Editor’s note: This story was originally published in June 2020.
Greg Norman and caddie Tony Navarro spent 12 incredible years together, a timespan in which Norman won more than 20 tournaments – including the 1993 British Open and 1994 Players Championship – while occupying the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for nearly 150 weeks.
Unfortunately for Norman, it’s the one tournament that got away that people remember most.
That would be the 1996 Masters.
Prior to that year, Norman had recorded seven top-6 finishes at Augusta National, including a T3 in 1995.
A course record-tying 63 in Round 1 followed by rounds of 69-71 allowed Norman to take an astounding six-stroke lead into the final round over Nick Faldo.
But you know how this story goes. Norman shot a 78 to Faldo’s 67 on Sunday and ultimately lost the tournament by five strokes.
Navarro recently joined The Caddie Network’s ‘Under the Strap’ podcast and was asked about that 1996 Masters week.
“What year was that again? I’m sorry,” Navarro laughed. “I might have to look that one up.”
Then Navarro got serious, explaining, “it had all the makings of a great week.”
“I really felt he was on top of his game,” Navarro said of Norman. “We went out on Wednesday afternoon – I’ll never forget. We were the last ones to tee off, because they close the tee at 2 on Wednesday afternoon because of the Par-3 Contest. So, we went out and played a late nine on Wednesday afternoon and something just clicked. He and Butch Harmon were working on some things and something just clicked. He felt really good about his game. I felt great about his game. Butch was confident as could be. Things were going along real smooth there until we hit the other side of the clubhouse on Sunday afternoon and our 2:40 tee time, or something like that.”
On Sunday, Navarro said the warm-up was great and looked fine to him. But that feeling wasn’t the same for all in the Norman party.
“Butch sensed there was something maybe not right, but I was ready to go on out there and enjoy the day and hopefully have a good time at the end of the day,” Navarro said. “But it started out tough.”
With his opening tee shot, Norman pulled the ball so far left that it settled in the ninth fairway. To Navarro, that was a red flag.
“Greg never hit it left,” he said. “He hit it anywhere but left. That was the first signal that something wasn’t quite right. He ended up making bogey.”
Norman would bounce back with a birdie on the par-5 second and was ultimately 1-over for the day and carrying a four-shot lead going into the eighth hole. It’s at the eighth where Navarro looks back and kicks himself.
“I made a very bad call for him on the eighth hole,” Navarro admitted. “We had approximately 250 yards to the hole (for the second shot). The pin was on the front of the green, really easy hole location. It was a good number to get a 3-wood right there on the green. But the bad thing is if he misses the 3-wood at all, it’s a really tough up and down. Right of the pin is very tough. Left of the pin it’s pine needles, woods. We hit it left of the flag. He made a par, which was nice. But if I’d just given him a 3-iron or 2-iron and laid him up 20-30 yards short of the green, it was such an easy up and down. Might have changed the complexion – I don’t know if it would have. But it might have changed the complexion of the day.”
Faldo birdied the hole and Norman’s lead was down to three… and then the train came off the tracks in a big way, as Norman played the next four holes in 5-over par. After a double bogey 5 on the par-3 12th, he trailed Faldo by two and wouldn’t get closer than that the rest of the day.
“Went on, bogeyed the ninth hole, 10th hole, 11th,” Navarro said. “Water on 12. The rest of the story is the rest of the story. Things just kind of fell apart. He really didn’t hit that many bad shots. He hit a bad shot at 12 – hit it right of the flag there, where everybody hit it last year against Tiger. That’s a place you can never be. He knew that. Everybody knows it. You hit it right over the center of the bunker with a right pin there. He hit it fairly close – seemed like 15-20 feet on 11 – but three-putted from there. Missed the green on 10, just left of the flag with the left pin placement. A very simple up and down for him normally. He didn’t get it up and down. It was just… it was just that he couldn’t get the handle on it and it got away from him.”
As disappointing as the day was for Norman – and has badly as Navarro felt for his boss and good friend – the caddie couldn’t praise Norman enough for how he handled the immediate aftermath of the heartbreaking outcome.
“He took it like a man,” Navarro said. “He never put any blame on me. Didn’t putt any blame on anybody. He congratulated Nick. I’ll tell you – to this day – it was one of those times where as much as I hated to have that happen, I really respected him for the way that he handled himself. He was really a champion, the way he handled that.”
As the conversation about the 1996 Masters wrapped up, the witty Navarro had a question of his own.
“Any dental work you want to talk about?”
You can listen to the complete podcast with Tony Navarro and John ‘Cub’ Burke in the player at the top of the page, or find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and Stitcher by searching “Caddie Network.”