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SPORTS WEEKEND

Norman Finally Ready to Put His Shoulder Into Comeback

Golf: Seven months after surgery, he returns to action in Shark Shootout prepared to accept any and all consequences.

November 13, 1998|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Greg Norman has won 18 times on the PGA Tour, he has won more than 50 times around the world and he has won two British Opens. But that was with his old shoulder, before he had surgery that basically put his left shoulder back together.

It has been seven months since Norman walked disgustedly off the course at the Masters after he missed the cut, his shoulder aching, his arm numb, his mood black and his future uncertain.

So when Norman plays his first competitive round since then at the Franklin Templeton Shark Shootout beginning today at Sherwood Country Club, one of golf's superstars will start to find the answer to what could be a very troubling question.

Will Norman continue to be a force in the game at 43 or is he one surgery the other side of being relevant? For the record, Norman said he has no fear about coming back or how his surgically repaired shoulder will hold up.

"All I care about now is to go out and play the kind of golf I'm capable of playing," he said. "If I do well, I'll be happy. If I don't, I'll still be happy because I know I've done all I can.

"I don't have any lack of confidence. I don't have thoughts like that in my head right now because I'm a very, very confident individual.

"I have no reservations or qualms about getting out here playing."

His orthopedic surgeon applauds Norman's attitude, but Dr. Richard Hawkins said he remains cautious about Norman's chances, at least in the early going.

"When you have a shoulder problem as he had and what he's done so far, it looks like he's going to able to do it," Hawkins said. "I think we're all concerned. I think we're all very anxious.

"You have to remember, years of hitting golf balls got him into this trouble."

Norman's left shoulder was a mess by the time he got to Hawkins last April. Hawkins saw bone spurs as well as instability in Norman's shoulder. All Norman knew was that it hurt badly--and had been hurting for about 18 months. He also knew his shoulder was loose because it would pop out of place on his backswing and pop back into place as he continued is swing.

Sometimes, his shoulder stayed out of place on his follow-through and then he had trouble keeping his golf ball out of the gallery.

"I made golf a full-contact sport," Norman joked.

Hawkins made use of a new procedure to correct the shoulder's instability. Called electrothermal arthroscopy, the surgery shrinks the shoulder's supportive ligaments with probes that heat the tissue to 150 degrees.

Because of Norman's fitness level, he came out of the surgery in good condition, Hawkins said.

"He's at a higher level than most mortals," Hawkins said.

However, because of the unique torque and stress a golf swing puts on joints such as the shoulder, Hawkins said Norman's physical condition must exceed normal standards.

"Because of what he does, playing a lot of golf, he really has to be back in peak shape," Hawkins said.

In a major concession to his shoulder, Norman has cut back on his practice time. He said he now hits about 150 to 180 balls in a session instead of his usual 600.

Norman's shoulder has been examined by Hawkins four times since the surgery in April and Hawkins said he will see Norman again before Thanksgiving. Norman will have completed the Shark Shootout by then, but he still faces a busy off-season playing schedule that includes the Skins Game, the Australian Open and the Presidents Cup.

By then, Norman should know the effects of his surgery. It already has affected him off the course. In his seven months away from the game, Norman said he was able to spend more time with his family and continue in his business interests, which include his golf course-design ventures. Norman said he has 17 course-design projects underway, including Oak Crest in Chino Hills.

He said he didn't miss the golf, especially the travel required to play the pro tour, and watched only parts of four tournaments on television.

"I got my life back," he said.

As for his playing career, Norman has that back too. He's just not sure how it's going to play out. But at least for now, Norman said he isn't worried about it.

"I'm just feeling my way back," he said. "I feel my golf swing is pretty good and I feel pretty good about being back out there.

"My goal is not to get back to being No. 1. I don't have any urgency to do anything. I don't have any urgency to win majors [as before when] everybody thinks you should have won more majors. I don't want to fall into that trap again.

"My challenge is to get back to the level of golf I'm capable of."

Can he do it, surgically repaired shoulder and all?

"I'm a competitor," Norman said. "I'm an extremely driven individual."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Shark Shootout

* Where: Sherwood Country Club (7,025 yards, par 72), Thousand Oaks.

* When: Today-Sunday.

* Purse: $1.3 million (winner's share, $160,000 each).

* TV: ESPN today at 11:30 a.m., Channel 2 Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday delayed at 11:45 p.m.

* First-round pairings and tee times: 8:50 a.m.--Costantino Rocca/Scott Hoch, Mark Calcavecchia/Andrew Magee; 9:00 a.m.--John Daly/Fuzzy Zoeller, Billy Andrade/Jay Haas; 9:10 a.m.--Davis Love III/Brad Faxon, Greg Norman/Steve Elkington; 9:20 a.m.--Peter Jacobsen/John Cook, Fred Couples/Justin Leonard; 9:30 a.m.--Ben Crenshaw/Craig Stadler, Bruce Lietzke/Scott McCarron; 9:40 a.m.--Tom Kite/Billy Mayfair, Hal Sutton/Glen Day.

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