Moe Norman: the “Rain Man of golf” who amazed even the greatest of the sport

“‘Golf is like a walk in the park, a walk in the park’ … He repeated himself,” O’Connor adds, describing Norman’s ways of speaking. “He had this sort of singing song in his voice and his eyes were sort of going all over the place.”

But like Babbitt, Norman’s unusual personality was accompanied by a touch of genius – such was his skill in golf that earned him the self-proclaimed title of “best ball forward who ever lived”.

In an era when golfing legends like Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Lee Trevino consistently won major titles, Norman only appeared twice in the Masters, but his precision has always garnered the respect of many of his fellow players and earned him cult status.

Thanks to his very distinctive “single plane swing” – which he created, practiced and perfected himself and which current players, such as US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau, have now taken into account – Norman was able to repeatedly hitting the same spot on the fairway or putting green with no-ring regularity.

Despite this, the Canadian is not a household name.

Whether it was shyness towards newcomers, his “eccentric” personality, or the fact that he never enjoyed the same success on the PGA Tour as his contemporaries, those who knew him say that Norman no. often has no place.

“We live in this culture in which we celebrate fame and those who have reached the highest level. Moe didn’t do that,” said O’Connor – author of “The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story” – to CNN Sport. “Moe was just this beautiful character. He was a very complicated person.

“And I think maybe if Moe had arrived in the last 20 years, maybe we would have embraced his eccentricities and he could have flourished a little bit more.”

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While the character of Norman was described as

Different from the start

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 a price, says O’Connor.

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

Despite Norman’s ever-growing passion for the game, his family “totally rejected him,” which led Norman to ignore their support when they finally came to watch him years later, according to O’Connor.

“His family was against this thing he loved,” O’Connor explained. “And it really caused a schism in the family and a really total estrangement.”

In his late teens and early twenties, Norman devoted himself to perfecting his “single plane swing” so he could consistently hit the ball where he wanted with remarkable precision.

The “single plane swing” was Norman’s attempt to improve the efficiency of the shot and remove the number of variables involved. Addressing the ball, Norman made sure the club’s shaft position was maintained at impact and he did so using a wide stance, tense 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.

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

Later in his career, Norman would run fan clinics, during which he would show off his precision. He even attracted the attention of professional colleagues, such was his precision.

Yet for Norman, winning tournaments was not the end goal. The clean ball hitting process was more “spiritual” to him – something he described to O’Connor as the “feeling of greatness.”

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

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do what Moe could do to a golf ball, regarding the evenness of the flight, the windows where he would hit the golf ball and with such simplicity,” Graves – co – founder of “Graves Golf Academy” – told CNN Sport.

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Graves observing Norman in Pine Needles, SC, 1998.

‘Very strange’

Truly trusting only his closest friends, Norman might seem “very strange” if you didn’t know him, according to O’Connor, who recounts how the golfer escaped from a restaurant in the middle of a interview – for Norman’s own book – simply to ease the unease he felt around a particular line of questioning.

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

Included on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of autism symptoms are avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone, repeating or repeating words or phrases, or repeating “words or phrases instead of normal language “, and not being able to relate to others or” not at all interested in others “. Each of these symptoms, in retrospect, could have been applied to Norman.

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

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

When Norman was around five, he was sledding with a friend and as they slid down 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 did not take him to the hospital, and neuroscientists interviewed by O’Connor speculated that Norman’s different personality could be due to a frontal lobe brain injury.

“He knew what was important in life. He was just unable to express it like a lot of people would. He didn’t make any jokes at all. And he just lived in this very confined golf area. and came out as a strange character to a lot of people, ”O’Connor said.

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Norman felt that he did not have

Feel at home

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

O’Connor remembers stories of Norman easily chatting with spectators during rounds and even taking bets on spectators on whether he could bounce a ball off his driver over 100 times or hit a ball in his pockets. of their shirt.

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

While Brunton Norman was “extremely confident” with a club in hand, facing only his fellow players in the clubhouse, he was described “as a kid of 12”.

“He was intimidated. He didn’t understand how to behave with other players. He was so intimidated by his peers,” Brunton told Graves.

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

With over 60 wins on the Canadian Tour, Norman has appeared in 27 PGA Tour events in 15 years, finishing in the top 10 just once, earning just $ 7,139.

He also competed in five Senior PGA Tour events, in which he won $ 22,900 in cash prizes.

He appeared only twice in all 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 difficult for Norman.

He also had to endure at least one alleged incident of bullying by anonymous professional colleagues. In his sophomore year on the Tour, he was cornered by two players in the middle of a tournament – one in which Norman was in contention – and said: “You have to stop playing the silly, grab a caddy, stop with the big tees, “according to O’Connor.

The PGA of America – which hosted the tour before the modern PGA Tour was established in 1968 – did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

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Carriers accompany the coffin of Canadian golf legend Norman.

“This led Moe to think he felt out of place and that he was not welcome there,” O’Connor added. “Because he just had the feeling that they didn’t like him. What if Moe felt that people had him for him, or that they were here and he was there or if he was? felt offended by you, he would write you out. “

Later in life money was a problem for Norman as well. According to Golf Digest in 1995, the golfer lived in a motel room for $ 400 a month and kept his clothes in his car. Later in life, golf maker Titleist paid Norman $ 5,000 per month for the rest of his life for his services to the sport.

A few years later, in 2004, Moe Norman passed away at the age of 75. And although he did not achieve the success of his contemporaries, the legacy of this true pioneer of golf and self-proclaimed “the best ball forward who ever lived” must not be forgotten.

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