This week on Golf Live, host Ryan Asselta sat down with Greg Norman, who discussed the day he unexpectedly got the “boot up my butt” from Fox, his array of businesses and what he’s learned from his successes and disappointments.
You’re considered by many to be one of the great athlete-turned-businessmen. Was there a point in your playing days where you started looking at the future and decided, “I want to be an entrepreneur?”
Well, I don’t think it was exactly, “I wanted to be this, I wanted to be that.” I think there were a couple reasons, but not a really true definitive one. Mainly I recognized the value of the brand. I was fortunate enough to get a pretty good logo attached to me, and my name.
Fortunately I put bums on the seats when people came to watch me play golf, no matter where I was in the world: Australia, United States, Europe, South America, the Far East. So I recognized the value of that. I recognized the value of understanding what the consumer was looking for, just through golf.
And then I had the application of the shark logo and the Greg Norman collection, and then I had really good guidance from a gentleman called Paul Fireman, the head of Reebok. I was an endorsed player for Reebok and Paul wanted to get into the golf clothing business. And that’s how Greg Norman collection started. He gave me the logo, we designed it, and he says, “I’m going to license it back from you.” So just in that one instant right there, I had to learn a lot about branding and marketing. Even though I understood the power of the brand, I didn’t have any idea the magnitude of how it would develop.
Also, the second thing: I didn’t want to be a ceremonial golfer. I don’t like seeing somebody take up the space of another great young player potentially coming through. We’ve put in our time. We have produced the goods. We had a time span of 15 years. I say, “we” – me — had a time span of 15 years where I pretty much was the top of the heap in the game of golf. So you’ve got to hand the baton off and not take up the space. I recognized that very, very early on.
And third: I recognized that if I stayed within a management company they would never build equity in your brand because you are a pass-through entity. You’re an endorsed player. So how do you build value in your own brand? You have to do it yourself. You have to bring it in-house. A lot easier said than done, right?
Then all of a sudden I realized that you still kept the endorsements going. Even to this day I have some phenomenal relationships with some endorsed companies. Qantas [Airlines], for example, since 1976 — the longest standing athlete-corporate relationship in the history of sport. It’s what my business is today. There are a lot of applications and a lot of good input that you can give to these other companies. Now you have that endorsement side. Then I realized, you are a wholly owned company. You have licensing agreements and you have joint venture partners. I learned very quickly that you can build value in your own brand if you invest in that brand.
You’ve said that failure makes you stronger. Is that something you learned as a player or is that a business lesson?
Through playing, absolutely. Look, we hone our skills to win. If you want to get to the top of the heap, you have to be that way. You have to practice hard. You have to commit your body and your mind and your time to do that. So I did that.
And the only way I could learn was to learn by my mistakes and absorb those and be open and truthful to yourself, to your caddie, to your coach, to your inner team and say, “Okay. This is what happened. Why did it happen? Was it all my fault, or was it something else?”
Then you come out a better person on the other side, and quite honestly it applies to every aspect of life. It really does. There is not a day when you can’t wake up and learn something new from experience, a negative experience or a positive experience.
One think you’ve said you learned from golf is staying patient.
You’ve said you’re more patient in business than you were in golf. Would that patience have helped you quite a bit on the golf course?
I would say so. I think at the end of the day, I probably would have executed a few different shots at the right time. But, look, I was a very confident player. There wasn’t a shot on the golf course that I didn’t practice. So whenever I was presented with a shot, no matter if it was a chip shot or a one-iron or a three-wood or a driver off the deck, I had practiced it.
I knew in my mind that I could execute. A lot of people thought that might have been terrible. “Oh, look at this guy. He’s a hotshot. He thinks he can do whatever he wants.” It’s not that. If you want to be really, really good, you have to do things other people can’t do.
Exciting times for Great White Shark Enterprises right now. I know you’re building the first green golf course in Jordan. You must be thrilled.
I am. I’m excited for the company. I’ve made a very conscious decision, which has probably caught a few people by surprise internally because I haven’t really expounded on this in a public forum. But I recognize the company today is different than where it was in 2008 to 2012.
And I recognize the fact that for me to build the company to get bigger — and there is nothing wrong with that because all I want it to be is better and better — is it couldn’t be a sports marketing company because I don’t play golf as much. So, my visual exposure is less on the golf course. So, I made this big decision to shift it more into a true operating business. It’s taken years to do it. You’ve got to have different personnel, different mindset, different goal settings.
I had a corporate retreat out at my ranch and I gave people a 12-year horizon and a 200-year horizon. And they look at you like, “A 200-year horizon? Why are you even doing that?” To me, if you look at all great businesses, they survive the mortality test of the founder, right? So if you can structure your business correctly — while I’m still fresh and energized and willing to travel the world — it will have great foundations underneath it. And now you train everybody around you to be able to absorb where you see this company 200 years down the line. So, I see it. I feel it. And it’s just a matter of getting people to drink the Kool-Aid and come onboard and enjoy the journey.
And one of your latest ventures came to an abrupt stop over the last few months with Fox. How surprised were you by Fox’s decision?
Totally. And I mean that in 100% sincerity because I had had conversations with the gentleman who wanted me to come on and be the Fox analyst, David Hill. He was the head of Fox Sports. He is not any longer. He wanted me there. He knew that I could deliver the right message that Fox wanted to have delivered. So he came and spent many times in my office here. He took me under his wing. He knew it was going to be a process because I had never engrained myself in that world full-on.
He knew I would apply myself because he knows my DNA. He knew that if I was asked to do a job, and if I’m going to put my name out there, I’m going to make sure I do my homework. And then I hear from the USGA what a good job, not just me, but we all did.
Then I hear, “Oh, you can have your pundits out there in the social media world.” But I truly believe most of them enjoyed the interaction that I had through the camera about what I saw happening on the golf course. And they enjoyed the interaction I have with Joe Buck, too. And then we had our supporting team around us. We had, quite honestly, incredible pre-game meetings, post-game meetings, and there was never any indication that I was going to get the boot up my butt. So it came as a total surprise to me.
And the reasons for it, just so off-base. They called me unpredictable. That’s basically the reason why they let me go. And I go, “Unpredictable? What do you mean by that?” Look this half-hour (interview) can go two hours on this very subject. But, look, I wish them well. They made a decision that they thought was the right decision. I don’t agree with them.
You can’t terminate somebody on a performance of one U.S. Open, right? Especially, a U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, where there is a lot of production problems and a lot of production issues. It wasn’t what we all wanted it to be. But we knew we would get better every production. Every show we’d slowly get better and better.
You can ask them the true reasons why. I probably just didn’t see eye-to-eye with the producer. That probably boils down to another reason why as well.
How do you respond to the reports that you were unprepared, or that you didn’t bring as much to the broadcast as they thought you would?
First of all, if I can show you my preparation. I started preparing 10 months before Chambers Bay. I actually wanted to do a couple shows on Chambers Bay about what happened to the greens and the problems because I do build golf courses. I do understand agronomy. I do understand golf course design philosophy.
And that’s something that I was handcuffed on. When we were in negotiations and I spoke to the USGA before I signed on with FOX, that the USGA — Mike Davis — was so excited about hearing my point of view about why the USGA would select Chambers Bay, or why the USGA would change some of the golf courses that the U.S. Open is on for the best players in the world.
Why? Why? Why? There is a message you have to deliver out there. Because I was a player, because I am a golf course designer and because I have built golf courses where these players have played golf on and continue to play golf on, I think I get it.
But I was never allowed to do it. They went and hired somebody else to do that. So that was taken away from me. So, I’m willing to do it. I want to do it. And at the end of the day I was handcuffed on that. Very disappointing because I was ready for it. And like you said, I wanted to do a show on the greens and at the end of the day the greens at Chambers Bay were not U.S. [Open] quality greens for the players to play on. And there was a reason why. There was a very, very good reason why. And it was a reason that the masses should have heard.
It would have taken maybe a 90-second to a three-minute show to do it. And it would have been articulated extremely well. That’s just one example. I can go into other examples as well. So first of all, I was prepared.
Somebody told me that the only information I knew was about Australian players. I can rattle down the list with a lot of other U.S. players. I actually went to Chambers Bay with a list of 25 to 27 players that I had done my homework on — their caddies, their coaches. I’d spoken to 14 different coaches. I can show you. I will happily show you the printout I did on every single one of the players: What they have in their bag; their workout program; what are their goals; how are they going to set it; what are their weaknesses; what are their strengths. So I had these on cue cards in front of me all the time.
You have to be able to speak about what you see. And sometimes what you see, you need to relay that to the people. Sometimes there are things going on in your ears through your headsets telling you other things. So it’s a very white-noise, crazy place. At the end of the day, you have to think about what you have to say, instead of being the person they hired to say what you want to say. That’s what a lead analyst is all about. Let it go, and let somebody come in. So we can turn a half-hour [interview] into a two-hour [interview], if you want.
Would you ever try broadcasting again, maybe with NBC or CBS?
The answer to that would probably be yes to a degree. And the reason why I say yes is because I have so much information about the game. I’m fortunate because of my business and my position in the game that I travel all over the world and I’m exposed to governments in Jordan, governments in Mexico, governments in Asia, governments in Australia, governments everywhere we go, we are associated with some government to some shape or form.
So you get to know what the pulse of each region is doing through the game of golf. There is a wealth of information that sits in my head, just about golf course design. I was the chairman of the Environmental Institute of Golf and I know water issues. And the concerns about water issues going forward on golf course designing all over the world.
You just mentioned Ayla (Oasis), the first 18-hole golf course in Jordan. What’s the big issue in Jordan? Water. But we circumnavigated that problem. We have actually gone in there and we’ve done a true — the entire energy system of the golf course is all solar-powered. So it’s such an eco-sensitive and eco-premium golf course design, even under the geo-political environment.
We’ve actually jumped a lot of major hurdles. And I can’t wait for the world to see this place. It really is stunningly beautiful. And the area, we have Israel on one side. We have Jordan right here. And you have control towers either side from each country looking down on each other. But they look down on golf. So there is a statement, what golf can do to a country about opening up a region to have visitors and tourism to this region that people in this part of the world, in the United States, probably think is a very hostile area. It’s not. It’s a beautiful place to go visit.
Let’s talk about the current state of golf, especially on Tour. When you look at the big four players right now: Spieth, McIlroy, Day, Fowler. Does one stick out to you can see rising above the rest?
First of all, I wish the media wouldn’t use the big three, the big four. I actually think there is 12 or 13. I think the depth of golf today and the talent of golf today is similar to what I grew up with in the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s. And it’s so healthy for the game of golf.
No matter where you go in the world you are going to have a Spieth, a Day, a Fowler or a Dustin Johnson or (Arniban) Lahiri. I can go down the list of different players that can really put bums on the seats. So that’s why I don’t want to just put everything in one basket and just say there is only three or four. There is a lot more than that.
Another reason why I love it is every single one of these young kids that you’ve mentioned are all great kids. They engage with the public. They give back through television, through the media. They’re wonderful interviews. They don’t have themselves out ahead of the game. I really, truly love to see that. And that’s why I think golf is healthier today than it has probably ever been, because of the depth and quality of these players. And quite honestly, social media has a lot to do with that as well because if you look at all of these kids, the number of followers that they’ve got, that’s wonderful.
They reach out. They touch these people. They tweet about it. They send Instagrams. The world now is living with them almost every second of the day. And that is wonderful the way they embrace that. I wish I had social media when I grew up. It would have been a wonderful tool to accelerate, A) your image and, B) the exposure and belief that you have in the game of golf and, C) give the public the right understanding and perception of what happens in your world.
We talked a little bit about dealing with failure on the course back in your playing days. There is a sense that younger people, not just in golf obviously, have trouble with failure. Rory McIlroy especially goes on a tear for a few weeks and then really drops off, where you were consistent — 331 weeks at number one in the world. Do you think young golfers have trouble with failure?
I don’t know. That’s a difficult question for me to answer because I have never sat down and spoken to Rory about it. I have never spoken to any of the players who have these peaks and troughs. So if you look at it, it’s very easy to say the answer is yes.
But people have got to take in a lot of other factors as well, not just what happens on the golf course. The travel. A lot of these guys now fly privately and they get pulled to different places in the world. And then because you fly privately you can get there quickly and you think it’s easier because you’re in the comfort of your own transportation.
But it’s also wear and tear on your body. It’s jetlag. It’s different foods. It’s different beds. It’s different pillows. It’s different cars. It’s different pollution. All that comes into play. So it’s understanding how to make sure that your schedule is balanced, where you recover, where you like to do your workout, build up your workout to be the best and strongest you can be, kicking off Thursday and wane it going into Sunday and then pick it up on Monday. There is an equilibrium you have to establish, not just on the golf course but right across the board in your life.
You talked about the future being bright with some of the players on tour. The future of golf this summer is pretty bright with its return to the Olympics. How excited are you for that? And how can the Olympics help grow the game?
I’m so glad it is back, number one. And I just want to give a big shout-out and rest in peace to Severiano Ballesteros because in the mid-’80s he was the one who started trumpeting, “Get golf back in the Olympics. Get it back in the Olympics.”
When (Juan Antonio) Samaranch was head of the IOC, Seve was number one in the world. He and I were going back and forth. And he came to me and he said, “Greg, let’s get together. Let’s work on this. Let’s get golf back in the game.” So if it wasn’t for Seve’s initiative back in the ’80s, maybe golf wouldn’t be where it is today. I mean, I’m a supporter of Seve, so I’m going to put him out there. And when the first tee shot gets hit in Rio de Janeiro everybody should take a 30-second moment of silence for Seve and say, “This is because of him.”
Now move onto Rio. We have to make sure it’s successful. I wish it happened in L.A. or Atlanta, or in Sydney or London because of the popularity of the game in those respective countries, and because of the great golf courses without political or economic unrest around the golf course itself.
I truly would hate to see golf not be successful at the Olympics. Would the IOC say, “Well, we’re not going to put it in again the following Olympics in 2020?” I would hate that to happen. And when you think about golf, it’s an expensive sport to televise and to host. And so from the IOC’s perspective, it’s a cost that they have to step up to. You’ve got basically two weeks of golf. The cost of putting on that event, televising golf, is going to probably be a lot higher than any other sport. So that’s why it’s got to be successful and viewed and have high ratings and have the players speak about it in glowing terms.
In golf, if you don’t win, you don’t get a silver or a bronze. You just get a trophy and a check and that’s it. In the Olympics you get a gold, silver or bronze. And that’s a big statement or testament that you’ve been able to take home a medal for your country.
You’ve spent a lot of your time over the years trying to grow the game of golf, whether through trying to unite the tours internationally, or building new courses. How do you grow the game? If you’re playing PGA Tour commissioner for a day, how do you grow the game to get young people involved and give the game a boost?
I’m not going to give out the goods, but I’m going to probably be announcing a very significant initiative close to the end of this year with a couple major corporations that nobody’s ever done before in the game of golf. And I think it’s going to be a game-changer.
I’m really excited about it because I do care about it. I do care about the next wave of golfers. I would dearly love to sit down with the president of China (Xi Jinping) and understand his moratorium on the game of golf. I’d like to be able to help him navigate through these decisions and understand what golf can do for his country.
We’ve done it so well everywhere else. So it’s really, in a situation like that, trying to get an audience with the right people, because I don’t have any agenda other than growing the game. If we get more people playing golf, obviously there are more opportunities for business for everybody else, too, not just for me. A rising tide floats all boats. We just have to figure out the way.
Is access the key?
Yes. I don’t want to go too deep into it because the more I talk about it, I might give up a little bit. And I don’t want to do that yet because I’m so excited about it. I’ve spent two years on this deal quietly building it where we are today. Everybody I sit down with and have them sign an NDA with, they love it. They absolutely embrace it. And I go, “Well, okay. This thing is really developing traction now.” So, stayed tuned.
Let’s wrap things up here. It’s 2016, the 30-year anniversary of what many think was the greatest year of major championships in golf history. In 1986 you led after three rounds all four majors. You won your first major at the British Open in Turnberry. Does it seem like 30 years ago? What do most you remember about it?
Oh, God, it doesn’t seem like 30 years ago. Now that you ask me the question, I just went a little bit into the past. And I actually roll through Augusta, U.S. Open, PGA, British Open. I roll through all those.
But what resonates the most is that I loved every second of being there. And I also learned, going back to one of your original questions, you learn by your mistakes. You learn by your failures. You learn by being there
What does being there mean? You’ve got to embrace it and you can’t be scared of failure. You’ve got to embrace failure. You also have to embrace the fact that when you start getting anointed, you’re the next guy sitting on that pedestal, then you have a huge responsibility not only to yourself. You’re third rung on the ladder now.
You have responsibility to the game of golf, to your country, to your institution, and then to yourself and then comes your family and friends. So this hierarchy, a lot of people put it in the wrong way. But that’s how I put my perspective on it. And so when you go through a year like that, you realize, “Oh, okay. Now I have a lot more on my plate to juggle.” And I think in that year I taught myself more than any other year how to compartmentalize my life and accept my responsibilities that I had to do. And the priority for me was to just get better and better.
The experiences that I have with a couple of the losses were interesting in their own right. You sit back and you look what happened there. You go, “Okay. Why the hell did he go shoot that number on the back nine?”
But you go back and you watch it. And you go, “Wow. I was impressed with that. God bless Jack for doing that.” And so, look, there is the little mini story with every story. And there is a story within every shot. And there are certain shots that I hit that I would even turn to my caddie and go — I can’t say it on air, but how it felt to hit that shot, how great it felt. And even down to hitting a 45-foot putt right out of the middle of the putter and you knew it was going to go in two or three feet off the blade of the putter. Those are the things where you’re just into the moment. And you just have to enjoy it. That’s what I said. I just enjoyed the entire process.
They say we get more reflective as we get older. Have you reflected on your life? Would you have changed anything over the years?
Great question. I may have, knowing today what I didn’t know back then. I would put into place back then one or two more individuals as my support team. I had a great caddie. I had great managers, but not so much early on. But for what I’ve experienced to where I am today, I made the most out of it.
I just wanted to make each year a better year, not just on the golf course, but each year a better year than the year before. And look where I am today. I started off as an assistant pro making $28.32 a week. I learned a simple rule back then and I still apply it to this day:
I call it the 30-30-30-10 rule. So let’s just say I made $30 a week or $28 a week, whatever the number is. Thirty percent you allocate for taxes, 30% for expenses, 30% for living and 10% for slush because you had to go out there and spoil yourself a little bit with a pair of shoes or a bottle of Coke or something like that. So I still apply that rule today. And it’s something that taught me a lot about valuing your life and valuing the things you have. It doesn’t matter about all the materialistic things. It’s the quality you have within. And that quality you have within is seen by the people that love working for you. I’m a very transparent guy. I’m a giver. I’m very loyal. But sometimes if said people don’t show the loyalty in return, I’m quick to move on.
It’s all about harmony within. And if my team sees me happy and if my team sees me willing to fly around the world and try and build this company, it gives them an opportunity to say, “I would love my kids to be able to grow up in this company sometime in the future.” So it becomes a generational thing. And I’ve been around long enough now where I’m going through basically two generations. And fortunately for me now I have family members that work for me.
And those family members have children. I’m a grandfather. So I think into the future about 20 years from now, “Boy, I would love my grandson and granddaughter to be able to have an opportunity to come and learn what Granddad has given them, this opportunity.”
Nobody in my family has ever done that. So I’m very, very proud that I have this ability to do it for my family and do it for the incredible amount of staff people that I have working for me.