Golf

Norman 'cut off' by Presidents Cup

Greg Norman was replaced by Nick Price as the International team's captain.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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GREAT EXUMA, Bahamas

Greg Norman is in paradise but he’d rather be in Columbus, Ohio.

Norman spent the weekend shooting a television show and hosting a celebrity tournament on his ocean-side course here, now part of the idyllic Sandals resort. But he feels he instead should have been getting ready for the Presidents Cup.

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Despite two losses as captain — the last on his home turf, two years ago in Australia — the Shark thought he and US captain Freddie Couples would be brought back to lead the two teams for this week’s event, at Muirfield Village in Ohio.

He was only half right.

Couples was retained to lead the US team, but Norman was replaced by Nick Price as International captain.

“Freddie came to me right after the Presidents Cup in Australia and said, ‘I’ll do it again if you do it again’. I said, ‘OK, I’m in,’” Norman said.

“So, yeah, it came as a big surprise to me to get a phone call at late stages out of the blue from (PGA Tour commissioner) Tim (Finchem).

“Let’s just say it’s disappointing. Extremely disappointing.”

It’s no secret that Norman’s relationship with Finchem has been strained for two decades.

The bad blood dates back to when the high-flying Australian wanted to create an elite world tour but was shot down by Finchem, who ultimately recycled the idea to create the World Golf Championships.

Norman, who’s now 58, says he wasn’t given a “real reason” for being replaced by Price at Muirfield Village, a course Norman won on twice.

One of the darker conspiracy theories making the rounds is that Norman was dumped because he’s embroiled in a war between two rival Swiss luxury watch makers, Rolex and Omega.

Norman, who was sponsored by Rolex, became public enemy No. 1 when he departed for Omega. Not just because he left but because Rolex believes he has used his contacts to usher Omega into golf, a sport that had largely been Rolex domain.

Rolex remains the official timekeeper of the PGA Tour and the Presidents Cup.

Last summer, after Omega replaced Rolex as the official timekeeper of the Ryder Cup at Medinah, Norman was told he wasn’t needed to play in the pro-am for the Senior British Open at Turnberry — where he won one of his two majors, in 1986 — and was asked to leave the room at a Rolex-sponsored press conference.

“Look, I know that Rolex is a corporate partner of the PGA Tour and there’s been some speculation I’ve heard that that was the reason why (he was replaced),” he said.

“If that’s right, then all I can say is that it’s really pathetic.

“The other sad part about it is that nobody has reached out to me or any of my past team and asked us what we thought would be good changes to make, or ideas we might have had about the Presidents Cup.

“We were just completely cut off.

“Not one of the team I had is on the International team for this year.

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“It really doesn’t make a lot of sense because there is experience there. I know other people want a shot at it, but why wouldn’t you want to hear the opinions of those who came before you?”

Norman now fears for the future of the Presidents Cup.

The US has dominated the series, 7-1-1 and is a red-hot favorite to win again in Ohio.

Norman — and, it should be said, Price — thinks the event needs to have fewer points at stake, like a Ryder Cup, to make the competition tighter.

The deeper American rosters represent a distinct advantage in the four-day Presidents Cup because every player must play each day, unlike in the three-day Ryder Cup where captains can send out their strongest teams and shield those not playing well.

Norman also thinks captains should be given more latitude, getting four picks instead of only two.

None of his suggestions, though, have been implemented.

“At the end of the day, I guess it’s their baby and they’re going to run it the way they want to run it,” he said.

“But it’s crucially important for them to do everything they can to make this Presidents Cup a true competition. Right now, it’s lopsided and a lot of interest isn’t there that could be there.

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“Even with the (International) players, their enthusiasm isn’t great when they’re getting their butts whipped every time. Their energy level’s low.”

To illustrate his point, Norman singled out the commitment of Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, who arrived at Royal Melbourne two years ago just 48 hours before the tournament began.

“He played one practice round at Royal Melbourne. That’s not a course you can just show up, play one practice round and get around on,” he said.

“Certainly showing up on the Tuesday, that’s not really great for team spirit.

“To go back to my earlier point, If I could, I would’ve benched him on the first day till he got a feel for it but everybody’s got to play, so we sent him out there (with Ernie Els) and they lost.”

Norman says the problem with the Presidents Cup format is that the first day’s foursomes matches favor the US.

“That’s where every Presidents Cup has been lost, because we’re not used to the alternate-shot format and we fall behind and never catch up,” he said.

“And I think it’s also true to say that we’ve never had our two or three top players play well the whole week.

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“We’ve had inconsistency in the performances of our best players whereas (with) the US, it seems their best players always play well.

“And if you have Tiger and Phil and Steve Stricker firing on all eight cylinders, the rest of the guys are going to get sucked along.”

Norman was sent an invitation to attend the event this week but turned it down. He has business meetings and, perhaps more to the point, doesn’t feel especially wanted.

“My role is done with the Presidents Cup,” he said. “That’s been made clear.

“Is it sad? Well, yes, I suppose because I wanted to win it for the boys — or I should say I wanted them to win it for themselves — but there’s no regrets.

“I know I gave it my best shot.”

Tagged: Nick Price, Greg Norman

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