to be a lot harder to manage my expectations. I've already been asked to do a press conference on Tuesday at Augusta. I didn't do that at the British Open, you know. So all of a sudden all of these things are going to be reignited. So it's going to be a very disciplined approach from my perspective to go in there and walk to the first tee on Thursday and go, hell, I'm just here to have fun.
Time will tell. But that having been said, I'm practicing more. I'm working out more. I'm making the effort to try to put my best foot forward, and that was not the case at the British Open, either. I wasn't practicing and playing poorly and I considered not playing. So such a dichotomy of approaches.
Q. Are you practicing markedly more than you might have for a Champions Tour event, or is this a little bit different, the run up in terms of preparation for April?
GREG NORMAN: No question it is. I tell you what I'm doing; I'm practicing the certain lies, like 4 irons off a hanging lie, shots from 172 yards, 176 yards out that you don't normally get on a regular tour event. I know when I played a lot of British Opens and Masters, I practiced those specific shots a month before the tournament. Like when I was there on Wednesday, there was a lie on the 9th hole, you go, wow, I haven't hit this shot in a long time, and I know I've got to go practice this when I get back.
So to try and emulate that down in South Florida is difficult. You have to find the right hole and right situation where you can practice. I would say that's probably where more of the intensity is now.
Q. I just wanted to ask you what you thought of the changes since you last played there, and whether you think it makes it harder for a guy in his 50s to win; we all recall that Jack nearly won in his late 50s a few years ago?
GREG NORMAN: Well, I can tell you the golf course is 7,700 yards since I last played it, and that's adding about 420 yards on to the golf course. So there is a dramatic difference to the golf course. I was absolutely shocked to tell you the truth.
You hear about the changes. You don't really see them on television. These younger players have nothing to relate to what happened 20 years ago. So right now, they just sit back and play it, okay, this is the way it's always been.
But there's phenomenal changes, right from the very first hole. The tee now is back where the old putting green was when I last played there. So the thought of driving it over the bunker on the first hole is gone. I had a 176 yards into the green on Wednesday, and given there's no roll here; and back in the other days, it was 120 yards. So there's 50 yards just on the first tee shot alone.
7th hole, dramatic change. 11th hole, dramatic change. So it's going to be different. It's going to be a lot harder to play for someone who doesn't hit the ball 320 than a player who does hit the ball a long way.
Q. Having said that, I guess we had Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson win the last two years, neither of whom are really long hitters, and so I guess it shows that accuracy may be more important than it used to be. Do you agree with that?
GREG NORMAN: Oh, there's no question Andrew. They put trees down to the right of 7, all to the right of 7, 11. It's a lot tighter golf course, no question about it.
And I guess the whole thing depends on how Augusta sets up the golf course. When I played on Wednesday, they had three inches of rain on Saturday and Sunday. They had not had a chance to mow the fairways down. So the ball wasn't going anywhere, which is pretty frustrating. So I probably saw it in the longest condition you could ever play Augusta National in.
But that having been said, the Masters will set it up in a staggered fashion I would imagine. And you're right, a lot of the guys have told me that Zach Johnson never went for a par 5 in two and won the Masters. So it goes to show you, yes, you can do it, but if the weather conditions stayed the same as what I just played last Wednesday, it bodes well for the longer hitters.
Q. Obviously people know about the heartbreak Masters dealt you through your career, but I never heard you say anything but positive things about the course or the tournament. How were you able to divorce yourself from the heartbreak that you felt and your love for the course and kind of make those two separate things?
GREG NORMAN: Well, that's easy. The game of golf is just a sport. I'm going out there trying to do the best I can possibly do.
I love the tradition and the heritage of Augusta. I love the way the establishment is up there, their rules and their positions and their implementations. And I love the golf course. I grew up on the golf course, and my length was really a huge advantage for me in the early 80s. So that's why every time I go back there, I put away all of the negative stuff, because I love all of the positive stuff. It's such an easy thing for me. And I know people kind of always revert back to the negative and I always go back to the positive, and that's just my makeup internally as an individual compared to what perception other people have of me. They are like, why didn't this course destroy Greg Norman.
I'm going back because I love it, I love playing there, I love the people there, I love the establishment there. It's just a good feeling for me.
Q. At Doral last week, every Australian I talked to to a man told me how hard they were rooting for you in the past and how much they want to you do well, and almost they want to you do well as much or even more than you want to do well. I was just wondering, do you feel that from other Australian players, the fact that they would be as happy or happier for you to have a great Masters as you would?
GREG NORMAN: I do get that sense, and it's a great feeling, to tell you the truth. You've got to remember, Australia is such a small country and our sporting men and women have been so huge supporting each other no matter what sport it is.
I can remember watching on TV when I was a young kid and some of the Australians really never did well, but that's the way we are - supportive of each other I'm sure the players that you probably interviewed, they watched me play and they are saying, come on, Greg, and so it stays with them. So I've been a catalyst for a lot of them in a lot of ways.
I'm that way with my Australian friends out there, the younger generation. I pull for them every week. I want to see every one of these guys win a major championship, whatever it is, and obviously an Australian has not won the Masters, I haven't done it, but it's not a reflection of the players out of my home country that we haven't won. I would love to see someone do it, and I don't care who it is. I think Australians deserve to have it, to carry a green jacket on their back.
Q. You have referred to it a few times about how when you went to Birkdale, you didn't have any expectations and you didn't even feel that you were playing that well, but yet you found it and put it together that week. I'm just curious, where is your game now compared to then? Is it better because you've been working at it a little bit more than you have been going into the Open?
GREG NORMAN: I would hope so. It is better. It's a lot more fundamentally sound. And remember, the conditions at Birkdale, they are dramatically different from the tournament I'm coming up to play in relative terms.
Birkdale, you had to improvise so many different shots, and I've always had a good repertoire of improvisation. And when the conditions are dead calm and the golf course is soft and the greens are soft, you know, it allows some of the not great shot making ability to get by.
So conditions are going to be different in relative term and yes, that's why you have to practice and get yourself sharp. I feel my short game is sharper than what it was back in July, and those things are going to be necessary, especially around Augusta. So my game, it has to be ready for weather and tournament conditions as well.
Q. You said Wednesday, are we talking about two days ago that you were there? And when would have been the last time you were there? I take it you've been there socially since the last time you played in the tournament?
GREG NORMAN: Yes, that's correct. I was there Wednesday. That was the first time I had actually played at this time of the year. Last time I was up there was three or four years ago, and it was in January and it was 32 degrees and the ground was frozen. So we can't see the grass and it was freezing cold and blowing 30 mile an hour. You wanted to be there but you didn't want to be there, if you know what I mean. So that was my last time there.
Q. You've referenced the course changes a number of times, and your absence actually covers a span of the old Augusta, a new Augusta. Tell me as an architect and as a fan of the game and as a player some of the things you might do to get the buzz back on Sunday afternoon.
GREG NORMAN: Well, just going on what I saw, I mean, I remember in my days in playing, if somebody came into the back nine at Augusta probably six or seven or eight shots behind the lead and feel like they could win it. That was a great feeling. If you're a player at the top of your game and someone else is running away from the field, a la what Jack Nicklaus did.
I think it's going to be a lot more difficult the way the golf course is now for those type of low numbers, the 30s and the 29s to be thrown out there. And again, this depends on how they set up the golf course.
And the roars, I think would be the significant thing that would be missing. When I used to play the 6th hole, for example and somebody was shooting a great round coming down 15, you would hear this enormous roar and you're only on the 6th hole and that would resonate all the way through until you got around to the 14th hole, 15th hole.
So I would be interested to see whether the decibel level is as loud as what it was back in those days.
Q. Is there anything architecturally you might do? I know it's sacred ground in the golf universe, but they have messed with it in the last seven years. I'm wondering if there's anything you would do to try to maybe generate a little more fireworks.
GREG NORMAN: Well, I was just surprised to what they did to some of the great short holes. I can understand the par 5s. But some of the great short holes, for example the 7th hole, was one of the great classic risk/reward short holes. If you were a long hitter, like I used to try to drive the golf ball way up in front of the green and pitch it up, and that's gone now. And same with 14. I remember trying to whip a driver around there and get as close to the green with a sand wedge as I could. You can't do that stuff now.
The short holes have dramatically changed and I think that's the thing that stands out to me. I get it, the 11th hole probably needs to have some adjustment. It's an intimidating hole at 505. But you need those holes, I understand you need long par 4s. But I love the challenges in the old days of the short holes of Augusta, they can either bite you in the rear end or not.
And some of the excitement of the par 5s, 15, for example, just you would stand up there and think about it and now most of the field lays it up.
Q. You've talked eloquently about the notes you've received, and after you lost to Faldo, you were surprised at being a sympathetic figure? What do you think the reaction will be walking on the tee at Augusta, from people who know you but don't know you personally, and how often have you talked to Chris about what's happened to you at Augusta?
GREG NORMAN: I think the reaction is going to be incredible to tell you the truth. I walked into the locker room, and the locker room attendant, Richard, he came up and gave me a big hug, like, Greg, welcome back, we've missed you around here, basically. So right from the locker room attendant to the spectators, I'm sure it's going to be positive.
As for Chrissie, we talk about it a lot. She came out the other day when I was practicing to watch me practice because she wanted to see, and I said, look, I'm going out there to practice to get ready for some shot at Augusta and said, do you want to come watch me and she said, yeah, I've love to.
So I talk about the lie on 13, and certain shots and how you never get to see it, and when you get there it's going to blow your mind how tough some of these shots actually are. I've talked about my losses with her a lot to make her understand the dynamics of it, and she completely understands. In her world, she lost majors; she lost to Martina Navratalova 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.
Q. In December you told us that your son was going to be caddying for you in the Masters and you said that you were in negotiations with Chrissie about the Par 3. Have you decided anything about that? Will she carry your clubs in that tournament?
GREG NORMAN: Yes, Greg is going to caddie for me. And Chrissie, as for the Par 3, there's been a lot of speculation about that. You know, I would say she's not going to do it. She's going to go watch me play the Par 3, there's no question about it. But she's a famous figure and she's going to be a very popular person when she goes there. But the age group of the spectators up there are right in the honey hole of the baby Boomers, so they have a lot of relationships with her via her success in her sporting world.
And I said it to her the other day. I said, "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, and they are going to want to have a great experience at Augusta. So you're going to be a very popular figure there, as well." Which I think is great. She want's to go in under the radar screen just like I want to be.
Q. And you've talked about the letters you received after that '96 Masters; what about the feedback you got after last year's British Open, was it comparable, and what was the gist of it?
GREG NORMAN: Yeah I would say it was comparable. Most of the letters and e mails that I was getting, people in the street would walk up and just say, hey, thanks for doing something for 50 year olds, you stimulated me to go out there and re energize myself; if you can do it, everybody else can do it at their age; why just sit on the couch. I get them walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant or out in the public areas. It's been incredible. It still happens every day.
Q. Tell us, your tennis game, how is that going, and how is Chrissie's golf game going?
GREG NORMAN: Okay, well I'll answer, Chrissie's golf game hasn't started yet. She wants to wait until I finish and get my practice done. She wants to learn how to play. I think she'll be a very good player. Just the other night when I was out putting, for example, she putted and I set her up with the right putting stance and grip. And first putt she hit, she holed it. She has the hand/eye coordination and I don't have any worries that she will not to turn out to be a fairly decent golfer.
As for my tennis, I think I've gone the same practice. My tennis has plateaued now. I haven't really played much in the last couple of months, to avoid tennis elbow or hurting your back or something like that; not that I've had that in my nearly year and a half of playing tennis. So once the Masters is over, I'll get back to playing tennis. I love it, and I could play tennis three or four hours a day.
LEE PATTERSON: Thank you, everybody.
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