How Golf Lifted Up a Down-Hearted Moe Norman
Associate Producer Tim O'Connor recalls how Moe Norman's weakened heart couldn't keep him from the game he loved
I met Moe when he was 65. In my time with Moe, I always wondered about his spiritual side, and what his interior life was like. What or whom did he put his faith in, especially during those gloomy days in the past when he felt ignored and disrespected.
Moe talked about being the only person who had the feeling of greatness. Did that belief give him a reason for getting up every day? Once he was acknowledged by the golf world, did that propel him forward?
It was always my sense that Moe’s feeling of greatness had nothing to do with what today we might call ‘external validation.’ I think that golf for Moe was far greater than his perception of his reputation, or his attachment to tournament wins or his swing.
The story below—adapted from my book The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story—is one of the best I’ve heard in providing some insight into Moe’s connection to the game and to something bigger than himself.
The story is told by Mike Martz, one of Moe’s best friends, a career golf professional and one of Canada’s top instructors. In conducting research for the Second Edition of The Feeling of Greatness, I was struck by Mike’s great love for his friend Murray as a person first and as a golfer a distance second.
Youth golfer Andrew Roethel (left) attended a junior golf clinic hosted by Moe Norman (middle) and his friend Mike Martz (right) at Kitchener's Doon Valley Golf Course in May 1997.
After the surge of interest in Moe in the mid-90s that included appearing on the cover of Golf Digest and the publication of The Feeling of Greatness biography, Moe was riding high, feeling good about being recognized and finally finding some financial security with Acushnet committing to pay him $5000 a month for the rest of his life as kind of a thank-you.
But a lifetime of greasy food and an insatiable sweet tooth caught up with him in 1997 when he suffered a heart attack. A few months later, Moe suffered heart failure and underwent double bypass surgery. Six months later, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, which would eventually kill him.
Even a year later, his doctor prohibited him from driving, which meant that he could not drive to Florida in the early winter of 1998 for his annual winter pilgrimage to the sunny south.
Mike Martz kindly offered to drive Moe. He had missed going to Florida the previous winter; the first time in 43 years that he had to stay in cold Canada for the winter. Moe was happy to get back to Florida, but he was tired all the time and feeling sad. He couldn’t walk very far without having to rest. His doctors advised him against hitting lots of balls and to take it easy.
Moe hits golf balls on the driving range in the early 2000s.
Mike recalls beginning their second day in Florida at Royal Oak Golf Club where they met with Canadian LPGA Tour player Lorie Kane who was trying out some new irons. Moe loved Kane’s sunny disposition and watched her hit balls for a bit and provided some feedback as he often did.
Mike and Moe headed to Daytona Beach where Craig Shankland was giving a weekly clinic at a range. They parked and walked to the aluminum bleachers where about 30 people, most seniors, were watching. Shankland noticed Moe and introduced him to the crowd.
Mike said: “I left his clubs in the trunk because I knew he would want to hit balls and I didn't want him to exert himself.” Ever protective of his friend, Mike also didn’t want Moe in his weakened state to hit balls if he was incapable of his usual ball flight.
Moe was already feeling down, and Mike was afraid that it could really send him into a spiral if he couldn’t hit the ball with the same magic that he was accustomed to.
Moe demanded that Mike go to the car and fetch his clubs. Mike failed to talk him out of it. “You couldn't talk Moe out of anything if he wanted to do something.”
“I handed Moe his Wilson pitching wedge and he began to hit short shots. He was a little shaky at first, but he quickly went into a trance-like state and I could see his desire and strength begin to re-surface,” Mike said.
“The ball began to fly a little higher and farther with the familiar strike sound. He moved to a 6-iron and the same process unfolded—strike after strike increasing in number and decreasing time in between strikes.
“He came alive in front of my eyes. He moved to the driver and again striking straight with increasing distance,” said Mike, whose sense of joy eventually gave way to fear that Moe might hurt himself.
“I walked up after 10 drives or so and pulled his tee from the ground and pried the driver from his hands. I could see on his face he was completely transfixed on the ball flight and all else melted away.
“He was able to do the only thing that mattered to him once again.”
Adapted from 'The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story' by Tim O’Connor.
To book Tim for his webinar "The Feeling of Greatness: More Stories About Golf’s Eccentric Genius," email firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s 45 minutes of heart-warming anecdotes, bittersweet tales and insights about one of golf’s greatest legends.