Originally created 04/23/98

Norman out for season after shoulder surgery



The disarming smile, shaggy blonde hair and aggressive flair of Greg Norman is gone from golf for the first time in more than 20 years after arthroscopic surgery to repair his damaged left shoulder.

And while the 43-year-old Australian is out for the rest of the PGA Tour season, including the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship, it could have been worse if not for a relatively new procedure.

"There were a number of problems, including bone spurs and damage to the lining of the joint, and this is unique," Dr. Richard Hawkins said by telephone Wednesday after operating on Norman at the Steadman Hawkins Sports Medicine Foundation in Vail, Colo.

But it was one particular problem that forced Norman to face a six-month rehabilitation process before returning to competition: The ball of his shoulder was sliding in the socket.

"Posterior instability in an athlete is unusual, and in a golfer it's some concern because the ball is sliding backward in the socket," Hawkins said. "We used lasers and heat to shrink it down and try to create some stability. This is a new procedure and without it we would have had to cut into the shoulder."

Hawkins said that if not for the posterior instability, Norman's rehabilitation time would have been cut in half.

"It makes you nervous operating on guys of this level," Hawkins said. "It doesn't always work. Hopefully this will."

Hawkins said Norman's rigorous workout regimen likely lessened his problems and makes him a perfect candidate for rehabilitation.

This will be the first year since 1980 that Norman, winner of 74 official events worldwide, including the British Open in 1986 and '93, has not played in at least three of the four major championships.

And with only 19 1/2 competitive rounds, it will be his lightest year since turning pro in 1976.

"His arm will be in a sling for the next 10 days, and after that he will be able to take it off from time to time to get some range of motion," Bart Collins, president of Great White Shark Enterprises, said Wednesday from his Florida office.

Collins said a tentative timetable for Norman's return to competition would be at the Shark Shootout in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 9-15.

"I knew if I wanted to make a complete recovery this surgery was necessary," Norman said. "While the recuperative program will present certain challenges, I look forward to resuming my regular schedule and playing my best golf."

Hawkins said Norman's injury was due to "overuse, pure and simple."

Norman had some discomfort for six to eight months and aggravated the problem before The Players Championship in March, according to Collins. After an MRI on April 13, he decided on surgery.

A return at the Shark Shootout means Norman could be ready for the Presidents Cup, played in his native Australia for the first time on Dec. 11-13. It would be a major disappointment to his fans and a blow for the event if Norman were unable to compete.

Norman has played only three times on the U.S. tour this year. He finished 27th out of 29 players at the Mercedes Championships and missed the cut at both the Doral Open and the Masters. His streak of six consecutive years with at least one victory on the PGA Tour will end.

Norman has missed only five of the 69 major championships played since 1980 and, beginning with his victory in the British Open in 1993, finished in the top 20 in 14 consecutive major championships.

With nearly $12 million, he is the all-time leading money winner on the PGA Tour. He has 18 PGA Tour victories and another 56 overseas, plus numerous wins in unofficial events.

But as much as Norman has accomplished, he is most remembered for his near misses. Eight times he was second in one of the major championships and he is the only person to lose the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship in a playoff.

Norman's age, wealth and style of play raise questions about how successfully he will return to the game.

"The type of game that he plays, very aggressive, very much a hitter of the golf ball, you wonder if he'll ever attain those heights again," Frank Nobilo, a tour player from New Zealand and a close friend of Norman's, said Wednesday at the Greater Greensboro Classic.

"He'll still be able to win tournaments, but I really do believe what happened at Augusta a few years ago has probably taken its toll," Nobilo said.

Trying to win his first major championship in the United States, Norman took a six-stroke lead over Nick Faldo to the final round of the 1996 Masters.

When Norman shot a 78 and Faldo a 67, it was the greatest collapse in major championship history.

"Nobody probably deserved a green jacket more and you wonder if he won it several years ago whether he would have worked himself as hard over the last couple of years to get into the physical state that he's in now," Nobilo said. "And it probably caused the shoulder damage."

If anything could inspire Norman to return to the game with the work ethic needed to be among the best, it would be the desire to make one more run at the Masters.

If anything could motivate him to pack up his Florida home and move back to Australia, it could be the memory of that 1996 Masters.