Moe Norman - Canadian golf legend -
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Old May 10th, 2005, 10:15 PM   #1
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Moe Norman - Canadian golf legend

By Tim O’Connor

Moe Norman was golf’s mystery man; he was a puzzle to most everyone, and the world was a confusing place for him.

There was the story of Moe at the 1971 Quebec Open, where he led by a stroke as he approached the final green. An official told him he was the only player to reach it in two. “I can’t believe the fans didn’t clap,” he told his partner. He became so flustered, he four-putted to lose by a stroke.

The next day at a Canadian Open practice round, reporters on the 10th tee razzed Moe, “Any four putts today?” He hit his driver on the 223-yard, par three, watched it for a few seconds, turned and said, “I’m not putting today.” The ball then rolled into the cup.

Moe Norman, the eccentric Canadian legend, was known as much for his quirky personality as he was known as one of the greatest ball-strikers in the history of the game.

Murray Irwin Norman died Sept. 4, 2004, of heart failure in his hometown of Kitchener, Ontario. He was 75. The man known around the world simply as Moe had suffered heart problems for seven years.

Although largely unknown outside Canada most of his life, golf’s cognoscenti knew Moe and regarded him as an equal with Ben Hogan, Lee Trevino and George Knudson, and he knew it.

“I’m the best striker of the ball the world has ever known,” he said. “Not the best player, the best striker.”

Lee Trevino once said: “I don’t know any player who could strike a golf ball like he could, as far as hitting it solid, knowing where it’s going, knowing the mechanics of the game and knowing what he wanted to do with the golf ball.”

Students and aficionados of Natural Golf also regarded Moe as the man who finally devised a swing that would allow golfers to enjoy the game more. Moe’s swing allows golfers to hit the ball with more consistency, more power and accuracy, because it is much simpler than the conventional swing.

But Moe’s eccentricities often overshadowed his skill. He was the odd duck who spoke rapidly and repeated himself, the amateur who sold his prizes and hid from trophy presentations because of excruciating shyness, the ragamuffin who hit balls off eight-inch tees and Coke bottles on the PGA Tour.

Calling himself, “the 747 of golf,” he regarded himself as the world’s fastest player. He fought constantly with golf’s governors. His clothes were often mismatched and stained. His teeth were snaggled. He lived on the edge of poverty most of his career.

Like the man, his swing defied convention. Trevino considered him a genius. He held the grip in the palm of his right hand, spread his legs wide and stretched his arms out straight. His single-plane swing was a model of efficiency and precision. At clinics, you could put a blanket over balls hit with one club.

There are hundreds of stories about this man who was one of golf’s most complex characters, but they overshadow a tremendous record of 54 amateur and professional victories, including two straight Canadian Amateur championships in 1955 and ‘56. He set 33 course records that included three 59s. He made 17 aces. He played in two Masters.

He played the PGA Tour in 1959 and ‘60, his best finish a fourth in the Greater New Orleans Open. He was supremely confident tee to green, but an anxious putter. He left the tour in 1960 after being humiliated by PGA officials and a player who told him to dress better and quit the shenanigans.

Moe dominated the Canadian Tour in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. He played for Canada in the 1971 World Cup, and he won the Canadian Senior PGA seven times. As his playing days waned, he lived hand to mouth, financing himself through clinics, pro-ams, wherever he could earn a check.

In the ‘90s, respect and financial security finally arrived. Natural Golf became a sponsor of Moe in 1994 and proved to be one of Moe’s most devoted supporters, right through until his death. Moe conducted clinics for Natural Golf and proudly wore the logo during his many appearances on TV and for articles in magazines.

Respect also came back home, when Moe was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 1995. Titleist President and CEO Wally Uihlein committed the company to paying him $5,000 a month for the rest of his life.

Suddenly, Moe was the subject of many articles, TV shows and videos. He was on the December 1995 cover of Golf Digest with an elaborate foldout cover. The magazine devoted 20 pages to his story and swing, which is believed to be the highest number of pages ever focused on one player in the history of the magazine.

It was not unusual to see Moe’s name in articles and books that discussed great ball-strikers, such as Hogan and Trevino. His biography, “The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story,” came out in late 1995 and became a bestseller in Canada.

Barry Morrow, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for the 1988 film, “The Rain Man,” wrote a screenplay for a movie based on Moe’s life. (In 2004, Morrow was still working on financing the film after Warner Brothers dropped its option.)

With the increased attention from Titleist and the RCGA, Moe’s golden years were turning out to be just that. In addition to Natural Golf, he was picking up a few more endorsements. Ironically, he had a short-lived clothing deal; this for someone long ridiculed for wearing mismatched clothes.

A lifetime of bacon and eggs breakfasts, greasy hamburgers and French fries appeared to catch up with him on Saturday, Sept. 27, 1997. He was driving home in the evening from a clinic in Chatham in Southwestern Ontario on four-lane 401 Highway when he blacked out behind the wheel of his Cadillac. The car hit a cement abutment and landed on its side.

The car was severely damaged - a total write-off - but Moe was not outwardly injured. Moe was very lucky, but he was a slow driver after all.

Tests confirmed that Moe suffered a minor heart attack and his cholesterol was sky high. At the end of November, he suffered heart failure and was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener. “He almost died,” said Gus Maue, his close friend and guardian.

A few weeks later, Moe underwent a three-hour double bypass. About six months later, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, an irreversible condition. It could be managed with drugs and a strict diet, but his heart would never improve, only weaken.

As his health declined, Moe mellowed. Rather than rebuff people he didn’t trust, as he’d done throughout his life, he became much more approachable. “I think it has to do with him seeing other people suffer,” Maue said.

In the fall of 2003, his health became more serious and he moved into a retirement home in Kitchener. But he no longer had the strength to give full-scale clinics or play a complete round of golf. Equally depressing for Moe was his doctor’s recommendation that he stay in Kitchener for the winter instead of making his annual trek to Florida.

Moe’s health got worse through the summer, and he passed away on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Bell Canadian Open. As PGA Tour professionals, the Canadian golf industry and media gathered for the country’s national championship, it provided an opportunity to communally celebrate the life of one of Canada’s greatest golf legends.

Flags hung at half-mast at Glen Abbey Golf Club just west of Toronto. During the tournament, electronic scoreboards simply said, “In Memory of Moe Norman 1929-2004.”

Vijay Singh, the 2004 Bell Canadian Open champion, told USA Today: “I’ve hit balls with him lots of times. He was incredible. Whatever he said he could do, he could do. If you talk with Lee Trevino and the other greats of the game, they’ll tell you how good he was. God gives people little gifts, and Moe had a gift for golf.”

His funeral was packed by more than 400 friends and relatives. Hundreds of golf professionals from across Ontario - the people who made up Moe’s golf family - attended.

Moe’s friends were philosophical about his passing. “Moe was very lucky,” Maue said. “He didn’t hold a job for about 50 years, he went to Florida every winter for years, and he did pretty well what he wanted to do.”

A cartoon in The (Kitchener) Record newspaper showed Moe being welcomed into heaven and discovering that it was indeed a golf course. Although Moe was not religious, golf for him was a spiritual experience, one that gave him comfort, a feeling of mastery and peace in a world that often confused and frustrated him.

“To be able to hit nice pure shots in such a simple way - that’s what I get out of it. I’m a part of it. I’m attached to my golf shots,” he once said, stretching his arms out toward an unseen golf ball.

Tim O’Connor is the author of "The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story", published by Eyelevel Videos.


I took up Natural Golf about 5 years ago and have enjoyed and played better than ever in my life.
Moe, I miss ya.
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Old May 10th, 2005, 11:19 PM   #2
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I started using the Natural Golf technique too over the past couple of years and can say that it has improved my golf game. I used to use the traditional hand grip (with the interlocking fingers) but it just doesn't work for me. So a buddy at work told me about Natural Golf and reccomended griping the club kinda like you would a baseball bat or hockey stick and it has made a huge difference in my swing and shots.
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Old May 10th, 2005, 11:42 PM   #3
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Moe was a unique and excentric individual. I've met and talked to him twice at two family functions. (The last time I spoke with him, he was wearing three watches.) He was a close friend of my wife's uncle, Bill Plomske, who was well known on the links. The Plomske clan has it's name on many trophies at Rockway Golf Course in Kitchener. Bill was a charter member of Rockway and had Moe as a caddy when he was younger. Bill was influential in encouraging Moe to persue his golf talents and Moe was always a close friend to Bill. Not many people besides Gus Maue (a cousin to my Aunt) can claim to have been close to Moe. If any golfers out there can ever watch any video footage of Moe, they're in for a treat. I've never seen a golfer be able to hit a dozen balls and have them all land within a few feet of each other. Amazing!
RIP, Moe.
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Old May 10th, 2005, 11:51 PM   #4
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moe was an incredible ball striker as was Canada's own George Knudson.
Knudson hated to practice putting and probably cost him a stellar golf career.

As a matter of fact, I rarely practice putting and love to hit the ball long and high.

I do have a bit of a paunch like Moe. I wonder? Something in our Canadian water?

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Old May 10th, 2005, 11:56 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by MACSPECTRUM
I do have a bit of a paunch like Moe. I wonder? Something in our Canadian water?
Actually, it's something in the food.
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Old May 10th, 2005, 11:59 PM   #6
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Moe ate perogies as a child?
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Old May 11th, 2005, 12:10 AM   #7
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Thanks for posting that article, Macspectrum. My father-in-law attended a couple of clinics with Moe and he came away impressed by the man himself and his ball striking
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Old May 11th, 2005, 09:01 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by agent4321
I started using the Natural Golf technique too over the past couple of years and can say that it has improved my golf game. I used to use the traditional hand grip (with the interlocking fingers) but it just doesn't work for me. So a buddy at work told me about Natural Golf and reccomended griping the club kinda like you would a baseball bat or hockey stick and it has made a huge difference in my swing and shots.
Hey guys, I have been playing golf for a number of years now. Can't say I know anyone who has converted to Natural Golf. I guess it's like the windows Mac thing? So you guys would obviously recommend it. What did you think was the biggest improvement after you switched?
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Old May 11th, 2005, 12:52 PM   #9
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1. far more consistent ball striking (straighter, higher and longer)
2. repeatable swing, easy to learn
3. i now hit my 9-iron about 145 yd, where that was a 8 or 7 iron for me before
4. much less wear and tear on back - i routinely play 27 holes per round 2-3 times per week in season
my back would have never tolerated that kind of abuse with the old swing
5. if you apply Natural Golf (NG) techniques to putting, that gets better too
6. better pitching and chipping
7. all around much more enjoyment of the game
i went from low 100s to mid 80s and broke 80 on 3 occassions
i now play my "local course" from the back tees where i never could before - total length is about 6600 yd. and they don't cut down their fairways so you don't get that big bounce and roll

i would never go back to regular golf swing again
all my clubs have the NG grips
i did buy a NG set of steel irons 3-9, 46W, 50W, 55W, regular 60W, mizuno 10 degree driver and a mizuno 3-wood that i routinely get 225-250 yd., driver 250-270
i'm not a great golfer, never go to the range
i hate driving ranges
i'm not "in shape"
i use my rounds as practice rounds once in a while and don't keep score

My playing partners call it "Un-Natural Golf" by how high and far I hit the ball these days

that enuf ?
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Old May 11th, 2005, 02:09 PM   #10
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Macspectrum, I might just give this a try. I don't hold the golf club in the traditional manner anyway, never having played more that mini-golf until last summer. However, I have played baseball since I was 4 years old, so that is a more natural grip for me. We shall see.
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