The greatest golfer the world has never known.
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Ask the average person to name the best golfer who has ever lived and you’ll hear names like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Ask if they’ve heard of Moe Norman and the response is likely to be, “Who’s Moe Norman?” Never mind that many pros consider him to be the greatest ball-striker in history; never mind that Moe’s shot-making prowess is legendary; never mind that he’s the most colorful golf personality ever to play professionally. The sad truth is that the 70-year-old Norman has achieved only a small fraction of the recognition he deserves. When he joined the U.S. PGA Tour in 1959, the sky seemed to be the limit. But openly rejected by many fellow pros, Moe abruptly quit the tour after less than two seasons, never to return.
This past February, when Moe arrived at Orange County National Golf Center in Orlando, Florida, to conduct a clinic, he looked more like a confused senior citizen than a shoot-out-the-lights golfer. Wearing a bright red long-sleeve golf shirt and strikingly contrasting indigo slacks, he wandered aimlessly through the crowd of 125 attendees—signing some autographs, ignoring or rejecting others—before making his way to the tee. With a club in hand, Moe began to relax, and using his unorthodox swing, rapidly hit a half-dozen balls, all of which landed in very nearly the same spot.
The signature swing Norman utilizes breaks virtually all the rules of conventional golf mechanics. To oversimplify his method, Moe holds the club in his palms as opposed to his fingers; he uses an abnormally wide stance; his arm and the shaft of the club are on a single axis; and he faces the ball at impact. He also grounds the club as much as a foot behind the ball and moves his head considerably during his motion.
As Norman continued his demonstration, the crowd began murmuring in disbelief. Moe was systematically hitting every ball straight down the middle, calling out trajectory and distance before each shot. “M.O.S. More of the same,” he announced. During the hour-long demo Norman never took a divot and never landed a ball more than 10 yards off-center—except when he intentionally hooked, sliced, or topped the ball, which he can also do with pinpoint accuracy. When the clinic concluded, the assembled adults swarmed around him requesting autographs and photographs—reminiscent of treatment afforded rock stars, not aging, unknown golfers.
For Murray “Moe” Norman, the attention he received wasn’t always so positive. Growing up in a working class family in Kitchener, Ontario, in the 1930s, Moe (a.k.a. Moe the Schmoe—a self-appointed nickname) was considered an oddball child. He had difficulty interacting with other children and was ridiculed relentlessly by his peers. His tendency to talk very fast and repeat words or phrases is still prominent today. For example, Moe might say, “Mine is just straight down the middle, straight down the middle,” his singsong voice rising at the end of each statement. Friends have speculated that Moe is a higher functioning autistic, likening him to Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rain Man.