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Proud Aussie Norman hopes for more big moments

Greg Norman has represented Australia as a player and a captain of the International team at the Presidents Cup.

HOBE SOUND, Fla. -- There is a framed photograph hanging on the wall of Greg Norman's office. He isn't sure of the year it was taken -- a good guess would be 1990, perhaps in the late 1980s -- but other details are more clear.

The event was the Australian Masters. Norman was ranked as the world's best golfer at the time. Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo, his two biggest competitors, were also in the field that week at Huntingdale Golf Club in Melbourne. It was the final round. Norman is on a tee box.

But the aspect of the photo that really sticks out is the sea of fans waiting for him to tee off, all eager to cheer on their country's biggest sporting hero. Norman already had experienced the thrill of winning a major, having claimed the British Open in 1986, but this was a different feeling. His countrymen, united as one, sharing a passion for golf and golfing excellence.

"It was the most powerful moment that I had ever felt when I walked onto that tee," Norman recently recalled during an interview at his South Florida home. "It eclipses walking onto the tee at Royal Birkdale when I had the lead of Sunday.

"The magnitude of what Seve and Faldo and myself were doing for Australia at that time was huge. It was like one of those moments ..."

Then Norman stops himself for a second, searching for the best way to finish his thought. He settled on one word.


Norman will once again be among his countrymen this week, albeit not as a player. This time, his responsibilities are much broader in scope as the International Captain at The Presidents Cup. His team consists of players from four different countries, but the majority of the fans at Royal Melbourne will share his accent.

Although he has lived in the United States since the early 1980s, Norman makes frequent visits back to his homeland and has never given up citizenship. He remains a proud Aussie -- proud of his country, proud of the people who live there, proud of the various cultures, the uniqueness, the friendliness that comes with being Australian.

And proud of the fact that his native land and his adopted homeland are linked in ways well beyond the spoken language.

"Here's a stat that few people know -- Australia has fought alongside America in every way that America has fought outside the Civil War," Norman said. "When you think about that, Australia -- a country of now 21 million -- being a little brother to America ... well, that's pretty cool."

Norman takes the business of being Australian seriously. He knew that his talents as a world-class golfer would allow him to spread the word about the land Down Under. He has embraced being a spokesman and a representative of Australia. It wasn't always easy.

Norman recalled the time in the mid-1970s when he first began playing in tournaments in the United States and someone asked him a simple question: Do you guys have electricity in Australia?

"True story," Norman said, shaking his head.

A decade later, anything Australian was in vogue. Norman had won his first major, and a few months later, "Crocodile Dundee" became a Hollywood hit.

But when Paul Hogan, the star of the movie, made his commercials for Australian tourism in the 1980s, he was told to use the phrase, "Shrimp on the barbie," even though Australians refer to them as "prawns." Norman wrote in his book, "The Way of the Shark," that the spin doctors didn't think "prawns on the barbie" would resonate with U.S. consumers.

Norman was determined to sell authentic Australia to the rest of the world. Although his design team had drawn upon aboriginal artwork as inspiration for his apparel, Norman realized that he "hadn't really succeeded in bringing an Australian product to the U.S. Rather, I had only drawn inspiration from Australia."

So he set up a workshop at his Sydney office to figure out how to take that next step. The result was Greg Norman Wine Estates, with premium wine from the best-growing regions of Australia, including Eden Valley and the Limestone Coast. For Norman, it was the perfect pairing of two of his passions -- wine and the selling of Australia.

"Australia has so much to offer that's so unique," Norman said. "You can't find it anywhere else in the world ... If I can bring a little bit of the Australian culture where I go, I'm happy to do it."

It can have its challenges. As one of the most recognized representatives of his country, Norman is scrutinized in ways ordinary citizens are not. Every interview is dissected, every move analyzed.

In discussing his relationship with the Australian media, Norman refers to the phrase, "Tall Poppy Syndrome." Google the phrase and one of the definitions you get back is "Australian slang for the tendency to criticize highly successful people and 'cut them down.'"

Explained Norman: "I never had a problem with carrying the flag on my back. I had a huge problem with the media understanding that responsibility. It's as simple as that. ... The media has destroyed a lot of athletes. That's the DNA in Australia.

"You know it if you've been around it long enough. I think all of us, from Adam Scott to Jason Day to Geoff Ogilvy to Aaron Baddeley to Robert Allenby, we've all felt it and experienced it. They just love the fact that they can build you up and then, one word, the wrong phrase or the wrong way ... It's just sad that it's got to be that way."

Don't worry. Norman has broad shoulders. He can handle it. Besides, the things that matter about Australia, the people who have supported him and cheered him for so many years, can be found in that photo hanging in his office.

"Those kinds of moments are huge," Norman said. "There's only a handful in life that you can pick through and know that they're so deeply entrenched and they're never going to go away."

Norman was a member of the 1998 International team that won The Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. It's the only International win in this event. Now he's the Captain, hoping to lead his squad to a second win in Australia.

He won't hit any tee shots, but perhaps another defining moment in his home country will be produced this week. A moment that will be worthy of finding space on his office wall.

Photo by Dawson, Getty Images 

 Mike McAllister, PGATOUR

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