News & Opinion

Star-crossed at Masters, with tears on the azaleas

Greg-Norman-2012-European-Masters.jpg
Breathtaking losses at the Masters have come to define the legacy of Greg Norman perhaps even more than his 2 British Open victories.

Entering what would have been Masters week, John Hawkins and Mike Purkey sift through a long list of lovable losers to determine the most surprising non-winner in Augusta National history

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Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the weekly Hawk & Purk podcast on MorningRead.com, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Who is the most surprising non-winner in Masters history?

Hawk’s take: When the Purkolator first proposed this provocative query, I immediately thought of Greg Norman. No man woke up on the second Sunday in April with more to play for, then wound up with less to show for it, and by the end of his career, it was fair to wonder whether he’d gotten any sleep at all. In that context, Norman’s inability to win more than two majors (both British Opens) was no longer a surprise. It had happened so many times before.

The Masters, however, was the tournament at which the brash Aussie fell harder than any other. Norman’s skill with the driver and impeccable short game made him perfectly suited for Augusta National, but his shortcomings under pressure (1986), black-cat luck (1987) and propensity for self-sabotage (1996) came to define his legacy as much as his physical brilliance.

He was one of the best golfers who ever lived, until it was time to finish the job. Lee Trevino collected six major titles but lacked the high ball flight considered essential at Augusta National. Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller had to deal with Jack Nicklaus for their entire careers. Norman dealt with no such obstacles and should have been the most dominant player of his era. His lack of success in pursuing a green jacket goes a long way toward explaining why he wasn’t, regardless of whether the punishment fit the crime.

Purk’s take: It was hardly a surprise that Lee Trevino never won the Masters, given his attitude about the place and his low ball flight. And certainly, Greg Norman surprised nearly everyone, including himself, that he has never owned a green jacket.

But for my money, Tom Weiskopf should have been a Masters winner, more than once, for that matter. Weiskopf was tall, had a universally admired swing and was one of the longest drivers of his generation. If anyone was tailor-made for Augusta National, it was Weiskopf.

He won 16 times on the PGA Tour but only one major, the 1973 British Open at Royal Troon. However, in a seven-year stretch – 1969-75 – he tied for second at the Masters four times.

He lost to George Archer and Gary Player. And he lost twice to Jack Nicklaus, including 1975, a worthy candidate for most thrilling Masters ever. Nicklaus was the one player who stood most often between Weiskopf and greatness. Sometimes, it was as simple as a twist of fate. Other times, Weiskopf’s wounds were entirely self-inflicted.

But he was one of golf’s truly star-crossed players. Weiskopf would have made a regal Masters champion. And no one would have been the least bit surprised.

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