Australia’s Greg Norman has hailed 35 years of Turnberry inspiration on the eve of the 26th Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex being held this week on the Ayrshire Coast’s Ailsa Course.
Norman, who claimed the first of his two Open Championship victories at Turnberry in 1986, was also set to be awarded Honorary Membership of the resort on Wednesday evening as a tribute to his contribution to the sport and the success of Turnberry as a global golfing destination.
“There's no question about it, it's an honour to receive it,” said the 57 year old Australian. “This is one of my favourite rotations of golf anywhere in the world so the Honorary Membership being bestowed on me caps it off in a lot of ways.
“I’ve been coming here for a long time. One of my fondest memories of a tournament I never played in was watching Nicklaus and Watson playing in '77. That really inspired me to see the way those two went at it, played 72 great holes and it came all the way down to the 72nd hole for the ultimate winner to be found with Tom.
“Memories like that last a long period of time around here.”
Having struggled in recent years with a recurring shoulder problem, Norman is finally feeling back to his physical best and ready to take on the star-strewn field taking to the Ailsa links this week, a form of golf that invokes ‘The Shark’s’ most fundamental golfing passions.
He said: “My shoulder is back to 100 per cent and I'm physically fit and I'm back to the strength I was three years ago. It's taken me a long time to get there post‑surgery but I'm there now and now I can look forward to just working and building up more strength on my body to maybe practise a little bit more.
“I get excited when I come to links courses and I get excited when I come to Turnberry because no matter what the weather conditions dish out to you, you try to figure out how to get the golf ball around the golf course.
“I did that at Birkdale (in 2008 when he finished tied for third at The Open Championship), put myself in position to win it and Tom (Watson) did the same here at Turnberry (in 2009).
“I think it's a lot of what you have in the venue, comes bubbling up if you actually just let it happen. It's not the fact that I have to pound thousands of golf balls anymore; it's the fact that you have to feel enjoyable playing the game of golf and I enjoy playing it around links golf courses.”
Norman still holds a share of the Turnberry course record thanks to his second round 63 en route to his Open triumph of 1986, a round he still counts as one of the “top two or three rounds” of his whole career, played through the teeth of some of the most testing conditions seen in any of the Ailsa Course’s four stagings of the oldest Major.
“When I came here to Turnberry I was a little bit under the radar screen to some degree but I was playing well,” Norman continued. “The weather conditions were brutal and the golf course was set up in a brutal fashion, the narrowest fairways you can ever remember at a British Open, and to this day at a British Open.
“That round really set up the cushion for me to keep going. I had a different philosophy that week, too. I was driving the ball – I've always been a great driver of the golf ball – but that week I was driving the ball really, really well.”
But for Norman, having also experienced first-hand the heartbreak of a Major Championship collapse when he conceded a six-shot lead on the final day of the 1996 Masters Tournament, handing Sir Nick Faldo the title with a Sunday 78, the Australian was well-placed to sympathise with compatriot Adam Scott’s near miss at last week’s Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes.
“I have spoken a lot to Adam,” Norman admitted. “I feel for him. I feel like a bit of a father figure to him in some ways. He stays at my house; practises at my house; works with his long putter at my house.
“So I've spent a lot of quality time with him to know how he feels and understand what he's going through, and I spoke to him at length on Sunday night and he was great during our conversation.
“I just basically told him to think of the 68 holes he played phenomenally well, better than anybody else, and even the four holes, he probably hit 60 per cent of his shots the way he played the previous 68 holes. It just didn't happen, and to always look forward; never look back, and use the loss as a catalyst to be a winner, not using the loss as a catalyst to be a loser.
“It's just the things that you learn from experience. He knows he's good enough to win. You're not going to win every golf tournament, and you know, no matter who you are, so you have to accept it and embrace it.
“Sometimes embracing adversity is easier than running away from it.”