Commentary

Greg Norman's legacy on display at Cup

Updated: November 14, 2011, 11:29 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Some of Geoff Ogilvy's earliest recollections of golf while growing up in Australia centered around watching a couple of guys with blond hair. They seemingly were always the players leading and winning golf tournaments. Certainly that is how he remembers it.

[+] EnlargeGreg Norman
Ryan Pierse/Getty ImagesPresidents Cup International team captain Greg Norman made the cut at the Australian Open last week. It was the first time since December that he walked two rounds of golf.

"And one of them was from Australia,'' Ogilvy said.

That would be Greg Norman, of course, the idol to just about every aspiring golfer in Australia, including the five who are part of the 12-man International Presidents Cup team that takes on the United States at Royal Melbourne.

Ogilvy also remembers another legend, the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, but it is his countryman Norman who helped inspire him and plenty of other golfers from Down Under.

Norman, 56, is back for his second go as captain, a most obvious decision given his influence in the game and the fact that the competition is being played in Australia for the second time.

The native of Queensland with the ultra-cool nickname The Shark -- first given for his scuba diving exploits off the Great Barrier Reef -- was ranked No. 1 in the world for more time than anyone but Tiger Woods. He won 20 PGA Tour titles, some 90 worldwide victories, and two majors.

Along the way, he returned to his homeland, supported the game, and inspired a nation of just 20 million people.

"Probably '86 was the obvious year [I took notice],'' said Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open champion. "He was leading every tournament he played. I was 9 in '86.

"I guess the best measure of his influence is in 1986 we had three or four guys on tour in the U.S. Twenty five years later we have about 20. That's a fair testament to how many kids thought golf was cool and picked up golf clubs in the late 1980s and early '90s.''

Adam Scott, 31, was one of those players. He grew up a Norman fan, has been mentored by him, even shared a coach -- Butch Harmon.

"I think it would be the equivalent of what Arnold Palmer did for golf in the United States, is what Greg Norman is doing for golf,'' Scott said. "He was that charismatic guy who made the game so popular down here. Kids like myself stopped playing other sports to play golf. I think that is a huge impact that he had on the game.

"Absolutely he was my inspiration from my first memory of watching him in the '87 Masters, to lose the playoff to [Larry] Mize. From there on I followed him very closely throughout his whole career ... He was carrying the game on a global stage for a lot of his career. We are proud Australians and we were behind him 100 percent, especially as a kid, looking up to him. You wanted to see him succeed every time.''

Of course, Norman's legacy includes his bitter defeats on the biggest stages. He lost all four major championships in playoffs, and suffered a cruel fate at the Masters, where he had nine top-10 finishes.

"I'm singing his praises,'' Scott said. "He was such a great role model as a kid. He handled those defeats very well and I think that shaped the way young Australians were brought up in the game.''

And Norman never turned his back on his homeland. Although he's lived in Florida for years, and set up a global business empire, he typically returned to Australia for various events. For a time, he had an Australasian Tour event named after him.

He also supported golf here by playing. Norman, even into his 50s, has frequently played in the big tournaments. Just last week he made the cut at the Australian Open despite not having walked two rounds of golf since last December.

"He was unbelievable,'' Ogilvy said. "He played everything. Came to [the Australian Open] every year. There were some years when he played six or seven times in Australia when he was the best golfer in the world. You can't see that happening these days. Australian golf is very strong right now and a very big contributing factor is him.''

The International team has won the Presidents Cup just once in nine tries, the lone victory coming here at Royal Melbourne 13 years ago. Norman played on that team that defeated the Americans 20 to 11. It was so long ago that Woods had just one major title.

Ogilvy and Scott will be joined on the International team by fellow Australians Jason Day, Aaron Baddeley and Robert Allenby. Ogilvy, Baddeley and Allenby all grew up in the Melbourne area, and Allenby figures he's played the Royal Melbourne course more than anybody but Norman.

For his part, Norman has become a big fan of those he has mentored. In April, Scott and Day made a strong bid to become the first Australian to win the Masters, as they tied for second, with Ogilvy tying for fourth along with Woods.

"I love watching what these guys have done,'' Norman said. "They've watched me play. Now I am watching them play. To see them do what they did at Augusta this year, it was the first time I sat on the edge of my seat ever watching the game of golf.

"On my phone I have a photograph of the Aussies on the leaderboard. They slotted Tiger Woods in there just to mess it up. They had Tiger just above Geoff Ogilvy. I was ticked off. I wanted them to drop Tiger's name down one. That's how proud I was. I was watching TV in my house and taking pictures of the TV because [three] Australians had a chance to win the Masters.''

Now he'd like to watch them help the International team win the Presidents Cup for just the second time.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com