“’Golf is like a walk in the park, walking in the park’… He repeated himself,” adds O’Connor, describing Norman’s mannerisms of language. “He had this sort of singing melody in his voice and his eyes were going all over the place.”
But like Babbitt, Norman’s unusual personality was accompanied by a touch of genius – such was his talent as a golfer 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 appeared only 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 “swing single plane” – which he created, practiced and perfected himself and which current players, like US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau, have now picked up on – Norman was able to hit repeatedly the same spot on the fairway or green with infallible regularity.
Despite this, the Canadian is not a household name.
Whether it was shyness towards newcomers, his “eccentric” personality, or the fact that he had never enjoyed the same success on the PGA Tour as his contemporaries, those who knew him say Norman often did. out of 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 if Moe came in the last 20 years, maybe we would have embraced his eccentricities and he could have flourished a little bit more.”
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 cost, says O’Connor.
As Norman’s interest in golf blossomed, fueled by regular caddies 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 separation.”
In his late teens and early twenties, Norman devoted himself to perfecting his “one-plane swing” so that he could consistently hit the ball where he wanted with remarkable precision.
The “swing single plane” was Norman’s attempt to improve the efficiency of the shot and eliminate 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, extended pose and aligned hands. It was a swing that synchronized the movements of the hips, shoulders, arms and hands.
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 will run fan clinics, during which he will show his precision. He would even attract 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” for 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 seeing the Canadiens hitting balls up close always blew him away.
“I don’t think I ever saw anyone do what Moe could do to a golf ball, in regards to the consistency of the flight, the windows he would hit the golf ball and with such simplicity,” Graves – co-founder of ‘Graves Golf Academy’ – told CNN Sport.
Truly trusting only his closest friends, Norman might come off as “very strange” if you didn’t know him, according to O’Connor, who recounts how the golfer once fled a mid-interview restaurant – for the 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, one should avoid eye contact and be willing to be alone, repeat or echo words or phrases, or repeat “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 applied to Norman.
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 was no broken bone, his family did not take him to the hospital, and neuroscientists interviewed O’Connor speculated that Norman’s different personality may have been due to a brain injury to the frontal lobe.
“He knew what was important in life. He was just unable to express it like a lot of people would. He didn’t have any jokes at all. And he just lived in this very confined area of golf and is came out as a strange character to a lot of people, ”O’Connor said.
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 spectator bets on being able to bounce a ball off his pilot over 100 times or hitting a ball in their shirt pockets. .
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 behavior on and off the course.
While Brunton describes Norman as being “extremely confident” with a club in hand, facing his clubhouse mates, he was “like a 12 year old kid”.
“He was intimidated. He didn’t understand how to deal 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.
While racking up over 60 wins on the Canadian Tour, Norman competed in 27 PGA Tour events for 15 years, finishing in the top 10 just once, earning just $ 7,139.
He also competed in five senior PGA Tour tournaments, in which he won $ 22,900 in prizes.
He only appeared 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 intimidation from unidentified colleagues. Only in his second year on the Tour, he was cornered by two players in the middle of a tournament – one in which Norman was contending – and said: “You have to stop frolic, take a caddy, stop with the big tee. – shirt, “according to O’Connor.
The PGA of America – which ran the tour before the modern PGA Tour was established in 1968 – did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
“It made Moe all his life thinking that he didn’t feel 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 because of his service to the sport.
A few years later, in 2004, Moe Norman died at the age of 75. And while he did not achieve the tournament success his contemporaries enjoyed, the legacy of this true golf pioneer and self-proclaimed “best ball forward” who ever lived “should not be forgotten.