How I met Moe Norman

This blog is from a new newsletter on the making of the upcoming film documentary, The Feeling of Greatness: The Legend of Moe Norman. The documentary team asked for a picture of me and Moe. I regret that I never had one taken. I figure this is the next best thing. If you'd like to receive the newsletter, send an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca

When my book, The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, was first published in 1995, I was repeatedly asked: ‘How did you meet Moe?’

The subtext to the question was: ‘How did you gain his trust?’ The people asking the question knew that Moe disliked strangers—and journalists. Early in his career, Moe felt reporters  ridiculed him and made him look foolish by calling him a “golf clown” or “Moe the schmo.”

So how did a writer who didn’t know Moe develop a relationship that would lead to writing a book on his life?

My answer starts by noting Canadian golf professional Mark Evershed, who was a friend of Moe’s. Mark is a character in his own right and a highly respeted instructor. As a golf writer, I had gotten to know Mark, and he re-ignited my interest in Moe which had been dormant since I was a teenager.

One day, I casually mentioned Moe to the editor of a financial magazine that I wrote for. ‘Who’s Moe Norman?’ For about 10 minutes, I talked about Moe’s reputation among hard-core golfers around the world, but that he was not in the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame and that he appeared headed into his old age in poverty.

The conversation ended with: “Fantastic story. We’ll put him on the cover of our April issue.”

Moe Norman was featured in a 1995 issue of Golf Digest magazine

Moe Norman was featured in a 1995 issue of Golf Digest magazine

There was one problem. I had never met Moe. Mark was excited about the news, but he warned me that Moe would have to agree to meet with me. Mark said he’d tell Moe that I was good guy, a writer who understood the game, and that the article would be positive.

Mark called me a few days later to report that—surprisingly—Moe had agreed to meet me, and even play together. (I am so grateful for Mark’s kindness. For someone from outside Moe’s circle to meet him required some serious convincing.)

I flew to Florida to meet Moe and Mark at Royal Oak Golf Club in Titusville near Cape Canaveral, where Moe hung out every winter.

After greeting me in the parking lot, Mark brought me over to the patio outside the clubhouse. Moe was sitting in a green plastic lawn chair with a sports psychology book in his lap. He was wearing a dark blue long-sleeve turtleneck and black dress pants with a crisp crease and cuffs. Mark gently introduced me and we shook hands. His large meaty right hand felt like sandpaper.


Friend of Moe Norman’s & Canadian Golf Instructor Mark Evershed tells Moe stories while being interviewed by Producer Barry Morrow

Mark started the conversation by describing to Moe the article that I planned to write. Moe didn’t bother with pleasantries such as asking about my flight. He got right to it.

“I’m the best striker of the ball the world has ever known,” he said matter-of-factly. “That’s not me saying it. Ask all the pro’s who’s the best. Not the best player, the best striker of the ball. Ben Hogan and I are in a different world that doesn’t exist for anyone else for hitting it pure—dead straight, every time.”

I was blindsided. Stymied. I didn’t know how to follow that. I fumbled around with a few other questions, but I was tongue-tied and off my game. I was an experienced reporter, but I had never met anyone so forthright. And, indeed, he was a different cat. I was also deathly afraid of offending him.

Seeking a way out, I said we could talk more when we played. We arranged to meet on the first tee in half an hour.

Mark and I met on the first tee. It was a few minutes before our tee time, and no Moe. I was starting to feel disappointed. Before I flew to Florida, Mark warned me that he might not show or I might get five minutes max.

Just then Moe appeared, striding up on the tee, said “Hi guys,” and in what appeared to be one continuous motion, he extracted a driver from his bag, poked a tee in the ground and bashed the ball. It surged into the sky like a rifle shot and floated down on the other side of a palm tree beside a lake on the dogleg right.

It looked like he put his drive in the water. ‘That wasn’t so great,’ I thought. The ball had just disappeared over the tree when he launched another—over the same tree. Hell, over the same palm on the same branch.

As I hustled awkwardly down the fairway trying to keep up with him like a kid brother, I noticed his turtleneck hugged a powerful chest and a thick linebacker’s neck, the back of which was crisscrossed by deep lines. His wide jaw was a mixture of sunburned crimson and brown skin, some peeling off in little hunks.

His teeth were snaggled and sore looking. His grey hair was clipped short at the sides, but longer untamed tufts stick out in various directions on top. In his mid-60s, he looked fit enough to give a Florida gator a good wrestle.


Moe Norman poses during a photoshoot at Royal Golf GC in the mid-1990s when renewed interest among golf media made him more widely known in the United States

When we get to his golf balls, they were about four feet from each other, and about six feet from the water. Then it occurred to me—he aimed for this spot. He took the shortest route to the hole by playing as close to the water as possible.

He reached out and placed his wedge about 12 inches behind one ball and swung. The ball arced in the air and landed softly six feet from the flag. He hit the other ball. Four feet.

On the second hole, an uphill par-three, his 3-iron streaks toward the flag, but inexplicably falls about 30 feet short. “He needs glasses, but I can’t get him to go get his eyes checked,” Mark says to me in a whisper.

“This is amazing!” I exclaim to Mark.

“Incredible, huh?” he says.

At the 220-yard fifth hole, another par three, he lashes a four-wood. From the clubface, the ball is locked on to the flag and lances into the green within two inches of the hole. “Ooh, missed again, missed again. Tap-in two, tap-in two. Almost unplayable lie on the green,” he says in a light sing-songy voice like Pooh Bear.

As we walk to the green, he spreads his arms and laments:

“I hit it close every time and I get nothing. Freddie Couples can’t hit it this good and he gets $200,000.”

The joy that I’d felt for the last hour was gone. Pop. Like a balloon pricked by a pin. I was suddenly melancholy, watching him walk up to his ball, stoop over and pick it up. As we walked to the next tee in silence, Moe bounced the ball off his putter. It seemed like a compulsion, something to keep his mind occupied. Perhaps to keep sad thoughts away.

My story was published. I went on to write a number of other articles, columns and narrated a CBC-Radio documentary on Moe. Writer Lorne Rubenstein said I became the ‘Moe maven,’ which is probably why Jim Bradley, whose company distributed golf videos, engaged me in 1994 to write Moe’s biography.

Fortunately, with Mark’s invaluable help, I gained Moe’s trust and I began to meet him a couple times a week to chat.

I’m not a confrontational person and I’m pretty empathetic. But there were difficult questions to be asked—notably about possible autism, his relationship with his family, and the like—so I saved those until I was almost finished my research.

When the book came out in early 1996, I was gratified that people enjoyed it, especially friends and fans of Moe, many of whom were understandably curious how I got to know Moe.

Adapted from The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story by Tim O’Connor.


Do you want to learn how to better manage your thoughts and emotions on the golf course, and in other parts of life?

Then, check out my just released Obedience Training For Your Brain e-book, a companion to my webinar of the same name.


To learn how to silence your inner critic, press pause on your thoughts, and keep your emotions from running away from you, check out my new e-book Obedience Training For Your Brain: How to stop your mind from yanking you all over the place, from biting the kids and gobbling down your food. It’s only $5.

Click here to learn to train your mind to play better golf, and have more fun—in life too! 

You can also download my free e-book Getting Unstuck: Commit to Freedom by visiting www.oconnorgolf.ca.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf and mental performance coach, an award-winning writer, and Head Coach of the University of Guelph golf team. He is the recipient of the 2020 Lorne Rubenstein Media Award, given by Golf Ontario. He is author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story, and co-host of the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman. And he plays bass in CID—a punk band!

Comments

  1. Harry Brennan says

    That must of been a great day to play with him.So sad that we lost him,I seen him in a clinic and that was a pleasure to watch.He hit it so pure, and the sound of the ball off the face was amazing.

  2. Chris Ripley says

    Hello Tim – I just finished reading The feeling of Greatness- what a great story. I saw Moe put on a clinic when I was a junior golfer back in the 70’s. Your book is an amazing read to this day!! So good and so sad all at the same time. I was provided the book by an old friend who had it in storage for years – inside the book I came across a newspaper clipping written by Rick Fraser from when Moe had double bypass heart surgery in London University hospital – he was 67 at the time and asked if he knew where he was and he said sure – on the 3rd green. The hospital was built on the former London Hunt Club and the wing he was in was in fact where the 3rd green used to be!! What an amazing human being. Cheers Chris

    • Chris … my apologies for the delay in responding. Thx very much for your kind words about the book. Much appreciated. Indeed, Moe’s story is bittersweet. I love that story about Moe in University Hospital. It says a lot about how brilliant and mysterious Moe was. Thx again for your lovely note. Take care and be well.

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