Ask any Pro who the most consistent striker of the ball was, and the unanimous response is “Moe Norman.” 33 course records, 55 tournament victories, shot the rarely visited 59 at least three times and called a hole-in-one a fluke yet was “fluky” 17 times, including calling one in the air seconds after it left the tee. As a touring amateur, in order to survive, Moe would publicly sell his first place amateur tournament prizes, sometimes even before he won them and on occasion sold the same prize to more than one person. He regularly intentionally threw tournaments, placing second or third if it was easier to sell that prize than the first. He hitchhiked alone from tournament to tournament and slept in sand traps or under club house patios. Despite his unbelievable golf prowess and the records and recent accolades, Moe spent much of his career virtually alone, in obscurity and poverty.
Growing up in the ‘30s Moe (Murray) Norman was a regular kid until a fateful winter day when, while sledding, he was run over by a car. Miraculously he seemed fine and wasn’t taken to the hospital, however soon after Moe changed, exhibiting behavior and characteristics most similar to a form of Acquired Savant Syndrome (never diagnosed). He became less engaged with his family and friends but his energy level exceeded that of a kid his age. Moe’s strange behavior and odd repetitive speech isolated him from those closest to him. He began to show an obsessive-like attraction to certain mental and physical tasks. Moe put aside his incredible skills in team sports like football and hockey, focusing instead on the game of golf, first as a caddy, then spending countless hours on the driving range teaching himself how to swing a club and hit a golf ball.
Moe’s family would go for weeks without seeing him. Every free moment was spent on the golf course, launching over 500 practice balls a day or caddying for the elite membership of the local club. His eccentric and at times mischievous behavior, his mismatched dishevelled clothes and ambivalence of golf etiquette made Moe a misfit as a caddy, yet he was always in demand, mostly for his uncanny ability to find lost balls in the woods and his capacity to recall and tell each club member what their previous scores were in every round Moe caddied for them.
Moe’s self-taught, odd looking, unorthodox golf swing and obsessive practicing led him to perfect consistent shot making proficiency that enabled Moe to enter and win amateur tournaments. Immediately the galleries grew as the stories spread about the quirky young man with the odd golf swing, strange antics, and even stranger behavior on the course. But while Moe could entertain and mystify the gallery on the fairways and greens, ironically he was too shy and too terrified to appear at trophy presentations and could never stand in front of an audience and give an acceptance speech – an absence completely misunderstood by the tournament officials.
Moe’s perceived lack of respect for golf etiquette, his bizarre golf swing and his appearance were an embarrassment for the upscale golf establishment. The amateur golf association made every attempt to remove him from the sport and cringed when Moe earned a spot at the most prestigious golf event in the world. It was while working as a pinsetter at a local bowling alley that he received word – Moe Norman was heading to The Masters, via Greyhound Bus.
Stepping off the bus at Augusta was a classic Moe scene matched only by his opening round first tee shot where in one motion Moe teed up his ball, hit it and was half way down the fairway before the announcer finished introducing him. Moe spent time between shots looking for lost balls in the woods – not exactly the behavior of a Masters invitee. After the first round Moe’s golf hero gave him unneeded advice on his already perfect grip and swing. Moe spent the next several hours on the range, obsessing over and trying to implement the advice, hitting in excess of 800 practice balls, making his hands bloodied, calloused and torn.
Unable to hold the golf club in his hands, Moe withdrew from The Masters half way through his second round. This was viewed once again as another embarrassing moment for the amateur golf association. Despite Moe’s popularity with the galleries, the amateur golf association stripped Moe of his status, citing his selling of his amateur prizes as just cause.
Broke, with no means to earn money, Moe reluctantly joined the pro circuit, playing throughout the U.S. As his confidence grew the antics returned, however the behavior was less welcome on the pro circuit. Moe’s appearance, worn out mismatched dirty golf attire, hitting tee shots off Coke bottles, laying on the fairway waiting for slower players to catch up and his repetitive chatter as he played, led some of the pros, and society itself to view him as a buffoon, a crooked toothed, poorly dressed, social misfit – Golf’s anti-establishment.
Just as Moe was on the cusp of winning his first major U.S. tournament, he was blindsided by a few respected Pros who verbally attacked him, threatening him and telling him to get out of the sport. Devastated and humiliated, Moe quit golf, vowing to never play again.
With the help and support of his close friends Gus and Audrey Maue, and Ernie Hauser Moe returned to golf, competing in smaller tournaments. He continued his antics, attracting huge galleries and earning enough money for a down payment on a car, which he lived in as he travelled from tournament to tournament. The golf establishment continued to feel embarrassed, so much so that, despite the course records and tournament wins, they refused to induct Moe into the Golf Hall of Fame. By the mid 1990’s, with his confidence waning and prize money harder to win, Moe was living out of his car on the edge of poverty. Upon hearing this in January 1995, Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein met Moe on the floor of the Orlando PGA Golf Show, advising Moe that Titleist would pay him $5,000 per month for the rest of his life for his contribution to the game of golf and for just being Moe. As word spread throughout the golf show Moe was surrounded by media and pros in a celebration and acknowledgment of this unknown legend. The industry had spoken, and eventually Moe Norman was inducted into the Golf Hall Of Fame where he shocked everyone by delivering an epic acceptance speech.