With Norman gone, Aussies bear down on elusive green jacket
Published: Friday, April 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 8, 2005 at 3:33 p.m.
Adam Scott spent three full years in Europe before deciding to take up membership on the PGA Tour, for no other reason than it was the path taken by Greg Norman.
He was inspired every time he stepped into a clubhouse on the European tour and saw Norman's name on the roll call of champions. The Shark was his idol, and still is. On the eve of The Players Championship last year, it was a chipping lesson from Norman that eventually carried the 24-year-old Aussie to his biggest victory.
So imagine how Scott feels when he shows up at Augusta National.
"It's obviously known that an Australian has never won there," Scott said. "I think in the back of our minds, we all probably want to be the first Australian to win the Masters."
Augusta National has become a holy grail for Australian golfers, the only major they have not won.
And they don't need a reminder of how many chances Norman had - the 4-iron into the gallery on the 18th hole in 1986, the Larry Mize chip-in from 140 feet in a playoff in 1987, and the infamous meltdown against Nick Faldo in 1996.
Peter Lonard was serving his club pro apprenticeship at Oatlands Golf and Country Club outside Sydney, arriving just in time Monday morning to watch on TV what everyone figured would be the crowning moment in Australian golf: Norman had a six-shot lead going into the final round of the '96 Masters.
Four hours later, it was another jolt Down Under when Norman staggered home to a 78.
"It was like someone important in the club had died that Monday," Lonard said. "It was unbelievable."
Peter Thomson won five British Opens, the most majors among Australians. David Graham is the only Aussie to win multiple majors (U.S. Open and PGA Championship). Steve Elkington was the last to win a major, the '95 PGA Championship at Riviera.
No one has inspired as many as Norman.
The Shark was the flagship of Australian golf for more than 20 years, and the No. 1 player in the world longer than anyone until Tiger Woods broke his record last year.
Despite his two British Open titles and 20 victories on the PGA Tour, the Shark is best known for his Masters heartache, another reason why the green jacket has become so symbolic in his native land.
"If one of us won the Masters, it would be the biggest thing in Australia," Robert Allenby said. "It would be massive. We haven't won a major for a long time. And the way we are at the moment, all of us are hungry and keen to get it. We're all fighting to get it, because no one has ever won it."
Their chances have never been greater.
Norman's influence might best be measured by the number of Aussies who have made themselves at home on the PGA Tour, a record 22 players who are fully exempt this year. That's at least twice as many as any other country outside the United States, and three fewer than all the European countries combined.
Six of them won seven PGA Tour events last year, led by Scott's victories at The Players Championship and Booz Allen Classic. Stuart Appleby (Mercedes) and Geoff Ogilvy (Tucson) already have won this year, and three of them reached the quarterfinals of the Match Play Championship.
Eight of them will be teeing it up Thursday at Augusta National, a record number of Aussies in the Masters.
They do not have a No. 1 in the world, but their strength now comes in numbers.
"Australian golf needs a major champion or a No. 1 in the world," Scott said. "I think we're going to get a major champion first. We could have a run where we win a couple of them pretty quick."
It was only a matter of time before an Aussie invasion in the United States.
Australia has some of the finest golf courses in the world, and Melbourne might have the best collection of championship courses of any single metropolitan area - Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Yarra Yarra, Metropolitan and Victoria, among others.
They're cheap, and they encourage juniors to play.
Allenby grew up on a public course, then eventually became a junior member at Yarra Yarra for $200 a year. Even when he went to Royal Melbourne, the most he ever paid for a round of golf as a junior was about $12.
Allenby, Appleby and Aaron Baddeley went through a state-run sports institute, similar to the private David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Others, like Lonard and Nick O'Hern, served an apprenticeship at a local golf club.
All were inspired by Norman, and the success that followed him from Ian Baker-Finch, Wayne Grady, Elkington, then Allenby and Appleby in the mid-1990s.
"The three best guys would come over here, and the rest sort of stayed in Europe," Lonard said. "Then a few Aussies had some success, and there were a few more out here. Now a lot of them are saying, 'I might as well give it a go.' And when they get here, they find it good.'"
There are more coming. Ogilvy and Richard Green, a lanky left-hander, narrowly missed qualifying for the Masters. Steven Bowditch is dominating the Nationwide Tour.
"I can name you a list of other young guys, younger than me," Scott said. "They just need their chance, their week at Q-school, and they'll be out here. We're going to be a pretty strong contingent for years to come."
The closest thing to Norman might be Scott.
He has matinee idol looks and leaves women swooning, although Scott doesn't have the panache of Norman. He doesn't have that shock of blond hair and wild tales about hunting great white sharks. And his swing is so sweet that it disguises an aggressive style of attacking pins.
"I'd love to emulate his career, win majors and however many events he won," Scott said. "But he had a certain flair about him, and he carried that all around the world. That was just the way he played golf."
Would a green jacket change that? Scott thought about that and smiled.
"I could have some flair with a green jacket," he said. "That might make a difference."
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