Moe Norman: nobody hits straighter

The name Tiger Woods travels widely and so does the name Moe Norman.

While it seems ludicrous to put the two golfers in the same paragraph, let’s not rush to judgement. Woods, of course, is winning everything in golf these days, and is the subject of conversation wherever golfers gather.

At the same time, Moe-as everybody knows this Canadian golfing legend-also comes up in conversation. It happens time after time, dinner party after dinner party, pub after pub.
I can assure you this is true, and it’s true around the world. During the nearly three months I’ve been in Scotland, Moe Norman comes up in conversation so frequently you would think he’s still winning tournaments.As soon as people learn I’m Canadian they want to talk about Moe.

So I tell Moe stories. He’s a 70-year-old man now, but he still hits the ball dead solid accurate. And his stories travel well. I like to think that the ones I tell are true, and if memory serves, well, they are.

Shy man
Here’s one about the golfer of whom Lee Trevino has said, “If he wasn’t so shy and afraid of the public eye, he would have won everything in golf. And I mean everythi-majors, the lot.”

Given Trevino’s observation, I offer a story that reveals Moe’s lifelong insecurity that kept him from winning tournaments at the highest levels.

It was a few summers ago, and the scene was the Brantford Golf and Country Club, some 100 kilometers southwest of Toronto-a first-class course, by the way. Moe plays here most weeks with his close friends Nick Weslock and John Czarny. I joined them one fine summer morning, and watched in wonder as Moe hit one shot after another down the middle of the fairways or at the flagsticks on the green. He’s been called Pipeline Moe and no wonder. His shots are so straight he might as well by laying pipe.
Inevitably, though, Moe missed one fairway. That happens more often these days, but then again Moe is 70, has had a bypass operation and doesn’t work as hard as he used to on his game. Time was when he would hit hundreds, even thousands, of balls a day. One after the other, bam-bam-bam.
Rare miss
The fairway Moe missed ran along another one going in the opposite direction, across a stand of trees. Moe’s ball was in the opposite fairway. Up ahead, playing that hole, were a couple of young men. They looked back and saw Moe in the wrong fairway. And, like too many people, they decided to have some fun with this most sensitive man.
“Hey Moe,” they yelped. “What are you doing there? We thought you don’t ever miss a fairway. Losing your game? What’s wrong?” Moe heard them and was shaken. He lit back.
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Oh, go away. Do you think I hit 600 balls a day now? I can’t do that anymore. I’ve missed one shot all day and you’re laughing at me. Come on. Come on.”
The incident spoiled the rest of the day for Moe. We tried to calm him down and encourage him to forget the insults the golfers had unthinkingly thrown his way. But he couldn’t let the incident go. The man is vulnerable, that’s all there is to it.

Still plays beautifully
But he can still play the game most beautifully. That errant shot was indeed rare. Last summer Moe hit some balls on the driving range at the Bell Canadian Open at the Glen Abbey Golf Club. He watched from the sidelines for awhile, then some of the pros noticed him. Before long, Moe was hitting balls with their clubs, and in street shoes. The activity on the driving range ceased. Moe was the man of the moment.

How could he hit the ball so straight, so solidly every time? I’d first seen him do so at a Toronto driving range some 40 years ago, when I was 12 or 13 years old. Tiger Woods hits the ball longer than Moe ever did, but nobody can hit it straighter. He’s a Canadian golfing legend, and only time and space prevent me from telling endless stories about this most fascinating man.
A tip: If Moe Norman is anywhere in your area giving a golf clinic, drop everything and go there. You won’t forget what you see. You won’t forget the man you encounter. Nobody ever has. Nobody ever does.