Tait: Uncovering the real Moe Norman

Moe Norman has long fascinated true golf aficionados. That’s why Lorne Rubenstein’s new book, “Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman. Golf’s Mysterious Genius,” is such a welcome addition to the lore that surrounds the greatest ball-striker who ever lived.

Nothing I have ever read comes as close to offering an insight into the eccentric Canadian. Rubenstein’s tome strips away the myths and gets down to what made the late Moe Norman tick.

Rubenstein knew Norman better than any journalist. No wonder he is able to shine a light into Norman’s life.

I didn’t know Moe Norman, but I could have. I grew up in the same town as Norman, in Kitchener, Ontario, an hour southwest of Toronto.

I went to the same high school – albeit years later – Kitchener Collegiate Institute. I know the street he lived on, and the hill he sledged down as a young boy that led to a collision with a car that many say caused him to become autistic, or develop Asperger syndrome. I played at many of the same golf courses he frequented, Rockway and Foxwood Golf Clubs in particular.

I also ran into him at least twice when I was just taking up the game. Trouble is, back then I hadn’t developed the same interest in the game I have now.

I started golf when I was about 19. I remember playing at Foxwood on a hot, humid July day. I’d played nine holes and went into the clubhouse to get a cool drink for the back nine. Inside I encountered a small man at the grill counter sucking on a soda and talking to the waitress behind the counter.

The little man was wearing a red, long-sleeve polo neck shirt and green trousers that seemed to stop at his ankles. I was perspiring profusely, yet he was dressed as if it were an autumn day.

I remember seeing the little man later that summer at Rockway, dressed the same way despite the heat. I didn’t think much of it then.

Scroll forward 15 years and my interest in golf has become an obsession. Thankfully that obsession got me a job writing about the game.

In 1991, I was working as deputy editor of Golf Monthly magazine. One day, the editor asked me to edit a story Rubenstein had sent in. The story was about Moe Norman. I got about five paragraphs into the story when a light went on inside me. I rushed into the editor’s office.

“I know this guy,” I said.

“You know Moe Norman?” My editor blurted out.

I had to backtrack a little on that claim.

As I read through Lorne’s story, I became more and more fascinated by Moe Norman. I’ve been fascinated ever since.

The sadness for me is that if I had the same obsession for the game when I was 19 as I do now, then I could have spent many happy days watching Moe hit balls at Rockway or Foxwood. Imagine being within walking distance of having the chance to watch the greatest ball-striker ever and not taking it. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!

I finally got the chance to see Moe hit balls in January 2000 at Falcon’s Fire GC in Orlando. I was at the PGA Merchandise Show as editor of a new magazine. I came across the Natural Golf stand one day and saw that Moe was doing a clinic that afternoon. We’d scheduled a meeting with a big golf company at the same time, but I told my publisher and advertising manager to re-schedule. We were going to see Moe Norman.

“Moe who?”

Their response probably explains why the magazine never made it to print!

I’ve done just about everything in golf, but my greatest experience was watching Moe hit balls that day. He was 70 then, but he must have hit 200 balls. All of them straight.

Moe stood with a wide stance, his arms extended straight out from his body, he had a vice-like grip like he was trying to strangle the club, and he placed the club head a foot behind the ball. It looked like he wouldn’t make contact let alone hit good golf shots, but every ball flew unerringly straight.

“The feeling of greatness; the feeling of greatness,” Norman kept saying.

What stands out from that clinic was what he did with a 4-iron. Moe lined up eight balls in row and said: “It’s all about clubface control, clubface control.

“Watch, this 4-iron will fly like a 4-iron, fly like a 4-iron.” Moe took one look toward the 250-yard marker and swung. The ball flew on a 4-iron trajectory.

“Now watch it fly like a 5-iron, like a 5-iron.” Sure enough, the ball flew on a slightly higher trajectory. Then he hit the next ball, this time making it fly like a 6-iron, then a 7-iron until by the last swing he had the ball flying as if he were holding a sand wedge.

He did this rapid fire, without changing his setup. He had such control of his swing and the clubface that he didn’t need to change his setup.

It was the greatest display of shot making I’ve ever witnessed.

Many theories abound about Moe Norman. Many tales are told. Rubenstein unearths many of them in one of the best golf books published for many a year.

If you’re a true golf nut, then a copy of Rubenstein’s book is a must.

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