Friday, October 27, 2006

"The Way of the Choker" just didn't have the right ring to it.

Comes, now, The Way of the Shark: Lessons on Golf, Business, and Life, Greg Norman's* contribution to the increasingly crowded (but ever-profitable) sports-motivation aisle in your local bookstore. The book is off to a typically rousing start: No. 150 on Amazon as I write this. I caught the author's act on The Today Show yesterdayMatt Lauer once again sitting there, looking as deeply engaged as if he were discussing nuclear disarmament with Condiand I think Norman's advice reduces to this: You succeed by trying to be really, really good at what you do.... That'll be $29.95, please.**

One thing Norman is really, really good at is lining up top-level endorsements for his book. He has managed, enviably enough, to get Way of the Shark touted by Bush (the elder), Clinton, and Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and a modern-day management oracle, to drop just a few names. You meet some heavyweight folks out there on the links who come in handy, later, when you sit down to pen your inspirational tome.

In fairness, there's no discounting Norman's standing in the pantheon of pro golf. At one point in his career, he was the world's top-rated golfer for a half-dozen consecutive years (and then along came a kid named Tiger). But there are also some eyebrow-raising holes in Norman's resume. For all his talent and tenacity, the Shark never won a Masters. He never won a PGA Championship. He never won the U.S. Open. (He did twice win the British Open, which rounds out the sport's glossiest four tourneys.) Again I ask: If victory is a simple matter of focusing one's efforts on the prize at handand if you're possessed of the natural skills that Norman has in spadeshow do you manage not to win three of the top four events in your chosen realm? Especially if you're going to write a how-to book with an audacious title like Way of the Shark?

I'm hardly the only one who has noticed this. ESPN anointed Norman "No. 1" on its list of the "worst choke artists of all-time" (even ahead of the notorious California Angels and skater/faller Michelle Kwan, who might just be the answer to the question, "What's the opposite of a big-gamer?"). ESPN cites as a case in point the Shark's total collapse in the 1996 Masters, when he blew a six-stroke lead on the final day of the tournament (not easy to do at that level), thereby ceding the coveted green jacket to Nick Faldo.

Hmmm. I wonder if Faldo's writing a book called The Way of the Guy Who Ate the Shark's Lunch...

* "The Shark" is a shorthand form of Norman's full golf moniker, The Great White Shark, after the creatures that swim the waters of his country of origin (Australia), his aggressive play, and his sharply edged, near-albino looks.
** That's the cover price, of course. You can get it for $10 less, if you really must, on Amazon.


Steve Salerno said...

Trish--before you even start--I know, I know. But I made it at least a week, didn't I?

Trish Ryan said...

Not saying a word, Steve. Not saying a word :)

matt dick said...

Norman's choke at the Masters was big, and it was slow motion so it hurt more, but it's not even the biggest choke in golf. That has to go to Jean Van de Velde at the British, right? He had to go triple-bogey 7 to give it away on the last hole by one stroke.

I hurt for him just thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I hate to do this to you again but Norman's a great golfer, an all time best, I don't care what ESPN says. You can't get on the guy because he fizzled in a major or two. Look at his record overall! People today are spoiled by Tiger, they forget what it was like in the sharks' hayday!

Steve Salerno said...

Ya see, Carl, here's the deal: I am just using these guys' own logic against them. If winning is mental--if what separates the real top dogs from the rest of the pack is a matter of mental discipline and "the right attitude"--then our Shark friend here has convincingly demonstrated to us, by his utter collapse in major tournaments, that he doesn't have the right attitude. He "choked" under pressure. Right? So what qualifies him to write this book? To teach others how to choke when it really counts? On the other hand, if you're going to argue that Greg Norman's collapse in those tournaments can't really be used as an indictment of his attitude, that it was "just one of those things," that even somebody with a great attitude can be undone by circumstances or outplayed by others--then you're really making MY case: that it's not really about attitude. That attitude doesn't always trump all (in fact, I would argue that it seldom does). You're then admitting that it's really about talent, and luck, and other random variables that we can't predict (or defeat). So no matter which way you slice it...this whole sports-motivation thing falls apart at the seams.

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve, you can argue till you're blue in the face (or sepia, as the case may be :-)), and I happen to agree with you on this issue. But, alas, that's not going to keep all those sports-motivation books (and all those other self-help gems) from becoming bestsellers. Sigh.