Mo Norman: Golf’s “Rain Man” That Impresses Even Great Players

“Golf is like a walk in the park, a walk in the park… It’s repetitive,” adds O’Connor, describing Norman’s speech patterns. “He had such a melodious tone in his voice and his eyes kind of ran all over the place.”

But like Babbitt, Norman’s offbeat personality was accompanied by a touch of genius—it was his golfing skills that earned him the self-proclaimed title of “the best hitter that ever lived.”

In an era when golf legends such as Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Lee Trevino regularly won major titles, Norman only competed in the Masters twice, but his accuracy still commanded the respect of many of his fellow players and earned him cult status.

Thanks to his very distinctive “one plane swing” that he created, practiced and perfected himself, and elements of which have now been adopted by modern players such as US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau, Norman could repeatedly hit the same spot on the fairway or green with unmistakable regularity.

Regardless, Canadian is not a household name.

Whether it’s his shyness in front of newcomers, his “eccentric” nature, or the fact that he never enjoyed the same success on the PGA tour as his contemporaries, those who knew him say that Norman often just didn’t fit in.

“We live in this culture where we celebrate celebrities and those who have reached the highest level. Mo didn’t do it,” O’Connor, author of Sense of Greatness: The Mo Norman Story, told CNN Sport. “Moe was just a great character. He was a very complex person.

“And I think maybe if Mo came along in the last 20 years, maybe we would embrace his eccentricities and he could thrive a little more.”

Although Norman's character was described as

Different from the start

Norman was born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in 1929. As a child, Norman liked to spend his days with friends or play hockey. However, once he discovered golf, his life began to change, but according to O’Connor, it came at a cost.

As Norman’s interest in golf grew, fueled by a regular caddy at a local club, his working-class family wondered why he chose to play the sport often associated with more elite members of society.

According to O’Connor, despite Norman’s ever-growing passion for the game, his family “totally rejected it”, causing Norman to ignore their support when they eventually came to watch him years later.

“His family was against what he loved,” O’Connor explained. “And it really caused a split in the family and a really complete estrangement.”

In his late teens and early twenties, Norman devoted himself to perfecting his “single flat shot” so that he could regularly hit the ball where he wanted with astounding accuracy.

“Single Plane Swing” was Norman’s attempt to increase the effectiveness of the shot and eliminate a number of variables involved. When addressing the ball, Norman ensured that the shaft of the stick remained in place on impact, and he did so using a wide stance, extended posture, and aligned arms. 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 training ground that by the time he left, his palms were bleeding from repeating his practice.

Later in his career, Norman would conduct fan workshops during which he would demonstrate his accuracy. He would even attract the attention of fellow professionals, such was his accuracy.

However, for Norman, winning tournaments was not the ultimate goal. The process of hitting the ball cleanly was more “spiritual” for him—what he described to O’Connor as a “feeling of grandeur”.

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 a Canadian kicking a ball up close still blew him away.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do what Moe could do with a golf ball, in terms of flight consistency, the windows he hit the golf ball, and with such ease — Graves, co-founder. from Graves Golf Academy, CNN Sport told CNN Sport.

Graves watching Norman in Pine Needles, South Carolina in 1998

‘Very strange’

According to O’Connor, who really only trusted his closest friends, Norman could seem “very strange” if you didn’t know him. to alleviate the anxiety he felt about a certain line of question.

Given these character traits, O’Connor says some people have subsequently hypothesized that Norman may have been on the autism spectrum.

A list of autism symptoms compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone, repeating or repeating words or phrases, or repeating “words or phrases instead of normal language,” and an inability to relate to others or “not at all be interested in other people. Each of these symptoms, in hindsight, could apply to Norman as well.

Norman with touring players 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 about five years old, he was sledding with a friend, and, according to O’Connor, as they slid down the road, he was struck in the forehead by a tire from the back of a car.

Because he had no broken bones, his family did not take him to the hospital, and neuroscientists interviewed by O’Connor speculated that Norman’s personality change could be due to frontal brain injury.

“He knew what was important in life. He just couldn’t express it the way many people can. He didn’t understand jokes at all. He just lived in this very limited area of ​​golf and looked like a weird character to a lot of people,” O’Connor said.

Norman felt that he

Feeling at home

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

O’Connor recalls stories of Norman casually chatting to spectators during rounds and even taking bets from spectators on whether he could hit his driver over 100 times or hit the ball in his shirt pocket.

Graves, who is also executive producing the upcoming documentary on Norman, recalls a conversation with former PGA Canada specialist Henry Brunton about changing Norman’s behavior on and off the field.

While Brunton describes Norman as “supremely confident” with a stick in hand, he was “like a 12-year-old kid” when he only faced his clubmates.

“He was scared. He did not understand how to behave with other players. He was so intimidated by his peers,” Brunton told Graves.

Although he achieved great success in his native Canada, Norman wrestled on the larger stage of the US PGA Tour.

While he has over 60 wins on the Canada Tour, Norman has competed in 27 PGA Tour events in 15 years, finishing in the top 10 only once, earning just $7,139.

He also competed in five Senior PGA Tour tournaments where he earned $22,900 in prize money.

He only made two appearances in four majors, playing the Masters in 1956 and 1957.

According to Graves, adjusting to life on the road in a new country and without familiarity with its support system proved difficult for Norman.

He also had to endure at least one alleged case of bullying by unnamed professional colleagues. In just his second year on the Tour, he was cornered by two players in the middle of a tournament that Norman was in and told, “You have to stop fooling around, get a caddy, stop playing big tees,” according to O’Connor.

PGA of America, which ran the tour before the modern PGA Tour was organized in 1968, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Coffin bearers carry the coffin of Canadian golf legend Norman.

“It resulted in Moe feeling throughout his life that he didn’t feel like he belonged and that he wasn’t welcome here,” O’Connor added. “Because he just had the feeling that they didn’t like him. And if Moe had the feeling that people hated him, or that they were here and he was here, or if he felt that you offended him, he would write to you. off. “

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

Just a few years later, in 2004, Moe Norman died at the age of 75. While he did not achieve the tournament success that his contemporaries enjoyed, the legacy of this true pioneer of golf and self-proclaimed “best hitter ever lived” should not be forgotten.