What Greg Norman’s creative money games with Michael Jordan taught him about the hoops legend

Golfer Greg Norman smiles on golf course

Greg Norman, pictured here at the 2019 Honda Classic Pro-Am, used to play golf with Michael Jordan.

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Today is the first of a four-part Bamberger Briefly series in which Greg Norman offers his insights into various golf subjects.

HOBE SOUND, Fla.—Greg Norman has a number of TVs in his house here, but he didn’t watch Match II at Medalist on Sunday, the course he co-designed here with Pete Dye in the mid 1990s. Nobody should be offended. He didn’t watch the Seminole event on the previous Sunday. He hasn’t watched any of the Michael Jordan doc on ESPN.

He doesn’t watch much TV, except for news. “I watch Fox and I watch CNN, to balance things out, and I watch BBC, to get a global perspective,” he’ll tell you.

I told Norman that Jordan’s golf game comes up often in the series. He knew that. Norman has a lot of people around him, employees and family, and he hears a lot. He knows that Phil Mickelson is moving up the road from Norman’s house here and is planning to join Jordan’s new course, Grove XXIII. “It’ll be a good place for him. Good practice facilities, not too far from his new house here, lot of good players — and he likes to gamble.”

I mentioned to Norman that in the ESPN doc, Jordan says he doesn’t have a gambling problem but that he says instead, “I have a competition problem.”

“I can relate, 100 percent,” Norman said. “Every top athlete in the world has a competition problem. You want to compete, whether it’s fishing, scuba diving, playing tennis, riding horses. We find ways to compete.”

I asked Norman if he had played with Jordan.

“I have,” Norman said. “Michael was a hell of a player. I mean that in the amateur sense. His passion for the game was probably commensurate with his passion on the court. I’ve never seen an amateur who wanted to learn as much, or play as much, as Michael. It was contagious for me. It was fun to be around him. He didn’t mind slamming down a bet that he thought would scare you.

“When I played with Michael, he would try to hit the ball a long way. I’d power one out there and he’d try to match it and it wouldn’t go as straight, so I’d have an advantage there. You’d get into that mental side.”

I asked Norman if three a side would have been enough to make them competitive.

“Three a side would not be enough,” Norman said. “But what we would do is play three matches. Three a side, four a side and five a side. Sometimes four matches, with six a side. So if he plays really well, I have to play really well to beat him. With all those matches, it all washes out.”

“You must be pretty good with math,” I said.

“I am,” Norman said.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael_Bamberger@GOLF.com.

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Michael Bamberger

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Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and contributes to GOLF.com. He also participates in podcasts, primarily in tandem with Alan Shipnuck. Earlier in his career, he was a senior writer for Sports Illustrated for 23 years and a reporter on The Philadelphia Inquirer for nine years before that. He has written a half-dozen books about golf and other subjects. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on a utility golf club called the E-Club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.