Moe, Tiger and Curley
It has been said, “Your swing is a work in progress, but a bad grip follows you to the grave.” I don’t remember who said that, but it certainly makes sense. But what if your grip and swing were so unconventional that you were known as the best ball striker in the world, but today few people know your name.
Born in 1929, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, this young boy was different from all the other boys in school or his neighborhood. At age 6, he was hit by a car and became even more reclusive. Many people just called him strange, while some said he was autistic.
He found solitude in golf and learned the game while working as a caddie at the Rockway Municipal golf course near his home. He loved the game, and it has been said that between the ages of 14 and 19, he hit over a million golf balls, which led him to become one of the best, if not the greatest golfer in Canada who ever played the game.
In 1957 he turned pro, and during his Canadian career had 55 professional tour wins, shot 59 three times and had 17 aces. He played briefly on the U.S. PGA Tour in 1959, but due to his shyness, unconventional playing methods and bullying from some pro golfers, he returned to Canada to feel more at home and play the game he loved.
Murray Irwin “Moe” Norman was unlike other golfers, but this was his lot in life and he made the best of it. Once at a tournament, his caddie said, “He could make the green with a drive and nine iron,” but Moe decided to show the gallery and his caddie just the opposite when he hit nine iron off the tee and driver off the fairway to land on the green.
Another time in tournament play, he decided not to lay up when he couldn’t carry the creek on the course, but instead hit an iron so it landed on the bridge and carried onto the fairway beyond the creek. Not bad for a guy who was possibly autistic!
Sam Snead once called him “the greatest ball striker” he had ever seen. Ken Venturi nicknamed him “Pipeline” for his accuracy, and Lee Trevino called him “a golfing genius.”
In 2005, Tiger Woods said in an interview with Golf Digest that, “There were only two golfers in history who owned their swings, Ben Hogan and Moe Norman.” It later became known as the Norman Swing, which consisted of rigid, straight arms, extended far from the body; a wider-than-normal stance with only a slight knee bend; a shorter-than-normal backswing on a single-plane takeaway; and an extended-arm follow-through with minimal hand action.
Moe claimed this swing was easier on his back, shoulders and knees. History has shown that he hit the ball straighter than 99 percent of all golfers who ever played the game.
Moe returned to the U.S. periodically from 1981-84 and played in five Senior PGA Tour events. During that time, he made all five cuts, with a top-three finish and two top-10 finishes, earning $22,983 in winnings.
In 1983, he played in the Peter Jackson Championship and shot, 70, 69, 69, and 69 for a tie for third and took home $10,100 in winnings. Not bad for a 54-year-old golfer who was possibly autistic!
What about Curley? Well, Curley Washburn was one of the main characters in the hit movie, “City Slickers,” who held up one gloved finger and said, “There is only one thing you need to remember.”
Even though he never told us what that one thing was, he left it up to you to decide what the most important thing was in your life. Honesty, integrity and respect for others should be in your top five choices.
If the American “professional golfers” and officials in 1959 had respected Moe for what he was, not for what they thought he should be, then the world would have had the chance to appreciate the “greatest ball striker” the game had ever seen.
19th Hole Trivia
• Moe died at his hometown hospital in September 2004
• He was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 1995
• A movie about his life has Wayne Gretzky as a financial backer
• Autism affects 21.3 million people worldwide
• Watch Moe’s swing on YouTube – it’s worth your time.