Don’t Worry Greg (Norman), I’ve Got A Gun In My Bag.

The 1996 Masters was just my second appearance at Augusta National and with a round remaining, what an occasion it promised to be for this Australian-born reporter.

Greg Norman leading the 60th hosting of the Masters by six shots and looking to become the first Australian golfer to win at Augusta National.

As Sunday morning dawned, I was not alone in having put a skelton copy together featuring all sorts of record-breaking Norman and Australian golfing achievements, and thinking to myself all we needed now was to marry-in Norman’s victory quotes.

Of course, it never happened.

Norman maintained a four shot lead through seven holes, and then proceeded to lose five shots to par over the next five holes and with Faldo managing just one birdie over the same 12 holes.  The hurt continued as Norman then proceeded to find the water with his tee shot on 12 in taking a double-bogey and with any thoughts of Norman being fitted with an Augusta National members green jacket disappearning to the bottom of the water guarding the green on 16.

Faldo won a third Masters and his sixth Major with a stress-free round of 67 for a five-shot success over Norman who was second with his horror six-over 78.

So much for the copy I had prepared.

Next tournament stop was Hilton Head for the then named MCI Classic and where both Faldo and Norman were competing.

Newspapers around the world were dominated with sports page headlines of Norman’s collapse and with Sydney’s Daily Telegraph posting a huge one word headline on their back page:  ‘Choke!’  The author of the story itself was the now late, Tom Ramsey though in his later years Tom had lost Norman’s respect and even moreso once Norman saw that headline.

In arriving at the Sea Pines course here was the sight late on Tuesday afternoon of Norman working on his bunker shots.  My good friends, colleagues and also fellow Australians, Andrew Both, Charles Happle and myself headed off to watch Norman and hoping to get a chat with him on his Masters collaspe.

Not for a minute did the three of us genuinely believe we would get access to our crestfallen compatriot.

To his enormous credit, Norman looked in our direction and gave us that nod of approval we could approach him and here is where Andrew was brilliant.  There must have been just four of five us in the bunker by Norman’s side and it was Andrew leading the questions with Norman opening-up on the events post his Masters meltdown such as flying back to Florida in his private jet and just remaining on the plane into the early hours of Monday morning wondering where it all went wrong.  He spoke also of taking his children to school later that Monday morning and also how the loss had impacted him.

Norman had again arranged for his ultra-luxury 87-foot fishingboat, proudly named ‘Aussie Rules’ to be again his Hilton Head accommodation and after chatting with him, he invited Andrew, Charlie and myself onto his boat later that evening.

The three of us headed back to the Media Centre pretty proud of ourselves we had been able to speak to Greg when so many other players would have blown us away.   I could just imagine if it had of been Faldo in reverse circumstances as you would not have have got nowhere near him, even armed with a barge pole.

Also, in those early days post the 1996 Masters it was all about Norman’s worst collaspe in his Major’s history and this Aussie journalist trio had a great scoop.

We took-up Norman’s invitation and made our way to ‘Aussie Rules’ anchored in close-by Hilton Head harbour but the evening was more like a wake.   If my memory serves me correct, Norman’s close friends Nick Price and Peter Jacobsen were on board, and we spent the couple of hours chatting with Norman’s caddy, Tony Navarro.

Norman, for the most part, remained inside the cabin while we stayed at the back of the boat happy enough drinking a few ‘tinnies’.

Norman was drawn for the opening two Hilton Head rounds to play with American Charlie Rhymer and there was an incident well into the round when a spectator shouted out at Norman:  “Why did you choke?”   At that moment, Navarro dropped Norman’s bag and was under the spectator ropes after the individual but he had been stopped by security staff and was escorted from the course.

The next morning I was on the practice range and there on the spot when Rhymer called out as Norman made his way onto the range.

“Hey Greg?”

Norman responded: “Yes, Charlie?”

“We’ll have no trouble with spectators today”.

Norman:  “Why’s that Charlie?”

“Because I have a gun in my bag (laughing)”

Everyone about Norman and Rhymer that Friday morning broke-up laughing.

Fast forward to the 2017 Masters and Rhymer, now working for the Golf Channel, was in the dining room of the Media Centre at Augusta National.  I sat down with him and got talking about the events of 21-years earlier and I retold the tale of the events I had witnessed that Friday morning at the 1996 MCI Heritage.

“Charlie?  I have to ask you.  Did you really have a gun in your golf bag?”, I said.

“You’re damn right I did!” was his reply.





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