Iron Man Moe
Producer Barry Morrow tells the story of Moe Norman's incredible comeback
Moe Norman featured on a comic book mockup (art by Associate Producer Keenan Garrett/original photo by Golf Digest)
Moe Norman wasn’t just golf’s most misunderstood figure, he was a medical marvel.
At the age of five, after surviving a sledding accident in which a truck wheel ran over one side of his head, he went home instead of to a hospital. It was the Depression, after all, and hospitals were costly.
Consider next the fact that for his entire adult life, Moe’s diet consisted of little more than junk food, fried chicken, and spaghetti with meatballs. Not a vegetable on the horizon. Except for the day he came into this world, Moe had never been seen by a doctor. Nor a dentist, and it showed. He had a lifelong habit of consuming dozens of Coca-Colas a day, and by the time he hit middle-age, his teeth were dissolving. Certain resourceful golfers (like me) use Coke to clean their irons. And while it does wonders for copper beryllium, porcelain not so much. When Moe grinned, he became a jack-o-lantern.
Moe Norman gives a big grin while pretending to balance a ball & tee on his finger
The winter of 1996 was a bleak one for Moe. Only a year earlier he had been featured in Golf Digest with a cover photo and a glowing article, and thus his lonely years of obscurity were coming to an end. Then, without warning, and for the first time in decades, he became stuck at home in his native Canada, unable to escape the long winter for Florida’s greener pastures.
You see, Moe always had a big heart, but one night it failed him. He was out tooling around in his Cadillac—slowly, as was his style—when he blacked out, lost control, and rolled the Deville in a ditch. It took concerted effort and the Jaws of Life to pull him out, after which he finally saw the inside of a hospital. Somehow, they salvaged his heart. But there would be no travel, no golf for Mr. Moe Norman for six months. Doctor’s orders.
Not since swinging his first hickory mashie had Moe gone a day without hitting a golf ball, and there were many days when he hit thousands. So he was already plumb stir-crazy when I just happened to show up at his highway motel unit in Kitchener one cold night, hoping to interview him and maybe talk about making a movie about his life?
Moe Norman lies in his Ontario motel room reading "The Bertholy Method" golf book (still image from "Moe Norman: The King of Swing" (2002), directed by Anne Pick)
Moe, as you’ve probably guessed, had his own agenda. And for the rest of my stay I became his Driver, our first stop being lunch the next day at an all-you-can-eat joint of his choosing. They knew him there, but Moe wasted no time chit-chatting. We grabbed our trays and got in line.
More auspicious, in fact the zenith of Moe’s day, was his doctor appointment. I figured I’d wait in the car, but he insisted I be there in the room with him. Moral support, I guess. I could tell he was nervous; basically everything he lived for was riding on whether or not this doctor would ground him for another six months, or give him what his beat-up old heart cried for: golf.
“You’re made of iron, Moe,” the doctor smiled.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ll let you hit a bucket of balls. One bucket. Small. Nothing more than a 9-iron, understand?”
We drove out of there fast. Our next and final stop would be 'The Bubble'—I think that’s what Moe called it. It was, essentially, a giant, indoor, domed driving range—an inflatable haven for Canada’s worst golf addicts in the dead of winter.
Similar to the Metro Golf Dome in Scarborough, ON, Moe Norman was a staple at the now closed Sportsworld in Kitchener during the winter.
Heads turned as we entered The Bubble. The dozen or so range rats assembled there recognized Moe instantly. They murmured amongst themselves, clearly surprised to see him back so soon, or maybe at all. As the newspapers had reported, Moe came close to dying in that accident, and his legend, at least among golfers, was palpable in Kitchener. Everyone stopped hitting balls to watch him.
With no attendant at the front desk, Moe reached back around the counter and helped himself to a bucket of balls. Small. From somewhere else he produced a 9-iron, then off he marched toward the artificial turf mats, me following.
As enormous as The Bubble looked from the outside, the furthest flag was only about 130 yards, and that’s the one Moe’s gaze locked onto, as I stood back to take a picture. Raking a ball onto the mat with his 9-iron, Moe went into his well-rehearsed set up—that signature wide stance, thrusted arms, look at the ball, peek at the flag, the ball again, then—
My eyes—everyone’s eyes—followed the flight of the golf ball against the harsh indoor lights. I lost it for a second, but there was no mistaking that certain sound, that flag waving side to side. Moe’s ball had struck the middle of a half-inch-wide round stick at 130 yards. On his very first swing. In six months.
That huge space inside The Bubble remained silent for a moment, then a smattering of soft, respectful applause came from those watching. Moe, however, was anything but pleased.
“Too high! Too high!” he sang in falsetto under his breath, then proceeded to knock the rest of those balls to within a few paces of his target, bouncing them there rather than flying them.
Golfers, when you hear the term “dialed in,” think Moe.
When you hear the name “Moe,” think Iron Man.
Producer, Director, and Oscar & Emmy-winning Screenwriter Barry Morrow leads the production team of the documentary.