Greg Norman, who turned 62 last week, holds a unique place in the history of golf, bridging the era of persimmon drivers and homemade swings with the modern era of oversized titanium clubs and honed-on-video moves.
The Shark, who was No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for 331 weeks, sat down with Golfweek senior writer David Dusek to talk about equipment, the source of his power and some modern players.
Here are excerpts of their conversation.
Dusek: Compared to your competitive days, how much do you follow the trends in golf equipment
Norman: Well, even in my competitive days I never really followed the trends, because I made my own golf clubs and did my own thing. The golf clubs that I used were customized for me, so I was not really a big tinkerer when it came to clubs, but it was different back then. The technology then is not what it is today.
Today, from a player’s standpoint, I think they rely on too much technology, especially with the driver and the shaft. Look at the top professionals, very few of us have changed our irons. We use the same forged iron heads, same iron shafts, same M58 round grips. But if you shift into a 3-metal or a driver, they are all pretty much different. The shafts are different, too.
I think if you look at the game of golf today, if you look at the disparity among the top players when you look at their iron game and the way that they drive a golf ball, it’s night and day. In our day, it was a lot more similar.
Dusek: The shift to a solid core ball, compared to the wound balls you played in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, brought some of that about, right? Today’s balls spin less off the tee.
Norman: But they still can’t drive the ball onto the fairway! The top players can’t.
Dusek: As a group, elite players hit about 55 percent of the fairways.
Norman: Which is ridiculous.
Dusek: You were one of the best drivers of your generation. Did you follow the driving statistics you had available?
Norman: You knew by feel. If I used driver on 10 holes during a round and missed two to the left, then I knew there was something going on.
Dusek: How long would it take you, during a round, to realize that something in your swing may not be right?
Norman: If it happened back to back. Like, if I was on the third hole and it was a left-to-right hole and I wanted to shape my traditional left-to-right shot, and it went straight because I pulled it, I’d go, ‘Oh, what’s that?’ Then if it happened again a few holes later on similar type of hole, I’d know there was something wrong because those shots were too close. Something was fundamentally wrong with my swing, I wasn’t rotating enough, the club was not in front of me … there were a couple of little checkpoints I’d cover.
Dusek: But it was never the club?
Norman: Nope, it was always the body and never the golf club. The club was made consistently. The shaft in my driver was very similar to the shaft in my irons, so I couldn’t blame it on the torque in the shaft. The driver head was smaller, not like today’s 460cc heads.
Dusek: Right. When the original Big Bertha driver
was released everyone thought they couldn’t
miss because it seemed massive. Today that club would be a 5-wood.
Norman: Exactly. Now, you take the general masses and you give them a 460, with a solid-core ball, yes … their dispersion pattern gets tighter because of the technology, the larger sweetspot and all that. But they are not hitting the ball 40 or 50 yards farther.
Dusek: The USGA and R&A released a report last year saying that distance is not a problem in professional golf. What are your thoughts on that?
Norman: I had a former No. 1 player in the world come over to my house for dinner three nights ago, and he wanted to pick my brain because he can’t drive the golf ball. Hell of an iron player, but he can’t drive the ball. I told him, “Ok, sit back and think about which is your favorite iron. Might be a 5-iron or a 6-iron. Now strip that golf club down, understand what that golf club is giving you and replicate it in your driver.”
Dusek: Did he look at you as if you had three heads?
Norman: Zip … right over his head.
Dusek: A driver swing and an iron swing are seen by a lot of players as two completely different skills sets.
Norman: I don’t want to speak against my company here, but a lot of players are given a club and told, “Ok, go use it.” And how many graphite shafts are out there, hundreds? If there is doubt in their mind, they go right out and try a new shaft.
Dusek: Before we got to big titanium and carbon-fiber drivers with graphite shafts, the difference from one persimmon driver to another wasn’t that big, right?
Norman: Marginal. I used one driver for 12 years.
Dusek:Twelve years! You never cracked the face?
Norman: Oh, of course, but I would epoxy it back up. I balanced it out, took the epoxy out and rebuilt it. The shaft was a True Temper Dynamic Gold X400, and the spine angle was a 4:30 (on a clock face, looking down the shaft). I could tell you exactly where the spine angle was. I would grind off the tip of the shaft and I put it in just far enough so it would stay.
Dusek: A lot of modern players have no idea what a shaft’s spine is or how their clubs work.
Norman: I’ll give you another example. I won’t mention the player’s name, but a couple of years ago I was talking to a top player about flanges on sand wedges. I went to his bag and said, “Man, the flange on your sand wedge has a lot of bounce on it.” He said he didn’t know what I meant. I said, “How can you play that in Australia or any place that has tight lies?” He said he still didn’t know what I was talking about. So I went to my bag, grabbed a Sharpie, put my finger on the leading edge and showed him the difference between the bottom of the flange and the height of the leading edge. “Look at the difference!” He said he never even realized it.
He asked what I did and I explained that I had multiple wedges with different flanges. If I went to Scotland, where it’s hard and fast, I went with 6 degrees of bounce. In the Northeast of the United States, a little more bounce, between 6 and 8 degrees with a very narrow flange because my sand wedge only had 54 degrees of loft. With such a narrow flange, I could lay it way open!
It went right over this guy’s head, but then he got it. I told him to go to his company’s Tour van and lay the club down the way you want it, not the way that it comes out of the factory.
Dusek: You were one of the longest, straightest drivers of your generation. Where did your power come from?
Norman: Confidence. If I had a piece of equipment in my hand and I knew how it was going to react, every time I make it react the way I want, I’ve eliminated a doubt. That let me swing away. If I wanted to add 15 yards to my drive, in a heartbeat, I could do it. I knew exactly what was going to happen and how it was going to happen.