Ahead of my departure for Sandals Emerald Bay Resort where the Web.com Tour Bahamas Great Exuma Classic will be played, I receive an email that reads, “Hey Elvis, do you have any rental club requests, and would you like to interview Emerald Bay Golf Course Designer Greg Norman, during your stay? See you soon!”
A consummate professional with fandom withheld I reply, “Stiff flex on the shafts please and yes.”
The plot thickens 24 hours later, “As for the interview with Greg Norman, turns out you’ll be playing with him during the Web.com Tour Bahamas Great Exuma Classic Pro-Am, and you’ll also be at a dinner with him that evening,” she adds.
Now we have a minor crisis because I haven’t played golf in four months and I’m about to tee it up with one of my childhood heroes. A round with Greg Norman sounds good in theory, that is until you spray the ball all over the Bahamas like a hacker. I mentally revisit my Shark-inspired glory years in late 90’s and early 00’s. I was a decent high school golfer and earned a golf scholarship to a small college in Nebraska. There were good moments, but it was on the plains of the Cornhusker State I realized the PGA Tour would not be happening.
Full swing and short game problems are solved with hard work – I have one day to fix a decade of golf neglect. In the car and to the local practice tee I go for a large bucket. I’m hitting it fine, but it’s easy to stripe balls when you’re alone on the range – it’s different when a Great White Shark is looking over your shoulder. Eighty balls later and my pro-am work is done – let’s get this party started.
The next afternoon I land at Exuma International Airport. Off the plane and on the tarmac is a nice touch – it feels rustic. A Bahamas flag flies over the little airport terminal which is about the size of a 7-Eleven. The wind is stiff, it’s 86-degrees Fahrenheit/30-degrees Celsius – what a day to be alive. Several Web.com pros are on the flight and there’s a buzz for the year’s first tournament.
Airport shuttle to the resort, I arrive at Sandals and am greeted by a parade of blue Bahama Breeze cocktails. They’re delicious; seems they’re made with rum, rum, rum and blue stuff. Calypso sounds echo through the resort, which is good music for a silky golf swing. I’ve hit some balls and listened to steel drums – I’m ready.
In the grand scheme of things, this Pro-Am is a meaningless round of golf, but it feels like the Super Bowl. A quick breakfast and I’m on the range with my rentals. The range is a mix of smooth-swinging professionals and amateur hiccups. My warm-up approach is business-casual, focus on success with an emphasis on fun. I hit wedge through driver and am content with my ball striking. I stroll to the practice green to get a feel for the Platinum Paspalum. The greens are rolling well – the hay is in the barn, it’s time to play.
There’s a Shark spotting on the range 30 minutes before the Pro-Am shotgun start. Everyone came to see the signature straw hat with shark logo on the front and Norman doesn’t disappoint. He was a brilliant player, the No. 1 player in the world for more than six years. Equal to his hall of fame career is his colorful style and bravado. Today it’s a white hat, white shirt and Caribbean coral trousers. He’s focused on his pre-round routine – it’s the same one he used to win 88 tournaments around the world. A crowd of pros and amateurs gather to watch the Aussie get loose.
We’re playing a “shamble” format, which is a scramble off the tee and regular stroke play to the hole. In the cart with my partner we acknowledge the nerves. We arrive at the first tee, Norman and our Web.com Pro Trevor Cone, are waiting. I introduce myself to Norman and appreciate he doesn’t tell me his name is Greg. Everyone on the damn golf course knows his name is Greg. They smash two drives and now it’s my turn.
It’s a lengthy par five, I tee it up and focus on making a smooth swing. I want to hit it solid and straight, which I do. I hit it through the fairway, and it’s lost. Not a problem because my partner has one in the middle and we’ll play it. We have 280 yards to the hole, and I hit a three-wood about 250 up near the green. From there I pitch it to about six feet and make the putt for a team birdie. A few holes later I receive a compliment I’ll put in the trophy case. Norman’s communications director is riding with us and says, “Elvis, you don’t suck.”
Greg Norman is arguably the greatest driver of the golf ball to ever live. Throughout the round it’s a joy to look at his alignment and see the lines he takes from the tee. Several times I find myself thinking, “I would’ve never thought to hit it there.” For someone who doesn’t play a lot of golf – The Shark hits it well and rolls in a few putts from downtown with his Wilson 8802 blade putter. He designed the golf course and obviously knows it well, but it’s his cerebral approach to the game that impresses me most. He takes dead aim, plays smart and on this windy day regularly encourages, “When it’s breezy, swing easy.”
Norman’s played more pro-ams than most people have played rounds of golf, but genuinely seems to give a damn. He gives lines on putts, offers golf course management advice and talks a lil’ trash too. Just like one of the boys, he jabs me with an, “Elvis, you lost a lot of f*cking golf balls today.” Web.com Professional Trevor Cone included, everyone in the group walks off the eighteenth with an arsenal of new tee box talk.
After the round at dinner I ask Norman about playing with his son Greg Jr. at the PNC Father Son Challenge in Orlando. He catches a bright smile and it’s easy to see he enjoyed the event. The moment touches on one of the reasons why golf is so special. The parent-child element is incredible and is perhaps the game’s greatest joy. I had a lot fun playing golf with my dad, I’ll cherish those memories forever. And we watched The Shark win a lot of tournaments – my dad would’ve loved to hear about this.
Some photos courtesy of The Greg Norman Company