World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman racked up more than 90 international wins and two major championships during his professional career. While his tournament-playing days are over, the Great White Shark can’t stop moving. In “retirement” he has cashed in on the icon status he built on winning with business ventures ranging from sports apparel and golf course design to wine-making and real estate development. He recently rebranded his firm, The Greg Norman Company, which is expanding, beyond retail, into business-to-business services and has formed a partnership with Verizon on an educational technology endeavor. We caught up with the Shark on a recent trip to New York to talk about the difference between winning and losing, getting fired from FOX, and the state of golf.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Probably from my father. He said, “Never tell a lie. You go through life never telling a lie, everything you say, you can come out the other end feeling very, very good about yourself.”
What’s the best advice in golf?
Probably, always keep the game ahead of yourself. No matter how good you are, nobody’s bigger than the game of golf. And then when you hand the baton onto the next person, make sure that person has a better game of golf than what you started with.
What’s your reading on the state of the game of golf now?
From a professional level, I think extremely healthy. It reminds me of the mid ‘80s. There were probably eight, maybe 10 of us, who were almost equal to each other. Then there was a bit of a void there because you have one guy dominating the game for a long period of time. Now you’re looking back to where you’ve got six or eight guys who can really be the No. 1 player in the world. So I see that as extremely healthy on a global front, and it’s going to be really good for the players because it’s going to elevate their games too — the depth of the fields is really, really sharp
What has been your greatest professional triumph?
I would say winning my first golf tournament, which is the third tournament I ever played in. Nobody knew who I was, I was an assistant pro. It just catapulted me onto the scene, gave me so much confidence. I was like, “Oh my gosh, I think I’m pretty good now.” And that allowed me to go into my first tournament in Japan, and I won that. I went on to Europe, and I won that. So, it was the first one and it really threw me out there.
What has been your greatest professional failure?
I would probably say not winning the Masters — out of all the golf tournaments I ever played, that was my favorite one. I loved the establishment; I loved the way Augusta was run. You’re going back to the same place, so it’s a great barometer for yourself year in, year out.
What’s been your greatest personal victory?
My kids — for sure. I have two wonderful kids. My daughter now has given me two wonderful grandkids. My son now works for me; my daughter works in my wine business. To think about where I was going from making $28 a week as an assistant pro, to creating a business that basically is a platform for our family. And now that there’s an opportunity for my kids, if they so choose to do it, to stay after my death and keep steering the company and keep steering it in the direction their dad told them to.
What’s been your greatest personal failure?
I think, the sacrifices that you have to make to be the No. 1 player in the world. You lose a lot of friends; you lose a lot of time because it is a sacrifice. You can’t be good at one thing and have everything else be good too. So you have to give up a lot. And I think at the end of the day, that is very painful.
What’s the difference between winning and losing?
Well, golf, being an individual sport, the results are sometimes… out of your control. Because I can go shoot a 66 on a Sunday, and then someone else can shoot a 64. I have no control over that. Just go look at Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at the British Open. You have no control over that. What you do have control over is the master of your inner-self. It’s all about how calm you remain in your body and your mind, no matter how tough the shot is, or the possible outcome. You’ve got to stay a flat-lined individual. I’ve always been a guy who’s expressive. Today the players are more stoic and they just move on, right? But I was a guy who was a little bit more revealing.
Is there anything that you learned from playing golf that informed your business?
Oh absolutely. Due diligence. Whenever you go to a golf tournament, I don’t care if it’s majors or just a regular event, you study the course, you practice for that, you understand the grass conditions. You understand what the texture of the sand is. You understand the element that you’re walking into. And then you felt like you were prepared correctly with your golf game the same with business. You have your team give you information, you sit down and talk about it, and you study, you do your due diligence, then you’re ready to go.
You’re a helicopter pilot — what made you want to learn how to fly?
Just the thrill of sitting up there controlling the machine. With the helicopter, you’re actually using everything from your two feet to your two hands and the two cheeks of your ass because you feel the helicopter moving where you sit and how you sit. So it was a challenge in the beginning, and once you learn how to do it, it became such a rewarding experience. I was helicoptering back and forth to golf tournaments, so it took my mind away, it gave me a place to go, focus, concentrate, so when I landed, my mind was already locked in on what I was doing.
So you and Fox Sports had a rather acrimonious parting of ways. How should a man get fired?
Get fired for the right reasons. I’m not a person who wants to sugar-coat something. In that situation, I truly believe I was rolled under the bus. Because it was just poorly handled and it wasn’t right. And no blaming — but they were saying certain things that had absolutely no impact of effect on the reason why. So I think the producer wanted to get somebody else that he liked in there, who he worked with before, and basically that was it.
As a passionate wine-maker, what goes into making great wine?
Good grapes. Wine-makers are obviously the key, but where you source your grapes and the consistency of those grapes is really, really important.
How sick are you of questions about Tiger?
Sick of them. Sick of them, because he’s not the only one. There are other great players out there, and you know, I get it, people want to ask you questions about it, but there’s more to the game of golf than one person.
Who’s the greatest of all time?
Nicklaus. He was a very, very humble winner, and he was a very, very humble loser. He never gave excuses. He was very humble to everybody and to the game of golf. Obviously his record speaks for itself. His record won’t be broken because the depth of the players in the next probably 25 years is going to stay pretty much where it is today, and to see anybody for the next 25 years win 18 or 19 majors, I don’t see that. So, I think he’s going to be happy going to his grave in 30 years time saying, “My record still stands.”
Do you miss playing?
Not really. I don’t miss playing because I’m a realist now. When I hit balls the other day for the first time in months and months and months, the next day my body just ached. Now I can play tennis for two or three hours every day and I don’t hurt one bit. It’s just the motion of the golf swing and every part of my body, after hitting 5 million golf balls, has paid the price. So for me to go back and play — my mind remembers but my body is never going to give me what my mind remembers, right? So, I’m a realist, and you just accept that. If I go out and play with my son and my friends and if I shoot 80, it doesn’t bother me. Before, when I was in my prime, if I went out and I didn’t shoot 66 or 64, I’d be irritated. So your expectations are on a different level.
Last question, if you could only play one more round, with whom would you play and where?
I would love to play with James Baker, President Clinton, President Bush 43, and President Obama and find out what the fuck has happened to this world. Get them all together, play a round of golf, and find out where we all went wrong here.
And where would you want to play this round?
I’ll let them pick it.
Watch our putting lesson with golf great Greg Norman below.