“Hey Greg (Norman)? I’ve Got A Gun In My Bag”. The Madcap Tour Events At Hilton Head.

This week’s hosting of the RBC Heritage Classic reminds me of many incidents that took place in the days before and during the tournament held annually in the week following the Masters.

It’s a easy 3-hour drive south-east from Augusta, Georgia to Hilton Head Island in South Carolina however, as I have reported before, you have got to stick to the speed limit driving through a number of these sleepy ‘one-horse’ towns.

Just ask Jose Maria Olazabal, who was nabbed the day after the 2012 Masters and taken to the local police station where he was treated like a criminal, having a mugshot taken before being hauled before the local town judge and fined for his indiscretion.

Jose Maria Olazabal looking more like a captured criminal than a speeding motorist.

‘Ollie’ was clocked driving at 97mph (157kmh) in a 65mph zone when stopped by an Effingham County Sheriff’s deputy, and later fined $621

Ireland’s Padraig Harrington was also travelling this section of highway one year and was booked for speeding, and while not suffering the same fate as ‘Ollie’, Harrington made the mistake of mentioning his ‘indiscretion’ to the journalist who posted a piece for the Irish Independent along the lines of … ‘One of the game’s slowest players, found himself being booked for speeding”.

I approached Harrington after his opening round and he greeted me smiling but asking: “Hey Bernie!  Just because I mentioned to you I was caught speeding, doesn’t mean you have to write it up in the newspaper”. Well, at least someone was reading my copy.

There was also the incident a decade ago this week when Graeme McDowell’s mother got lost in trying to find her way back to the house McDowell was renting that week.  It was dark, and if you’ve been to Hilton Head it is easy to lose your way as the side-streets in daylight, let alone in darkness as the streets all look the same, and this is what transpired in McDowell’s mothers case.

Thanks to the actions of a local life-guard, he was able to get Mrs. McDowell back to the house and with McDowell arranging a handful of guest passes by way of a thank you for the chap, who was on hand when McDowell beat Webb Simpson in a play-off.  Then here also in the press room that Sunday night April 21st, 2013 was a smiling lifeguard.

There was also an even more bizarre incident all of now 27-years ago, and in the week following Greg Norman’s meltdown at the 1996 Masters, and much akin to last Sunday when we witnessed Brooks Koepka self-destruct in allowing Jon Rahm to step forward and be fitted with an Augusta National members green jacket.

On arriving at the Sea Pines course in 1996 here was the sight late on Tuesday afternoon of Norman working on his bunker shots.  My good friends, 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 demise.

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.  Here we were 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 yacht, proudly named ‘Aussie Rules’ to be again his Hilton Head accommodation that week, 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 journalists would have been advised to take a long walk on a short pier.

I recall at the time hinking, imagine if it had been Faldo in those circumstances as you would not have got nowhere near him.

Sunday night post the 1996 Masters – Bernie (in red cap) gathered around a crestfallen Greg Norman

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 akin to a wake.   If my memory serves me correctly, Norman’s close friends Nick Price and Peter Jacobsen were on board, and we spent a couple of hours chatting with them along 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 that week to play alongside American Charlie Rhymer.  Rhyme was an infectious character and very popular with the fans while always smiling and inter-acting with players and caddies.  He was born in Tennessee but grew-up and went to college in Georgia.  He was southern USA states to the core. 

Charlie Rhymer … Declaring to Grer Norman he had a gun in his golf bag during the 1996 MCI Heritage Classic

There was an incident well into the first round when a spectator shouted out at Norman: “Why did you choke?”  At that moment, Navarro dropped Norman’s bag and was off like a rocket, under the spectator ropes to chase down the individual who’d already been stopped by security staff and eventually escorted from the course.

The next morning I was hanging around on the practice range when Rhymer arrived.   He spotted Norman and called out to him in making his way to the Aussie.

“Hey Greg?”, said Rhymer.

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”, said Rhymer laughing.

Norman broke out laughing, so did everyone about Norman and Rhymer on the range that Friday morning.

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 introduced myself and sat down talking to him about the events of 21-years earlier, saying to Rhymer what I had witnessed and heard that Friday morning at the 1996 MCI Heritage.

It prompted the question I had been wondering about for then on 11-years.

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

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

Well, end of story and while Rhymer was smiling broadly, I walked away, and even to this day writing this article, still believing he was indeed armed with a ’15th club’ in his bag.


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