SYDNEY — For the five Australians on the International team at next week’s Presidents Cup, the greatest motivation for beating the United States for the first time in 13 years is captain Greg Norman, the man who shaped most of their careers.
Adam Scott calls Norman “that charismatic guy who made the game so popular down here,” the reason why he quit other sports to concentrate solely on golf.
Geoff Ogilvy credits a phone call from Norman a few months ago with turning his injury-prone year around and giving him the confidence to earn a spot on the Presidents Cup team at Royal Melbourne.
“Put it this way,” said Robert Allenby, a captain’s pick. “I’ve talked to him about more things than I’ve talked to my father.”
Jason Day, Australia’s 23-year-old star, has been trading text messages with Norman over the past few months, while Aaron Baddeley, Norman’s other captain’s pick, has had the Great White Shark as a mentor since winning the first of his two Australian Opens as an amateur in 1999.
Scott was the most effusive in praising Norman’s influence on the sport in Australia.
“I think it would be equivalent of what Arnold Palmer did for golf in the United States,” he said. “Kids like myself stopped playing other sports to play golf. I think that is a huge impact that he had on the game.”
Considering the location, this is one time the captain might stand out over the guys actually playing the shots. This likely will be the last time Norman captain’s the International team, mainly because the matches are in Melbourne.
“I know we want to win it pretty bad,” Ogilvy said. “Greg is busting to win one. It must have been 20 times I’ve talked to him this year. He’s more and more into this. ‘How do we win?’ He’s just hyper-competitive. He didn’t win last time. It’s in Australia. And it’s his favorite course. It’s all lined up to be a great moment at the end of Greg’s career.”
The career made him a natural selection for the World Golf Hall of Fame. More than that was his influence on other Aussies, from the current crop on his team, even to LPGA star Karrie Webb.
Scott said his initial inspiration to play golf came during one of Norman’s most forgettable moments — his 1987 playoff loss to Larry Mize at the Masters, when the American chipped in from 140 feet on the 11th green at Augusta.
Scott, all of 6 years old, was glued to his TV set.
“From there on I followed him very closely throughout his whole career,” Scott said. “He was carrying the game on a global stage for a lot of his career. We are proud Australians and we were behind him 100 percent, especially as a kid, looking up to him.
“You wanted to see him succeed every time. The good and bad thing was that he was there so often.”
Most of those tough losses also came at the Masters. In 1986, he led by one stroke going into the final round, but after Jack Nicklaus shot a record-tying 30 on the back nine to take the lead, Norman missed the green on the 18th and took bogey to finish one shot behind.
In 1996, he led by six strokes going into the final round but shot 78 and lost to Nick Faldo by five strokes.
“He was such a great role model as a kid,” Scott said. “He handled those defeats very well and I think that shaped the way young Australians were brought up in the game.”
Two years ago for the Presidents Cup in San Francisco, Norman made Scott a captain’s pick despite Scott being in one of the worst slumps of his career.
“That sent me on a path to turn my game around,” Scott said. “Whether Greg intended that or not … it certainly put me back on that stage with world-class players. I worked hard and that carried on. It was only a month and a half later that I won the Aussie Open.”
Allenby hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in 10 years, but he captured Australia’s Triple Crown — the Masters, PGA and Open — in 2005. He started this year in the top 20, but will likely be out of the top 50 by year’s end unless he does well at the Australian Open and the PGA.
“He (Norman) doesn’t have to do anything for me, he really doesn’t,” Allenby said. “He went out of his way to make complete contact with me. It’s been a true friendship, that’s for sure. I admire what he has done to help my career.”
Allenby announced midway through last year that he was divorcing his wife, Sandy, with whom he has two children.
“Everyone will say divorce is not an easy thing to go through, especially when you have a few young kids you care about a lot,” Allenby said.
Enter Norman, twice divorced but now remarried, to reach out and help Allenby through his marriage breakdown.
“I’ve had many a time where I have been in contact with Greg, whether it’s just been up at his house for dinner or just for a couple of beers, and we’ve talked about life,” Allenby said.
“I am obviously one who is very, very fortunate to be able to have him give me some unbelievable advice. It’s been amazing that someone I have looked up to for such a long time opens himself up to virtually say, ‘You need help, you come to me, I’ll help you’.”
Ogilvy was trying to come back from a muscle tear in his left shoulder during the North American summer and worrying about his lack of form when Norman called him.
“Some of my midsummer panic (was) playing enough tournaments to get on the (Presidents Cup) team, but I’d never really thought about not being there,” Ogilvy said. “But I started stressing about it in (the) last couple of weeks that I wouldn’t make it automatically. I’d never worried about it too much, but I was disappointed when I was injured just watching myself slide down the rankings.
“So when Greg actually called me and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, play as good as you can, but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna pick you Geoff,’ it was pretty nice. Then I happened to go out and play pretty well in Chicago which took care of it anyhow.”
Ogilvy said it showed Norman’s “understanding of golf psychology.”
“He got to Aaron (Baddeley) and Sendo (John Senden) before the Tour Championship and that helped Aaron step up,” Ogilvy said. “He obviously understands what makes us work, so it’s pretty good captaincy.”
Day, touted by Norman as a future No. 1, said Norman “has always been great to me.”
“Coming from a former world No. 1 and knowing how he dominated the game in the past, that is a great honor for me to be used in that sentence,” Day said of Norman’s prediction on his future.
The only time the International Team has won the Presidents Cup was at Royal Melbourne in 1998, when Norman and his partner, fellow Aussie Steve Elkington, picked up 3½ out of a possible 4 points in fourball and foursomes. Norman lost his singles match on the Sunday to Tiger Woods, but the 1-down loss to Woods came after the Internationals had already clinched its eventual 20 1/2 to 11 1/2 win.
Norman was captain and Scott on the team in San Francisco two years ago when the Americans won 19 1/2 to 14 1/2.
“This year is my fifth Cup and I’ve never been on a winning team,” Scott said. “I think we have all had our frustrations with not winning the Presidents Cup for a long time. It is a big deal for him (Norman) as well. He was captain last time and didn’t win. I am sure he wants to be a winning captain.”