Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Greg Norman - The Way Of The Shark

A buddy lent me Greg Norman's book Sunday and I, well, read the entire thing in the afternoon. Sorry Greg, but your life story is speed-readable - all 300 pages of it.

But it was nonetheless an interesting read on a biographical level. Greg talks extensively about his failed battle against the PGA tour. His little tiff with commissioner Tim Finchem over expanding play into a "World Tour" is all by itself a case study in the tyranny of institutional bureaucracy and monopoly. We'll start with that first.

Back in the mid-nineties, Greg Norman had the idea to start a new series of professional golf tournaments. They would feature only the best 30-40 players in the world, have elevated and guaranteed prize monies, and be played all over the globe. Greg and his brain-trust had done considerable planning, sought out the support of his fellow players, and even had a lucrative television deal inked with the upstart Fox Broadcasting Network. Well, when the PGA Tour got wind of this development, they went ape-sh*t, to say the least.

The PGA used every dirty trick in the book to quash this rivaling development. They even went so far as announcing a similar "World Tour" right before Greg's scheduled public announcement.

They threatened to expel any card-carrying PGA players who partook in Greg's tournaments. They unleashed a bevy of legal pressure on Greg. They implemented a sleazy propaganda campaign from every angle: tournament sponsors, individual pro golfers, politicians (e.g. Senator Bob Dole), etc. And they took THE tack of dirty politics - they smeared Greg Norman, branding the new tour as a "money-maker" for him personally.

Anyway, the PGA won as none of the players besides Greg would stand up to it. One analog you could put forward is that it was like a failed unionization at an oppressive company. Norman's tour would have lavished an incredible amount of money on top players and loosened the grip that the PGA had on their livelihood. So what wasn't to like?

This isn't the place to go much further into detail but I want to point out that the PGA reacted to Greg Norman in the same exact manner as all large, powerful institutions do to their perceived competition. A few examples might be Microsoft destroying its upstart rivals (e.g. Netscape), the government school system attacking charter schools and homeschools, or the university/college system taking aim at "for-profit" education. The ultimate comparison is with the self-preservative bent of Big Government.

Repeatedly, the PGA propagated the talking points that Greg's world tour would "hurt the game of golf" and "hurt the many charities supported by the PGA". There's no difference between this tripe and the innumerable times politicians have raised fees and taxes "for the children", "for education", or "for the poor". Puuuuhhhleeeeeeeeeeeeezzzzzz!

Sheeple fall for this junk. Arnold Palmer, the 'old coot', stood up and vociferously denounced Greg Norman's idea. More accurately, the unthinking Moron became a megaphone for the PGA's talking points.

It's not really a surprise that the players abandoned Norman as they were threatened (with expulsion) and essentially in over their heads in this war of wills. Pro golfers beat balls all day - for their entire life. They aren't studying any of life's larger issues or realities. Greg knew that his golf career had a finite window and he was, at the margin, at least interested in maximizing his current opportunities. The other meatheads on tour, just like the average voter, hadn't the stomach to stand up for their own best interests. I won't elaborate here, but the PGA had very strict rules on how its members could and couldn't earn income. It was all about "brand protection"....sure.

What it was about was monopoly entrenchment - just like government agencies and not-for-profit foundations, no matter how well-intentioned their births, always morph into self-perpetuating monsters. Finchem's over-riding interest was to preserve the insulated and cushy status of PGA Tour management. As Greg put it, the Tour saw players are mere "pass-through entities".

The personal attacks and betrayal from the "World Tour" fiasco left Greg quite bitter and disillusioned. The salt in the wound is that even today, when talking about the PGA's "World Golf Championship" series, Tim Finchem has the balls to publicly thank Greg for his "support". It's all a crock. They never wanted to or did listen to Greg, nor was he ever asked to consult on how they were going to STEAL and implement his vision. The PGA has never apologized or reconciled with Greg Norman. These public displays of gratitude are nothing but continued giant middle fingers thrust in his direction. If I were him, I'd have knocked Finchem out by now.

Now let's get on to Greg at the personal level.

He's always been a *risk-taker*. His tales include death-defying surfing incidents, scuba gear failure 100 feet below the surface, shooting an attacking 10 foot black snake at close range, and a car accident where he drove home a hundred miles with a leaking gas tank. Though hardly Captious, he surely was a Nut!

For those of you unaware, Greg Norman was the best golfer in the world for a few years back in the 1990s. He was known as much for his successes as he was for some unfortunate "chokes" in the majors. He pretty much walked away from golf to run his little empire of business enterprises: apparel, clubs, golf course design, real estate, wine, etc. I have got to respect anyone who has the stones to essentially leave one comfortable field and seek out a greener pasture.

One point of note - Greg's philosophy does not include risking his own capital. He reiterates it several times in his book. On this he loses some respect from me. Despite his undeniable business success, a cynic might assert that Greg simply leveraged his celebrity status into lucre. As far as I am concerned, if Greg is as confident in his abilities as he admits (over and over again), then why wouldn't he ever put his capital where his mouth is?

Remember I am a solo trader. Trading my own money has given me all sorts of freedom (and risk!). So I am biased against those who traffic in OPM (Other People's Money).

But many days, I get the feeling that my go-it-alone approach may be completely stupid!

I have in fact resolved to start trading OPM in the near future when my kids are a bit older and I can devote more time to the markets.

Now the last subject on Greg Norman that I want to address is on the gossipy side - his personal life.

Almost thirty years ago he hit on a flight stewardess (how cliché!). They wed and had two kids. In the photo section of his book there are pics of his son and his daughter, but none of his oft-discussed wife. Right there I knew something was afoot. Throughout his autobiography, the way Greg was running all over the world chasing dollars I couldn't help but see a parallel to General Electric's Jack Welch. What kind of marriage and family life is possible when Dad is always elsewhere? Not a very pleasant or enduring one in my vicarious experience. Welch incidentally has been thrice married. Many athletes retire so they can spend more time with their family but Greg simply replaced one all-consuming passion (golf) with another (business). Seemingly, even when Greg wasn't building golf courses he was off on extended hunting and fishing trips. Most normal guys who merely hit the bar on the way home (for french fries) get an earful from their wives. Highly ambitious men and women simply aren't conducive to family life. They and their spouses simply grow apart.

My hunch was confirmed way back on page 291 where Greg mentioned his impending divorce from Laura, his flight stewardess wife of 25 years. It turns out, Greg was bopping his neighbor, tennis legend Chris Evert who's now 54 (pictured above). Chris was married too so a couple of marriages were ruined from this sordid affair. As of this post, Greg and his new love interest are supposedly engaged.

Now I don't know why any guy would marry Chris Evert with her record. Sure she was married to current husband Andy Mills for quite some time (by celebrity standards) but she was a "player" on and off the tennis court for decades. Her little black book is quite extensive: Jimmy Conners, Burt Reynolds, Geraldo Rivera, Adam Faith, Vitas Gerulaitis, Pat Boone, and John Gardner "Jack" Ford, son of U.S. President Gerald Ford. Then she married and divorced tennis pro John Lloyd before marrying skier Andy Mills the latest cuckold.

I guess one of the most prescient acts of the past century was Chris Evert keeping her maiden name upon marrying John Lloyd. Otherwise she'd be now known as "Chris Evert Lloyd Mills Norman"!!!

For you young'uns unaware, Chris Evert was the Maria Sharapova/Anna Kournikova of her day. She was one hot babe!

Greg Norman is nobody I'd be hoisting up on a pedestal - but you'll find his bio worthy reading - particularly if you, like me, have dual interests in golf and business.

Cross-posted on Marginalizing Hackers.

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