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Relevant once more, but has Greg Norman jumped the shark with new golf league?

Opinion

Obscenely rich Saudi sponsors and the game’s one-time pin-up boy are the perfect match to establish a new mega-rich golf series – but will anyone be watching? asks Michael Blucher

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A number of years ago, at a time of life more corporate but less complicated, I was driving through the Queensland countryside with an emerging cricket star in the front passenger seat of my company car – all part of a sporting sponsor’s road show.

“Bung your signature on those posters mate, so we’re ready when we get to the next town, “ I suggested. pointing to the pile of merchandise at his feet.

“What for?” he asked dismissively. “Nobody even knows who I am.”

“Perhaps not now, but they will in a couple of years,” I assured him. “Then they’ll have a collector’s item.”

Five years later, right on cue, Andrew Symonds was one the biggest names in world cricket, kids with miniature bats and caps in hand lining 10 deep to secure his autograph, or take one of those awkward early era “selfies”.

Fame. It’s a fickle thing, isn’t it? One year, Symmo doesn’t feel famous enough, a few years later, he’s too famous, even suggesting to Cricket Australia, his employer, they could cut his contract in half, if it meant he didn’t have to do all that “promo stuff”.

Yes, balancing the scales of anonymity and notoriety is damn near impossible.

We’ve got the nobodies craving to somebodies, the little bit famous wanting to be a lot famous, and those who are really famous just wishing everybody would bugger off and leave them in peace.

Tucked in the middle, a small pocket of true “celebrities” who enjoy the fruits of their stardom, but at the same time, keep it all in perspective. What did actor Michael J Fox call it – “Hocus-pocus”?

The group we haven’t yet addressed of course are the people who at one point were “mega celebrities”, but over time, their star began to fade and flicker, before disappearing altogether into the darkness of night.

Sure, they’re probably still recognisable – “hey look, there’s so and so…” but they’re no longer feted and fussed over the way they once were. Senior politicians for instance. But let’s not burden ourselves with any more talk about them – certainly not now.

The “celebrity” I want to slice and dice is infinitely more interesting.

I want to fillet The Shark.

It’s been hard to ignore all the social media treats Greg Norman has served up over the past decade. The nude photo shoots – on the horse, in the shower, the pic of him strolling down the beach in Florida that suggested he could be nicknamed “The Snake” instead of The Shark…

For a bloke who has always been so image conscious – the first truly global brand in world golf – you have to wonder… WHAT IS GOING ON?

Is it pre-meditated? All carefully mapped out on a social media schedule? Or does he wake up one morning and think…where can I get nude today?

From the outside looking in, it presents as a chronic case of “relevance deprivation syndrome” – the bloke who for a long time was far and away Australia’s most famous sporting export, still craving the spotlight and attention he once commanded.

In 2022, there are many too young to fully appreciate just how big of a superstar Greg Norman was – the ripped frame, the tanned skin, the mop of hair the colour of the sand at Surfers. He was true box office – Warnie with clubs.

I still remember the day he disqualified himself from the tournament at Palm Meadows on the Gold Coast in the late 1980s – 20,000 of the 30,000 who’d bought a general admission ticket, immediately left the course. No Shark, no bait, no interest. We’re out of here.

There were also all the accoutrements of true fame – the private jets, the super yachts. And the connections. The Shark had Prime Ministers and Presidents on speed dial. He even had them falling down the front steps of his house in Florida.

Where do you think “The Presidents Cup” concept came from? The Shark swamping down late night whiskies with George W. Bush… “Hey why don’t we create a tournament…a teams event in your honour?”

Yes the Shark didn’t just swim in elite circles, he created them.

And now he’s sitting on horses in the nude, and flogging watches on Instagram. Funny, strange, curious, even a little sad, all at the same time.

That’s what makes Norman’s involvement in this rebel “Saudi Golf League” all the more compelling.

There’s no suggestion that’s been conjured up to cure the aforementioned “relevance deprivation syndrome”. The Shark has always been passionate about a global golf tour. Boldly and bravely, he tried to kick start one in 1994 when he was in his absolute prime, but Arnold Palmer, the original Godfather of Golf, came out strongly against it. From that moment on, Norman’s dream was dead and buried.

You can argue back and forth the merit of the SGL. In the eyes of some, it’s abhorrent – Injecting that “filthy Saudi money” tears at the very fabric of the game. In the view of others, it’s just what golf needs. A challenge to the establishment, the size of which we’ve never seen before.

Either way, The Shark’s right in the thick of it, dolling out the dosh, trying to bait the game’s true superstars with the promise of obscene amounts of cash, or less crassly, an “opportunity to capitalise on their true market value”. Professional golfers are, after all, “independent contractors” – they should be able to play where they like.

It’ll be interesting to see how it all unfolds, and longer term, how it impacts the place Greg Norman, golfing great and global sporting celebrity, occupies in our hearts and minds.

At least on one level, he’s already got what he wants.

The Shark is back in the spotlight, feasting on the attention.

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