The Masters Interview
to come back to? Yes, absolutely, because it’s a controlled environment. But his life is different now. There’s no question about it. Everywhere he goes he’s going to get scrutinized the whole way. Certain questions are going to be asked, even from the gallery as he walks from green to tee. He’s going to be exposed a lot more than he’s ever been exposed in his life, so it’ll be interesting to see how mentally he handles it. I think he’ll handle it fine. Time is a great healer in many ways but he’ll always be remembered for what happened – the hair trigger that ignited in November. Is it going to be over and done with for him? I don’t know. It’s going to be a tough battle for him.
He may never have got his hands on the coveted Green Jacket but there are few golfers in the history of the game that have more Masters experience than the 55-year-old Australian. HK Golfer caught up with the Great White Shark at Mission Hills Resort Hainan You made your Masters debut in 1981 and managed to finish fourth. What surprised you about Augusta and what advice would you offer this year’s debutants – players like Han Chang-won, who gained entry into the field after winning the Asian Amateur Championship? Prior to 1981 I had only seen Augusta Nat iona l on telev ision , so I had a preconceived notion of what it was going to be like. And when I arrived 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. It can be a nerve-wracking experience for the first timer, so it’s good to go early. Don’t go too early so that you exhaust yourself but go early and embrace it all. Enjoy the golf course and enjoy the process. You think, ‘I’m here at probably the premier major event of all time.’ You have to see if you have the mettle within to take it on.
AFP (Norman x2); Matthew Miller (Augusta); Charles McLaughlin (Payne)
Is there still a mystique to Augusta? Sure there is. There’s always going to be an Augusta mystique. There’s the thrill of playing for the first time and the thrill of being in contention for the first time. If you are a player with a quality about his game, you’re going to feel it. I have the same feeling, too, with the British Open – the history and nostalgia of the event dictates that. If you have enough quality as a player to perform well and experience it all – well, it’s a unique feeling. You qualified for the Masters 12 months ago after finishing in the top five at the Open Championship the year before. How did the course setup compare to when you played during the Eighties and Nineties? I was shocked at first. It was 420 yards longer than when I played it and it played even longer because of the soft conditions early on in the tournament. Everyone hears about the changes but you don’t really see them on television. But they were 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. That hole alone plays 50 yards longer than it did. The seventh hole has changed a lot, the eleventh hole has seen 30
HK Golfer・APR/MAY 2010
dramatic change. It’s different. It’s a hard golf course for those who don’t drive the ball 320 yards. But it’s still a phenomenal course. A great course. You’re not in the field this year but do you ever get back to Augusta? I go back there and play with member friends of mine. I’m lucky like that. I can sneak up there for a weekend and have a good time and no-one knows about it. It’s a great spot. I’ve been a stanch proponent and supporter of the structure of the Masters. A lot of people look at it like it’s a dictatorship. But you know what? They have every right to be that way. They can do it. They have created something. They have invested in the future of golf, with events like the Asian Amateur Championship, so kudos to them. I think [chairman] Billy Payne has done a phenomenal job. He was part of the International Olympic Committee and knows what it takes to grow sport on a global basis. He’s taken that into the Masters, and all of a sudden Augusta has a difference sense about it. What is your favourite Masters moment? 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. HKGOLFER.COM
And your worst? Probably hitting the four-iron to the eighteenth in 1986 instead of a five-iron [Norman missed the green and failed to get up and down, which would have forced a playoff with Jack Nicklaus]. The other bad loss was in ’96 [to Nick Faldo], when I had the six-shot lead. That was another of the bad ones. They’re probably about equal but for different reasons. Tiger has announced that he’ll make his comeback at the Masters. Can you see him winning it, despite his lack of tournament preparation? I wou ld n’t say a lack of preparation. Tiger Woods at Augusta and going forward is going to be a different Tiger Woods. His world is different now. Has he hurt the game of golf? I truly believe he has to some degree. He has to be responsible. When you become the number one player in the world – and there’s only one number one – you have to be responsible for everything else that comes with that. So it’s good for Tiger to be back. Will he win? He’ll win again. Will he win the Masters this year? I don’t know, I can’t predict that. Will he be one of the favourites? Yeah, I think he’ll be one of the favourites because he loves it. Is it the right tournament for him HKGOLFER.COM
Augusta Aura (clockwise from left): Norman during his final day meltdown in 1996; the Shark is full of praise for Augusta chairman Billy Payne; thirty yards have been added to the par-five fifteenth in recent times.
When you were number one, were you aware of the responsibilities you had? Absolutely. You know you’re carrying the weight of the game of golf and the country you represent when you’re number one. Everywhere you tee it up you’re responsible for putting bums on seats, for people turning on the television to watch you. It really permeates right through. You’re therefore responsible to your corporations, so yes you’re very much aware of it, even more so when you go beyond that and become the brand. He’s got his brand and he’s got his image and quite honestly he’s suffered. Hopefully he’s learnt the lessons from it. Nobody likes to see their private laundry aired out in front of everyone but you have to be aware of it. You enjoy it when it’s going the other way, but you have to accept the responsibility.
HK Golfer・APR/MAY 2010