When it comes to accusations of cheating, don’t dare get in the way of Greg Norman.
I was in Akron, Ohio reporting on the 1995 NEC World Series of Golf when my fellow Australian accused Mark McCumber of cheating and now 24-years on, the double-major winner has sounded off at Patrick Reed after the Texan was accused of cheating during last fortnight’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
Norman was being interviewed on his American radio show Attack Life when asked about Reed’s actions on day two at the Albany course outside of Nassau.
“From my personal perspective, you know, I get really repulsed with that because, to me, you’ve got to protect the integrity of the game, not protect the player,” Norman said.
“Over the years that I’ve been involved with the sport, for 40-plus years, I’ve seen a lot of things happen and, to me, I’ve always been at the forefront of protecting the game before anybody else.
“I don’t care what it is, whether it is an infraction of the rules, or signing a scorecard incorrectly, or taking an illegal drop, or whatever it is that I see, I will always, always stand on the forefront of protecting the game first.”
At the 1995 NEC World Series of Golf, later to become the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational, Norman was drawn in the first round with American Mark McCumber.
At the 7th hole, a par-3 of 220-yards, McCumber took three putts for a bogey. But before holing out, Norman observed McCumber pluck a blade of grass from the green and also smooth the turf with his thumb.
The then long-time World No. 1 Aussie was so incensed that McCumber went on to to shoot a 68 and Norman a 73.
McCumber later stated he was squatting an insect but then Norman argued you would normally brush aside any insect.
In those early years of my golf journalistic career, I had never seen Norman so angry. Those pale blue eyes could have cut through you like a laser.
In fact, Norman was so mad over the remainder of the course he said he could have ‘bench-pressed 500lbs’, and he was so annoyed by the Tour in not taking any action on McCumber. Given there was no video evidence in those days, he declared he was going to withdraw from the tournament.
It took the intervention of Norman’s then wife, Laura and then PGA Tour Commissioner, Tim Finchem to finally calm Norman down and for him to agree to remain in the field.
As it turned out, Norman forced his way into a play-off and at the first extra hole, the 18th, he missed the fairway with his tee shot and played the adjoining fairway before brilliantly chipping-in from 66-feet for a birdie to win over American Billy Mayfair and Norman’s long-time good friend, Nick Price.
The victory was Norman’s third of the year and the $US 360,000 first prize cheque saw Norrman become the PGA Tour’s all-time leading money-earner with prize money then of $US 9.5m; the win also being Norman’s 16th of what would be 20 PGA Tour victories.
Norman said he was watching last week’s Hero World Challenge on TV and, after seeing what Reed did, immediately texted a PGA Tour official to let them know what had happened and urged them to investigate.
“I feel for not just the pros. I feel for all the amateurs,” Norman said. “Like today when I played in the pro-am, what was the first point of conversation? ‘Oh, well Patrick Reed did it. Can we do it?’ Well, you can’t do that.”
Fellow Aussie Cameron Smith was among those who called on Presidents Cup fans attending the biennial event in Melbourne to let Reed know their feelings and when Smith found himself up against Reed on day two, it reportedly turned physical as the International team surged to a 4-1 lead on day one — the first time since 2005 the US had entered day two with a deficit to make up.
Smith pulled no punches when asked about Reed’s indiscretion before the Presidents Cup kicked off, accusing Reed of a “bulls***” excuse when he said he didn’t intentionally clear sand with the back of his club on a couple of practice swings.
“I don’t have sympathy for anyone that cheats,” Smith said at the time.
“If you make a mistake once maybe you can understand but to give a bit of a bulls*** response like the camera angle, I mean, that’s pretty up there.”
According to Australian Golf Digest, the pair ran into each other — literally — after Reed left the fifth green on the opening day of the Presidents Cup.
Watched by Smith, the Texan nailed a birdie to halve the hole and then made a beeline to Smith on his way to the next hole.
“While no words were apparently exchanged between the two players, they were seen deliberately bumping into each other in a clash of shoulders, with one witness referring to it as a love tap that drew a wry grin from Smith.”