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Golf's Heretic: Mo Norman

The Mad Heretic of Golf Moe Norman Preaches A Revolutionary Swing Technique Known As "Natural Golf"
Edward Kiersh
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96

(continued from page 1)

To emphasize his being "an island of purity" in a corrupt world, alone every night in a motel room refining his golf swing and "wrestling with the demons" of traditional golf instruction, he grabs a longer than usual driver. Conventional golfers will place the club in their fingers, using the revered Vardon overlapping grip that creates a two-axis system between the right arm and club shaft. But Norman holds all his clubs with the handle aligned with his right forearm. He keeps his hands separated and awkwardly looks as if he's wielding a sledgehammer.

"Just look at that straight line, the single axis," cries the potbellied Norman, holding his outstretched arm in a single line with the club shaft. "Why am I the best? I have everything working on the same plane during the swing. Unlike the stuff that's always taught--the two-axis rotary motion with the turning hips, shoulders, arms, club and hands--I make it simple with one axis. Less moving parts." Holding onto his trusty driver, Norman again demonstrates what he's perfected over 50 years, ever since he picked up clubs as a teenager in Kitchener, Ontario, and ignored his father calling him "a sissy" for choosing golf over hockey.

"I have my legs far apart, far apart; you need an extra wide stance for the right balance," shouts the beet-faced Norman, wearing a Hawaiian shirt with plain polyester pants from the 1950s. He then yells, "That's it, spread 'em, spread 'em."

Norman places the driver a foot behind the ball, keeps his right leg firmly planted (reducing upper-body motion) and, without taking the customary practice swing, brings his hands to shoulder height. It's a compact swing, without the usual spinning of the hips or shoulders, and certainly not the violent, arching thrust of a John Daly or Greg Norman. Yet it brings results.

"I haven't hit a ball out of bounds in 11 years," Moe Norman claims with a laugh, equally proud of his playing with the same tee since 1989.

"Golf my way is just a walk in the park. I buckle, sit, slide and bump. Just watch!" Breaking down the movements, he flexes his knees (the buckle), assumes a slightly sitting position with his behind extended rearward (the sit), shifts his weight from the right to the left leg, which is well forward of the left shoulder (the slide), and hangs his body back at impact, facing the ball (the bump). "That's it: Buckle, sit, slide and bump," he says.

Repeating this mantra about a dozen times, Norman punctuates each chant with a 270-yard to 280-yard tee shot, all dead on a pin. Like a machine gun, he hits the balls in rapid succession without ever pausing.

That free-spirited approach, coupled with his ball-striking artistry, made him the Gretzky of Canadian golf for three decades. Winning 54 Canadian tournaments in the 1960s and '70s, then seven consecutive CPGA senior championships starting in 1979, he was always an entertaining show, clownishly playing to the galleries by teeing balls atop Coke bottles and women's shoes.

But along with his mythical prowess, Norman was also a mysterious absurdity, his tattered clothes and rotting teeth too easy a target for straight-laced golf traditionalists. Unable to win on the American pro tour ("I just couldn't putt back then," he admits), and ever lapsing into short repetitive speech bursts like Dustin Hoffman's autistic character in Rain Man, Norman was mocked, his swing mechanics never taken seriously by the game's high priests.

But now, in this era of downsizing, Moe's minimalist swing, with fewer body motions, is suddenly gaining new disciples. He violates every rule of conventional shot making-- palming the club, abbreviating swing extension, facing the ball at impact and letting his right hand dominate the action. Norman even looks weird, a John Madden look-alike, wielding longer than normal clubs with twice as fat grips, and swinging like he was pounding nails in an Ace Hardware ad.

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