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SPORTS WEEKEND | Golf

Being Fired Is Norton's Reward for Making Woods Rich

October 16, 1998|THOMAS BONK

Only a couple of months ago, Golf World ran a cover story on Hughes Norton featuring a photo of Tiger Woods, Earl Woods and Norton with this headline: "The Father, Son and Holy Ghost."

This week, Norton was downgraded from Holy Ghost to just plain ghost.

Norton wonders what he did wrong as Woods' agent.

Wasn't $120 million in endorsement deals enough?

Norton, who was fired by Woods this week, said athletes change agents all the time, but the IMG veteran finds his leave-taking a little puzzling.

"He earns more per endorsement than any other athlete in the world, including Michael Jordan," Norton said.

The major endorsement deals that Norton put together for Woods in their two-year business relationship are with Nike, Titleist, Rolex, American Express, All-Star Cafe, Wheaties and Warner Books.

"I'm very proud of the job I did for Tiger," Norton said. "From the day he turned professional, Tiger has been set up financially for the rest of his life."

Woods will continue to be represented by IMG's Mark Steinberg and Alistair Johnston, at least for the time being. Steinberg's major client is Annika Sorenstam. Johnston runs IMG's golf division.

According to a CNN/SI report on the Internet, Norton "overcommitted" Tiger in business deals and Earl Woods said Norton was only interested "in the almighty dollar."

Norton called the reports of Woods being overcommitted "completely off the mark."

Norton said Woods isn't committed to anywhere near the number of days that companies usually demand as part of multimillion-dollar endorsement agreements and that the marketing plan Norton developed with Earl Woods, limiting Tiger's commercial deals to a select few, always has been followed.

"Given the fact that Earl was involved in all of Tiger's contract development, I'm a little surprised at [Earl Woods'] comments that 'the business stuff has been a tremendous weight on Tiger and affected his performance on the golf course.' "

Norton said Woods has been the No. 1-ranked player in the world all year so that the marketing plan clearly did not distract Tiger from being a success on the course.

"I have to admit, it's hard to understand the decision Tiger has made," Norton said.

Norton will remain at IMG, where he represented Greg Norman for 11 years before Norman ended their business relationship. Norton said Woods told him he still wants Norton to do some things for him in the future. Norton said he and Woods are friends.

"Life goes on," Norton said.

TIGER UPDATE

Woods will announce today that he is playing in next week's Walt Disney World Golf Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., to get ready for the Tour Championship, Oct. 29-Nov. 1 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

HAND IT TO HIM

Paul Azinger's telephone interview after his round of 62 Thursday in the Las Vegas Invitational was cut short because he was calling from the ladies' card room at Las Vegas Country Club and it was time for the card game.

NORTH CHANGES DIRECTION

He doesn't turn 50 until March 2000, but Andy North already is working on the possibility of playing the Senior PGA Tour.

The two-time U.S. Open champion will take a leave of absence from his job as an ESPN golf analyst next year to play as many PGA Tour events as he can, trying to see if his game might hold up if he eventually did play the senior tour.

TV FOLLIES

Tune in, turn on, drop out . . . or . . . that darned television thing!

In last week's senior event, Chi Chi Rodriguez hit his tee shot into some water, took four shots to get it out and signed his card for a nine. Everything was OK until a fan watching on television noticed that on one of Rodriguez's water shots, his club touched the water on his backswing, which is a violation.

After the officials watched the videotape, Rodriguez got a two-stroke penalty, making his score for the hole 11. And that made him mad.

"I don't think golf should be ruled by someone watching TV," he fumed.

On a more serious note, Rodriguez underwent an angioplasty, an artery-clearing procedure, Wednesday in Sacramento, where he was preparing to play in a senior tournament this weekend. What he thought was severe indigestion turned out to be angina caused by a partially blocked artery. The procedure was successful and he is expected to leave the hospital today.

HORSE SENSE

Gary Player, back at his ranch in South Africa, has decided to call one of his soon-to-be-born foals Northville, the sponsor of a senior tournament Player won in August.

Player is fortunate to have won that tournament. What if he'd won Bruno's Memorial Classic and the foal turned out to be a filly?

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Which Pinehurst? There has never been much confusion over the legendary Pinehurst Resort and Country Club in Pinehurst, N.C., site of next year's U.S. Open. But then nearby layouts were built--and named Pinehurst National and Pinehurst Plantation.

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