Originally created 09/22/04

Brief encounter leaves a lasting impression



I'd heard and read the stories about Moe Norman, considered one of the greatest ballstrikers in the game's history, but I never thought I'd see him hit a shot.

When I learned about Norman, an eccentric and shy loner all his life, it was the mid-1990s and he was in his late 60s, living in his native Canada.

Then came a day when I was in the right place at the right time.

It was in the late 1990s and I was standing on the driving range at the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando, Fla., not too far from where Vijay Singh (what a surprise!) was hitting balls.

Next thing I know, Vijay has invited a short man in mismatched clothes onto the range.

Vijay stepped back and watched the man, in his early 70s, hit beautiful shots with Singh's clubs, which, of course, were way too long for the mystery guest.

It was Moe Norman, and I knew it from pictures I'd seen of him. What I didn't know was that he spent his winters in Florida.

Most of the news corps was back at the media center, and missed the unscheduled exhibition as Norman called his shots, and hit them right where he said he would.

I'm sure most of the fans in the bleachers behind the range had no idea who Norman was. All the players on the range did, though. There was soon a crowd of pros gathered behind Norman, watching him hit ball after ball with his short swing.

Norman, whose swing is the basis for the Natural Golf teaching system, died Sept. 4 in Ontario at age 75.

Last week, he received a huge compliment from Singh. In a USA Today Q&A interview, Singh was asked this question: Who's the best golfer you've ever seen?"

Singh's answer: "Moe Norman. I've hit balls with him lots of times. He was incredible. Whatever he said he could do, he could do. If you talk to Lee Trevino and the other greats of the game, they'll tell you how good he was. He could talk it, and he could do it. God gives people little gifts, and Moe had a gift for golf."

Indeed, Trevino's famous quote about Norman was that he was "a genius when it comes to playing the game of golf."

Norman won two Canadian Amateur titles and more than 20 professional events in Canada, and played the PGA Tour briefly. He played in the Masters Tournament twice as an amateur - he's listed as Murray Norman in the media guide - and missed the cut both times, in 1956 and 1957.

With his death, great stories about Norman are being told, and golf fans apparently want to know more about him. His 1995 biography, the out-of-print The Feeling of Greatest: The Moe Norman Story, which I read years ago, has gone from its list price of $16.95 to $70 on Amazon.com.

I can't find my copy, but I did write something down when I read it. It had to do with why Norman played so fast in tournaments. A playing partner asked him that question one day, to which Norman replied:

"Why not? Did they move the greens since yesterday?"

In golf's inner circle, Norman was a reluctant star because of his shyness. In 1995, Titleist and FootJoy Worldwide announced it would pay Norman $5,000 a month for the rest of his life, just for being himself.

Some of that money was probably found when Gus Maue, one of Norman's friends, cleaned out Norman's car after he died. In the trunk, according to Golf World, Maue found more than 1,000 golf balls, 10 pairs of golf shoes, three sets of irons and $20,000 in Canadian money.

EXTENDED FAMILY: Augustans Tripp Kuhlke and Chris Kuhlke had a quick explanation when asked why they played so well as a team in the recent Regions Cup Matches, won by Georgia over South Carolina.

"We cousin-in-lawed it," Tripp Kuhlke said.

That, of course, is a takeoff on the phrase "we brother-in-lawed it," which is used when one player comes through in team play when another is in trouble on a hole.

Tripp Kuhlke, 44, and Chris Kuhlke, 32, are cousins on both sides of their families.

They're first cousins because Tripp's mother, Beth, and Chris' mother, Judy, are sisters.

They're also second cousins because Tripp's father, Bill, and Chris' father, Eddie, are first cousins. What's more, Tripp and Chris' paternal grandfathers are brothers.

After explaining their family trees to me, Tripp and Chris got blank looks on their faces when asked how their mothers met.

"I don't know," Chris said.

"I guess through our fathers," Tripp said.

In the Regions Cup Matches, Tripp and Chris won their fourball match against Tommy Carpenter and Rusty Flanders 3-0, meaning they won the front nine, the back nine and the 18-hole match.

"We've been playing a little bit together the last few years," Tripp said. "We team up well and get along well. We have to ... we're related."

"It showed, too," Carpenter said.

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.



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