Moe Norman’s October Surprise
Updated: Oct 30, 2021
The Canadian Golf Champ’s Career-Altering Fallout of 1956
Big bold letters littered headlines declaring Moe Norman had been “banished, dropped, or suspended” from Canadian amateur golf at the height of his dominance on the national stage.
While unearthing archival content for our feature-length documentary, “The Feeling of Greatness—The Legend of Moe Norman,” I’ve encountered numerous articles about the controversy surrounding Norman’s amateur status in October 1956.
Everything came crashing down for Norman last minute prior to the Americas Cup, a biennial team golf competition between top amateurs from the United States, Mexico and Canada—for which Norman was set to play for the second time.
It was at the 1954 Americas Cup in London, Ontario when Norman carded his first career ace, putting the Canadians up one stroke on the 33rd hole of the tournament, before the U.S. team would go on to claim the victory, 14-13.
It was the first hole-in-one to be scored at the international event inaugurated in 1952. The Gazette of Montreal, Quebec, Canada reported it as the highlight in the final round on August 14, 1954:
“When a roar went up from the green of the 140-yard 15th hole, several onlookers around the clubhouse who couldn’t see what happened remarked ‘Moe must have shot a hole-in-one.’ Moe, who has been playing golf for 12 of his 23 years, landed his tee shot with a No. 8 iron four feet from the pin. The ball bounced right back into the cup.”
With his strong team performances and still the reigning back-to-back Canadian amateur golf champion, Norman was locked in to represent his country for the third installment of the event that would take place October 27–28, 1956 in Mexico.
However, evidence had resurfaced that Norman had been selling his tournament prizes to cover travel expenses. The Royal Canadian Golf Association had already warned Norman for this activity and had reservations about Norman’s trick shot exhibitions and “clowning and chatter-trading with galleries” in tournament play.
The RCGA’s hope for its first Americas Cup title rested mainly on Norman, who would be their best chance to defeat two-time defending United States amateur champion Harvie Ward.
Tim O’Connor documented this in his biography "The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story":
“Many golf insiders shared Moe’s assessment of their upcoming match: It would decide the top amateur in the world.”
Unfortunately, that matchup would never happen. Doug Bajus of Vancouver would ultimately replace Norman. The president of the RCGA and captain of Canada’s Americas Cup team, Jim Anglin, issued a statement on October 19 that “activities being carried on by Moe Norman… cast serious doubt upon Moe’s status as an amateur player.”
The decision had been reached after numerous attempts to contact Norman were unsuccessful. Anglin said the removal was not the result of accusations about taking money, which many amateurs had done, but that it was more about Norman’s lack of cooperation.
“As captain of the Canadian team for the America’s Cup matches in Mexico, I have no alternative but to decide that in view of the facts furnished to me and Moe’s evident refusal to see me or even to answer telephone calls, the RCGA cannot include him on its international amateur team.”
O’Connor documented that “stories circulated he [Norman] was hiding out in union halls playing cards.” Norman admitted to accepting and repaying loans as many amateurs did, but as far as the situation with Anglin, Norman recalled it differently. He told O’Connor years later that the RCGA never tried to reach him and discovered he wasn’t attending the Americas Cup through the press.
“They didn’t even bother to take me aside. The public knew if before I did. I wake up the next morning and there’s nine reporters on my lawn,” Norman said.
“Moe avoided the media horde by ducking out his back door and jumping backyard fences,” O’Connor wrote.
Meanwhile in the U.S. O’Connor documented the fact that it was common knowledge that Ward’s expenses had been covered by a wealthy auto dealer, but the United States Golf Association didn’t take action until they suspended Ward in Spring 1957.
With the golf season coming to a close in late October Ontario, Moe was left contemplating his future in golf. Either contest the RCGA, or go into the more challenging world of professional golf.
He chose the latter, declaring he was turning pro in 1957. His feeling of being treated unfairly by the golf authority is something that plagued the remainder of his professional golf career. However, he would continue to dominate the Canadian circuit.
“It wasn’t the greatest sendoff, but after his brilliant amateur career,” O’Connor wrote, “the trauma of being forced to turn pro and the arduous chore of trying to get his professional’s card, Moe was finally going to test himself against the world’s best.”
Keenan Garrett is an Associate Producer and Camera Operator for the documentary and is currently the Video Production Manager at Graves Golf—which specializes in teaching Moe Norman's Single Plane golf swing