OPEN Championship organisers the R&A are hoping that two-time winner Greg Norman will reconsider his decision to call time on the game’s oldest major over a dispute between two watch companies.
The Australian, who first lifted the Claret Jug at Turnberry in 1986 before repeating the feat seven years later at Royal St George’s, has shocked the golfing world by announcing that he’s played in the event for the last time.
‘If you want the truth, I’ve played in my last Open and it’s all down to the way the Royal and Ancient and the European Tour have handled my whole situation,” said the 59-year-old yesterday.
That is reference to Norman, who finished runner-up in no less than seven other majors, feeling he’s been caught in the middle of a dispute between Rolex and Omega, two of golf’s big sponsors.
Norman, an Omega ambassador, believes that, with intense rivalry between the two watch companies, Rolex were behind the decision to stop him from playing in the pro-am for the Senior Open Championship – an event they sponsor – when it was held at Turnberry, a venue close to his heart, two years ago.
While that has been denied by Rolex, Norman also reckons they were responsible when he was allegedly denied entry to the Gleneagles announcement by his friend, Jose Maria Olazabal, when the Spaniard was unveiling his wild cards for the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.
“It has left a pretty sour taste in my mouth, a bad feeling after what I have done in the game,” added the former world No 1. “I’ve nothing against the R&A and the European Tour but, quite frankly, the way they go about their business is not the way I do it.”
Norman, who recorded the first of his 14 European Tour victories in the 1977 Martini International at Blairgowrie, made his debut in the Open Championship the same year and only missed the event twice between then and 1999.
His appearances in the season’s third major have been sporadic over the last decade or so but, to the delight of his fans, the then 53-year-old led at halfway at Royal Birkdale in 2008 before going on to finish third behind Padraig Harrington.
It had been hoped that Norman, who plays little competitive golf these days, would be tempted to make a farewell appearance at St Andrews next year, as Jack Nicklaus famously did in 2005, and, although the player himself appears to have slammed the door shut on that prospect, the R&A are hoping he will have a change of heart.
“Greg Norman is one of the greats in our sport and he is much loved by fans at The Open,” a spokesman for the St Andrews-based organisation told The Scotsman.
“He’s always welcome at the Championship and we hope that, if he is unable to play this year at Royal Liverpool [this year’s venue], he can join us at St Andrews next year.”