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Moe Norman, the Glenn Gould of golf

The Story

As his nickname suggests, Moe Norman is a golf genius with profound eccentricities. "The Glenn Gould of golf" is widely acclaimed as the best ball-striker ever. Now, at age 66, he's a celebrity at trade shows, and fans eagerly sign up for his golf clinics. His sweet swing looks awkward and stiff but Norman can strike the ball farther and straighter than anyone else. But for many years Norman was a virtual unknown, a has-been who was kicked out of the Canadian amateur ranks because he was caught selling his tournament prizes. Some suspected Norman was autistic, others hypothesized that he suffered brain damage. Norman himself comments that he has always been an outsider. "I'm in a different world," he says in this CBC Television documentary. Living on the brink of poverty, Norman continued to golf. As he aged his swing never faltered. No one has been able to replicate his accuracy and distance. For this, the eccentric and shy golfer is enjoying a renaissance. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National Magazine
Broadcast Date: April 12, 1996
Guests: Tony Matlock, Moe Norman, Marie Norman, Tim O'Connor, Craig Shanklin, Wally Uihlein
Host: Hana Gartner
Reporter: Tom Alderman
Duration: 19:22
Footage: PGA, Natural Golf.

Did You know?

• Murray Norman was born July 10, 1929, in Kitchener, Ont.
• Norman was a poor student but he excelled in math. In 1995, Golf Digest writer David Owen remarked that Norman could recite the yardage of almost every golf hole he played and remembered every shot from every important tournament he ever played.
• Like many of his contemporaries, Norman began golfing while working as a caddy at his local golf course.

• To support himself when he was a young man, Norman set pins at a bowling alley. He hitchhiked to golf tournaments and would play in his street clothes.
• In 1948, Norman became determined to develop the perfect swing. He practiced from dawn to dusk, launching a minimum of 600 balls.

• In 1995 Norman recalled to Golf Digest, "I'd think to myself about which muscles were more tired than the others. Which ones still wanted to hit another ball. How did my left eye feel compared with my right eye? Since my right leg was much more tired than my left, that meant that I was keeping my weight back there too long. My body did my talking. My body memorized my swing. My mind didn't even enter into my swing."

• Norman was known for his quick play. He never took any practice swings, crouched down on his haunches to line up the shot, or took dramatic pauses to calm his nerves. Instead, he preferred to drive the ball and then hurry down the fairway to take his next shot.

• In 1955 and 1956, Norman was named the Canadian Amateur Champion. Over the course of his career, he won 54 tournaments, set 33 course records and shot 17 holes-in-one.
• Norman became notorious for purposefully sabotaging his game so he wouldn't have to make a victory speech and mingle with the crowd.

• Although terribly shy, Norman liked to make spectators laugh at golf games. As told in this 1963 Assignment interview, Norman enjoyed launching golf balls off Coke bottles and joking with the crowd while playing.

• In 1956, Norman was expelled from the amateur Royal Canadian Golf Association for selling his prizes and accepting loans to travel to tournaments. In 1957, Norman turned professional. In 1966, he was named the Canadian Professional Golfers Champion. In 1974, he was the Professional Golfers Champion.

• In 1995, the golf accessory company Titleist offered Norman a $5,000 per month stipend just for being Moe. Wally Uhlein, Titleist chairman and CEO, explained that his company often gives scholarships to athletes at the start of their careers. In this case, support was needed at the end of a career.

• Norman's unique sensibility also made him one of the most quotable golfers. Here is a sampling of some of his words of wisdom:
- "Golf is easy. People make it hard."
- "Be your own best friend. Have a good attitude. Don't let the game eat you -- you eat the game. When you step up to the tee, be glad you're up. Don't be afraid."
- "Everybody asks themselves [after a round] what did I do wrong? I say, 'What did I do right?' That's what I want to learn -- what I did right."
-- from Golf Today Magazine
• Norman never married. He died Sept. 4, 2004, of heart failure at the age of 75.


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