Moe Norman: The ‘Rain Man of golf’ who amazed even the greats of the sport

Moe Norman: The ‘Rain Man of golf’ who amazed even the greats of the sport [ad_1]

“‘Golf’s like a walk in the park, walk in the park’ … He repeated himself,” provides O’Connor, describing Norman’s speech mannerisms. “He had this sort of sing-songy lilt to his voice and his eyes would kind of go all over the place.”

But like Babbitt, Norman’s uncommon persona was accompanied by a contact of genius — such was his golf talent it earned him the self-proclaimed title of “the best ball striker who ever lived.”

In an age when {golfing} legends like Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Lee Trevino recurrently swept up main titles, Norman solely appeared in the Masters twice, however his accuracy nonetheless attracted the respect of many of his fellow gamers, and has earned him cult standing.

Through his extremely distinctive “single plane swing” — which he created, practiced and perfected himself and which present gamers, akin to U.S. Open winner Bryson DeChambeau, have now taken components from — Norman was in a position to repeatedly hit the similar spot on the fairway or inexperienced with unerring regularity.

Despite that, the Canadian is not a family identify.

Whether it was shyness round newcomers, his “eccentric” persona or the truth he by no means loved the similar success on the PGA Tour as his contemporaries, these who knew him say Norman usually simply did not slot in.

“We live in this culture in which we celebrate celebrity and those who achieved at the highest level. Moe did not do that,” O’Connor — creator of “The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story” — informed CNN Sport. “Moe was just this beautiful character. He was a very complicated person.

“And I feel perhaps if Moe got here round in the final 20 years, perhaps we’d have embraced his eccentricities and he may have flourished a bit bit extra.”

While Norman's character was described as "eccentric", his accuracy was legendary in golf. While Norman's character was described as "eccentric", his accuracy was legendary in golf.

Different from the outset

Born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, in 1929, as a child Norman enjoyed spending his days with friends or playing hockey. However, once he discovered golf, his life began to change, but at some cost O’Connor says.

As Norman’s interest in golf blossomed, fueled further by regularly caddying at a local club, his working-class family questioned why he chose to play a sport often associated with the more elite members of society.

Despite Norman’s ever-increasing passion for the game, his family “completely rejected it,” resulting in Norman’s ignoring their support when they eventually came to watch him years later, according to O’Connor.

“His household was against this factor that he cherished,” O’Connor explained. “And it actually prompted the schism in the household and actually complete estrangement.”

During his late teens and early twenties, Norman dedicated himself to perfecting his “single airplane swing,” so that he could routinely hit the ball wherever he wanted with remarkable accuracy.

The “single airplane swing” was Norman’s attempt to improve shot efficiency and remove the number of variables involved. Addressing the ball, Norman ensured the club’s shaft position was maintained at impact and he did so by using a wide stance, outstretched pose and aligned hands. It was a swing that synchronized the movements of the hips, shoulders, arms and hands.

Norman at Oakdale Golf Club in 1977. Norman at Oakdale Golf Club in 1977.

Such was his dedication to perfecting his swing, there are stories of Norman spending so much time on the practice range that by the time he left, his palms were bloody from the repetition of his practice.

Later in his career, Norman would run clinics for fans, during which he would showcase his accuracy. He’d even attract the attention of fellow professionals, such was his precision.

Yet for Norman, winning tournaments wasn’t the end goal. The process of clean ball striking was more “religious” for him — something he described to O’Connor as being the “the feeling of greatness.”

Professional Todd Graves spent a year trying to learn Norman’s swing from a video tape given to him by a friend; but he says his first experience of seeing the Canadian hitting balls close up still blew him away.

“I do not assume I’ve ever seen anyone do what Moe may do to a golf ball, so far as the consistency of the flight, the home windows he would hit the golf ball and with simply such simplicity,” Graves — co-founder of ‘Graves Golf Academy’ — informed CNN Sport.

Graves watching Norman in Pine Needles, South Carolina, 1998.Graves watching Norman in Pine Needles, South Carolina, 1998.

‘Very unusual’

Only actually trusting of his closest buddies, Norman may come throughout as “very unusual” if you didn’t know him, according to O’Connor, who recounts how the golfer once ran from a restaurant mid-interview — for Norman’s own book — simply to alleviate the uneasiness that he experienced around a particular line of questioning.

Given these personality traits, O’Connor says some people have subsequently hypothesized that Norman might have been on the autism spectrum.

Included on the list of symptoms for autism by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone, repeating or echoing words or phrases or repeating “phrases or phrases in place of regular language,” and not being able to relate to others or “not have an curiosity in different folks in any respect.” Every one of these symptoms, in retrospect, could have applied to Norman.

Norman with tour players, at the Telus Skins Game at the National Golf Club of Canada in 1995. Norman with tour gamers, at the Telus Skins Game at the National Golf Club of Canada in 1995.

However, in researching his book, O’Connor uncovered another possible theory to explain Norman’s personality traits.

When Norman was about five years old, he was out sledding with a friend and, as they slid across a road, he was hit in the forehead by the tire of a reversing car, according to O’Connor.

Because there were no broken bones, his family didn’t take him to the hospital and the neuroscientists O’Connor interviewed theorized that Norman’s different personality might have been due to a frontal lobe brain injury.

“He knew what was essential in life. He was simply unable to precise it in ways in which lots of folks would. He did not get jokes in any respect. And he simply lived inside this very confined space of golf and got here off as a wierd character to lots of folks,” mentioned O’Connor.

Norman felt that he was "wasn't given the respect" he deserved during his time in golf. Norman felt that he was "wasn't given the respect" he deserved throughout his time in golf.

Feeling at home

On a golf course, however, Norman was in his element.

O’Connor recalls stories of Norman chatting easily with spectators during rounds and even taking bets from onlookers about whether he could bounce a ball off his driver more than 100 times or hit a ball into their shirt pockets.

Graves, who is also the executive producer of an upcoming documentary on Norman, remembers speaking to former PGA of Canada professional Henry Brunton about the change in Norman’s demeanor on and off the course.

While Brunton describes Norman as being “supremely assured” with a club in his hand, when faced with just his fellow players in the clubhouse, he was “like a 12-year-old child.”

“He was intimidated. He did not perceive the best way to act round different gamers. He was so intimidated by his friends,” Brunton told Graves.

Although he enjoyed great success in his native Canada, Norman struggled on the bigger stage of the US PGA Tour.

While he racked up over 60 wins on the Canadian Tour, Norman played in 27 events on the PGA Tour across 15 years, finishing in the top 10 only once, earning just $7,139.

He also played in five Senior PGA Tour events, in which he earned $22,900 in prize money.

He only appeared twice in the four majors, playing in the Masters in 1956 and 1957.

According to Graves, adjusting to life on the road in a new country and without the familiarity of his support system proved tough for Norman.

He also had to endure at least one alleged incident of bullying from unnamed fellow professionals. In just his second year on the Tour, he was cornered by two players in the midst of a tournament — in which Norman was in contention — and told: “You obtained to cease playing around, take a caddy, cease with the massive tees,” according to O’Connor.

The PGA of America — which ran the tour before the modern day PGA Tour was established in 1968 — have not responded to CNN’s request for comment.

Pallbearers acccompany the coffin of Canadian golf legend Norman.Pallbearers acccompany the coffin of Canadian golf legend Norman.

“That led to a lifetime of Moe feeling that he did not really feel that he belonged and he was not welcome there,” added O’Connor. “Because he simply had this sense that they did not like him. And if Moe had the sense that folks had it in for him, or that they have been up right here and he was right here or if he felt slighted by you, he would write you off.”

In later life, money was also an issue for Norman. According to Golf Digest in 1995, the golfer was living in a $400-a-month motel room and kept his clothes in his car. Later in life, golf manufacturer Titleist paid Norman $5,000 a month for the rest of his life due to his service to the sport.

Just a few years later, in 2004, Moe Norman died at the age of 75. And although he did not achieve the tournament-winning success that his contemporaries enjoyed, the legacy of this true golfing pioneer and self-proclaimed “finest ball striker who ever lived” shouldn’t be forgotten.


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