The Conquest of Norman
Who knows what went on behind the scenes when Fox Sports recently decided to terminate Greg Norman as their lead golf analyst? Several days later, Fox announced – to no one’s surprise – that they had hired Paul Azinger to replace Norman.
I’m guessing that most of the golf world is happy about this… Zinger is thoughtful, interesting, committed, courageous, and often amusing. He was a tough competitor, never afraid to stand up to fierce opponents (like Ballesteros, Faldo, and, yes, Norman), and endeared himself to his fellow Americans by his play in the Ryder Cup, and later his successful captaincy of the U.S. Ryder team. So, bully for Fox Sports. (Come to think of it, why didn’t they just hire Azinger in the first place?)
I can’t help but think, though, that Fox treated Greg Norman very shabbily in this whole exercise. They certainly made a big deal of his hiring last Spring, so summarily firing him last month didn’t make Fox executives look all that smart for their hiring decision in the first place.
It would appear that Greg’s firing offence occurred during his first broadcast (as lead analyst) at the U.S. Open last June. This was the wild-and-wacky tournament that ended up in Jordan Spieth’s lap when Dustin Johnson three-putted from 10 feet on the 72nd hole. Norman, like roughly 300 million other people, was dumb-founded and unable to find words at that crucial moment, and as I remember, said pretty much that: “I don’t know what to say”… basically, the ultimate sin for someone who’s paid to HAVE something to say.
There weren’t many people who thought Norman had done a good job on that broadcast, for sure. But one might’ve thought that Greg’s stature as one of the great golfers of the 20th Century would’ve been enough to give him a mulligan for the next Fox outing, in 2016. Or, more to the point, even if termination was necessary, his stature should’ve given him the courtesy of being allowed to announce that he had “decided to leave” of his own free will.
Or, at the very least, they could’ve announced that Norman and Fox had “jointly decided” that Greg would take himself off the lead analyst role, and perhaps appear as a “guest analyst” a few times during future broadcasts.
Would a stay of execution have killed Fox, or the viewers?
Instead, it was very clear that Greg was dumped, period. And yes, you can say, would Greg really care all that much? After all, he’s worth a gazillion dollars, with several very successful business interests, and he enjoys a sweet life. And since he’s not universally loved by his peers, and he’s rubbed a lot of people the wrong way over the years, why would anybody care about how he was treated, much less Greg?
Having had some experience with Greg Norman in the past – some of it unpleasant – I came to the conclusion some time ago that, for all his fame and success and huge ego, this is a very sensitive man, and one who does not like to be crossed. I remember experiencing, first hand, some 20 years ago, his seething rage over an article that had appeared in Golf Digest that was quite critical of his attitude and motives. And I well remember his anger, around the same time, when he and I argued about the pace of play in a pro-am I was managing. More recently, I understand, he loudly and publicly resigned from The Medalist, the golf club he built near his home in Florida, when the members decided to hire someone else to tweak the course he had originally designed.
So I can’t imagine that his public dumping by Fox Sports would sit very well with him. And in this case, I sympathize. It was, in my view, frankly insulting, and undeserved. He may not have been perfect in his first performance as lead analyst, but who is, or was? Faldo was dreadful for his first few broadcasts on Golf Channel, as I remember. I still think Curtis Strange and Lanny Wadkins are weak when they’re on TV, although they’ve gotten better. Who’s to say that Norman wouldn’t have, too?
You may say, again, who cares… this is now yesterday’s news. But now that Greg Norman’s playing days are behind him, and therefore he won’t be in the news much in the months and years ahead, I would submit that this little episode will hang over Greg’s head like a skunk’s odour, and that is very unfair. After all, he didn’t do anything wrong, he just didn’t do what people – including his producers – might have wanted or expected him to do. And in that sense, I don’t believe he was given a fair chance…
His punishment far exceeded his “crime”.