Moe the Tournament Player: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

The following is an excerpt from the opening to Chapter One of the original ‘Feeling of Greatness’ published in 1995. I rewrote the beginning of the book for the second edition, which was published by Brown Books in 2017. Much to my regret, I did not find a new place for the story below in the second edition. It’s one of my favourite Moe stories of all time.

Moe moved into his rigid stance, legs spread wide and ramrod straight, his arms reaching way out from his body, the clubhead a foot behind the ball. He took one peak at the fairway, swung with trademark haste and watched his drive rifle down the center of the fairway.

Moe Norman held his follow-through — arms and club extended as one above his head like he was trying to poke a hole in the clouds — for a second. Some members of the gallery at the 1971 Quebec Open laughed incredulously. Some hooted “All right Moe! They’d been watching this all day. Every shot the same. Like the ball was running along the edge of an invisible ruler.

Moe Norman practices on the driving range at the1984 Canadian OpenMoe Norman practices on the driving range at the1984 Canadian Open

Moe Norman practices on the driving range at the1984 Canadian Open

Gary Slatter, a struggling pro, had watched his buddy and playing partner do this all day, too; Moe was leading the tournament as they teed off the 16th hole at Summerlea Golf Club in Aylmer, Quebec.

Tired of saying “good shot,” Slatter sniffed, “Well, not bad Moe.”

Moe’s head turned around like he’d been slapped, his eyes wild. “Not bad! Not bad!” Moe stomped over to Slatter, waving his arms and nearly shouting: “If you could hit it like that you’d have lotsa money!”

Just then, Moe reached down, wrapped his thick arms around Slatter’s thighs in a bear hug and flipped him upside down. In a startling demonstration of strength, Moe hoisted Slatter off the ground, started shaking his legs and barked: “OK, let’s see how much money you got in your pockets, let’s see how much!” Slatter was helpless, strung up like a fish, his arms flailing in the air. The crowd was in hysterics.

Moe let go after a few seconds and Slatter clambered to his feet. The two friends shared a good laugh, but Slatter’s concentration was shot for the rest of the back nine.

When they got to the 18th tee, Moe was leading the tournament by a shot. It was a long par-four about 440 yards that plunged down into a valley and rose back up to the green. Moe bombed a drive and then cracked a three-wood onto the green.

As he approached the green, the gallery surrounding the green was fairly quiet. Moe asked a marshall if anyone else got home in two shots that day. “No sir, you’re the first.”

Moe grimaced. He shook his head from side to side. He asked Slatter plaintively: “Why didn’t they clap?” He didn’t even seem to stop walking and putted the ball. It wasn’t even close.

Again, he looked at Slatter. “Why didn’t they clap? I’m the first one to hit the green in two and they didn’t clap.” Again, he missed. Now he had a three-footer for par to retain his lead. Again, he asked Slatter the same question. His putt missed. The gallery gasped. Moe tapped in his fourth putt. He’d just given the tournament to American Jay Dolan. As he walked up to Slatter, he said, “I can’t believe they didn’t clap.”

Slatter recalls:

It was as if he didn’t care about the tournament. The cheers were more important than the putts.

The next day, Moe and Slatter were playing together in a practice round for the Canadian Open at the Richelieu Valley Golf Club just outside Montreal. As they approached the 10th tee, a group of reporters began to pester Moe sarcastically. “How’s the flatstick today Moe? Any four-putts?” The scribes chuckled gleefully.

Not saying a word, Moe walked on the tee of the monster par-three, a 233-yarder. Moe grabbed his driver and bashed the shot.

Moe watched the ball in the air for a few seconds, then turned around, crossed his arms and announced: “I’m not putting today.”

The ball landed inches from the cup and rolled into the hole.

A hole-in-one!

“He called it in the air!” Slatter shouted.

The crowd of reporters stood in shocked silence as Moe, smiling his great Halloween grin of crooked teeth, strode off the tee, chattering away to Slatter just like always.

This post originally appeared on the website The Feeling of Greatness: The Legend of Moe Norman

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!