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Greg Norman on life in 'The Way of the Shark'

In a new book, the world champion golfer shares his thoughts on golf, business and life. Here's an excerpt.

Golf fans will certainly recognize the name Greg Norman. He was ranked number one in the world for 331 straight weeks. But most people don't realize the golfer known as "The Shark" is a force off the course too. He's built up a 300-million dollar business around himself! Greg shares his secrets to success in his new book called "The Way of the Shark: Lessons on Golf, Business and Life." Norman was invited to discuss the book on “Today.” Here’s an excerpt:

In our journey through life, we learn many small lessons that mold us, shape us, and influence how we deal with others. But once in a while something happens that seriously alters the path on which we're headed. Such lessons stick with us like glue. We never forget them. We relive them over and over again, in our private moments, in our conversations, in our dreams. I was only eighteen years old when I experienced my first life-changing lesson. I was by myself, and it really was a pivotal moment. It turned me toward the great sport of golf.

A few years after my family moved to Brisbane (Australia's third-largest city, located on the southeastern coast of Queensland), a major cyclone swept along the shoreline a few hundred miles to the northeast and caused the ocean to produce a heavy swell. Not wanting to miss a terrific opportunity to get in some bodysurfing, I grabbed my gear and drove to Noosa Heads. Arriving by midmorning, I hiked about half a mile along the headlands to where I was sure to catch the biggest wave possible. Then I perched myself on some high rocks and studied the waves before I dove in. I knew I'd be committed once in the water because the only way out then was to make it all the way to the beach.

Instead of catching a breaker I could easily ride into the beach, I found myself in an uncontrollable dumper that quickly sucked me down, bounced me hard on the sandy bottom, and rolled me around like a rag doll. The sheer force of the water tore the flippers off my feet and ripped away my hand board. It was like being inside a washing machine. Looking back on it now, I think of it as a terrifying and humbling experience. Until then, I thought I was bulletproof. But when it was actually taking place, I had this inner calm come over me. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Rather than panic, I started thinking of a way to survive the situation. I know it sounds crazy, but the more pressure I'm under, the calmer I become. For me it has always been that way: I take stock of the situation and analyze the best way to deal with it.

Finally the wave released me from its powerful grip and, slowly, I struggled back to the surface. I must have been under for quite a while because that first gasp of fresh air felt like nothing less than the gift of life. But it didn't take me long to realize that I was facing another major problem. I was now nearly half a mile away from the beach, and the surf was pushing me rapidly toward the rocks. The only thing I could do was swim against the tide, which violates all the rules of safety in the ocean. But it was my only option. I'm not sure how long it took me to reach the beach, but when I finally got there, I fell, utterly exhausted, facedown into the sand and just stayed in that position until I could garner strength and count my blessings.

The next day I sat down and thought about what had happened. "Oh, man, what an ordeal," I said to myself. "I'm really lucky to be alive. Surely, there must be something I can do that isn't quite as dangerous."

And what was the lesson I learned? Well, there was a movie out that year called Magnum Force. I had seen it just before the cyclone hit, and as I sat there thinking about my near-death experience, I swear that the image popped into my head of Clint Eastwood saying: "A man has got to know his limitations."

And right then and there, I decided to dedicate myself to golf. Up to that point, golf was just another activity for me. I liked it. I was good at it. But I'd taken it up less than three years before, and to tell you the truth, I'd spent a lot more time in and around the water. I was born in Mount Isa, a small outback mining town populated largely by Finnish immigrants who had migrated to Australia after World War II. Because of their experience and work ethic, the Finns gravitated to the mines of Mount Isa. My mother, Toini, was the daughter of a Finnish carpenter, and my father, Merv, was an electrical engineer for the company. When I was still an infant, we moved to Townsville, on the Queensland coast. It was there, on the edge of the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef, that I spent the first fifteen years of my life. I took it for granted back then, but now I realize that I grew up in paradise: a pristine rain forest area just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, with white sandy beaches, clear coastal waters, and year-round warm weather. The Great Barrier Reef extends more than 1,200 miles and consists of more than 600 islands and 3,000 living reefs.

Back then, life for me was all about having fun. At the age of ten or twelve, I ran with a kid named Peter Rawkins. If we weren't spearfishing together, then we were on horseback, galloping along the beaches with my black Labs, Pancho or Sambo, running alongside. We always rode bareback with a cut lunch (air-dried sliced meat) in bags slung across our backs. Peter and I would ride all day, sometimes covering twenty miles from sunup to sundown. At frequent intervals, we would walk the horses into the shallows and tumble off their backs for a quick swim. And when our parents gave us permission, Peter and I would camp out and fall asleep under the stars, eagerly looking forward to the next day's adventure.

Our horses were kept in a paddock just behind our homes that was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Each morning we had to ride our bicycles more than three miles around to the main gate to get the horses. Well, one day I decided there was an easier way. I took a pair of wire cutters and cut a hole in the fence big enough for me to squeeze through. Then I caught my horse, put the bridle on him, and rode out through the main gate. But my indiscretion in trying to make life a little easier for myself ended when I was caught and my parents were informed. The consequences of my actions involved some pretty tough punishment. Of course I had to repair the hole in the fence, which was no easy feat because I had cut the tension wire. The entire episode taught me not to take shortcuts.

That was one of my early lessons, but it didn't really slow me down. When the conditions were right, I was on the beach and in the water straightaway. And all too often, I pushed the envelope a bit too far. While spearfishing one day I shot a large coral trout only to have the spear go through the fish and embed itself deep into a coral head. As I was tugging on the spear, I glanced to my left and saw a seven-foot shark moving rapidly in my direction. Instinctively, I let go of the spear and simply floated back to the surface. Glancing back, I could see the shark devouring my catch. After a while, I swam back down, retrieved my spear, and continued fishing. There were a lot of times when sharks chased me off and ate my fish. I didn't like sharks back then.

There were other sea creatures that were quite dangerous as well. One was a kind of jellyfish, but probably unlike any you've ever seen before. We called it a sea wasp or a bluebottle because of its color. But this is no Portuguese man-of-war; it has tentacles that are ten to twenty feet long, and its sting is very toxic. One day I was spearfishing with my older sister, Janis, out in Nelley Bay off Magnetic Island, where my parents owned a little holiday shack. Janis became entangled in the tentacles of a sea wasp. I had just pulled myself up in our small boat when she breached the surface with a terrifying scream. I dove back in the water and dragged her to the boat. Seeing the welts on her legs and torso, and realizing that it was a bluebottle, I rowed to the beach as fast as I could. Janis was screaming and writhing in agony the entire way. My parents then rushed her to the local clinic, where she received the appropriate medical attention. Janis recovered fully, and rather than being life-threatening, the entire episode was more of a mental trauma than anything else for both of us.

Diving in to help my sister was a natural reaction and part of life in and around the Great Barrier Reef. Nothing scared me back then. I didn't think twice about riding a horse bareback at full speed along the beach, or strapping a tank on my back and scuba diving without lessons, or surfing in high waves with or without a surfboard. Actually, I taught myself to do all those things. Never had a lesson. I saw other people doing it. I spent some time thinking about it. And then I gave it a shot. I was always challenging myself to learn and understand new skills.

I did have a good teacher when it came to boating, however. One day my father came home from work and announced to Janis and me that he was going to help us build a small boat. Our house was built on stilts for cooling. And for the next several months, the dirt floor underneath looked like a small construction site as we studied our plans, laid out the materials, and assembled our small sabot, Peter Pan. I really enjoyed working with my father on that project. We immersed ourselves in the engineering of that little boat: crafting the ribs, overlaying the planks, making it watertight, and varnishing it. Janis and I joined the Townsville Sailing Club, where we learned how to sail and read the wind, how to get the maximum performance of our boat, and how to race it. In short, we learned all about boats on the water. Navigating, rules of the road — you name it, we learned it. We won several competitions with me as the skipper and Janis as the crew. Little did I know, many years later I would build a boat that would be heralded as the highest technical achievement in a motor yacht by Showboats magazine. My father taught me well.

Even though I was a curious kid and absorbed things that were happening around me, I really didn't like school very much. I participated in cricket, Aussie Rules football, rugby, track and field, swimming, and squash. The classroom, however, was too confining for me, and my mind was always wandering to the outer world. As a matter of fact, I was frequently getting the cane rapped across my knuckles (literally) for daydreaming, or for being brutally honest and telling people exactly what was on my mind. The subjects in which I did not do well were the ones that simply didn't interest me. I did like geography, however. I think it had something to do with being attached to the land and the outdoors. I loved the aspects of geography that went beyond memorizing cities, continents, and oceans. Learning to read topographic maps was enjoyable for me, including understanding scale, interpreting contour lines, recognizing highs and lows, et cetera. I was also interested in geology: igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks, the various types of soils, and aquifers and artesian wells.

Subjects like chemistry and French, however, were mundane for me. They just did not stimulate my interest. I remember one occasion when I was trying to solve an algebra homework problem and I just didn't get it. When I asked my father for help, he said, "Keep working and you'll figure it out." Another hour went by and I asked again. "Dad, I can't figure it out," I said. "Well, give it another try," he responded. Rather than helping me outright, I think my father was trying to get me to apply myself more — which might have been my biggest problem with school.

When I turned fifteen, my father and three partners set up their own engineering business and we moved 500 miles south to Brisbane. The Great Barrier Reef doesn't extend quite that far down, but here the surf beaches start. Forty miles south of Brisbane are the Gold Coast of Australia and the township of Surfers Paradise, and twenty miles north are Noosa and the Sunshine Coast. So it was around this time that I turned my attention to surfing.

I was a bit lonely after having left all my friends behind, so my mother suggested I go with her to play a quick nine holes of golf. I'd never tried it before, but Mum told me I had the basis of a reasonable swing. A couple of weeks later, she was playing in a tournament and I caddied for her (which, incidentally, was the one and only time I ever caddied for her). After her round, I asked if I could borrow her clubs and play by myself. She made golf look easy, and as I was fairly self-confident with my athletic abilities, I figured, If Mum can do it, why can't I? So I wandered onto the course and started whacking the ball around. A few went straight, but most were poorly hit. I even remember getting one ball stuck up in a pandanus tree and panicking. Back then in Australia, golf balls were expensive. Many came from the United States, and new ones were purchased in single packs. But the ball I hit into the pandanus tree was too high and too stuck for me to retrieve. It's probably still there.

And that's how I was introduced to golf: a simple invitation from my mother. Actually, she was an excellent athlete who played golf right up until the day before I was born. Perhaps that's how the sport got into my blood. Mum and I had a great relationship, and I always felt I could talk to her. Through our conversations, she instilled in me an emotional awareness about people and their feelings. My natural tendency was to be a little too up-front and in your face, which, of course, usually tends to make people recoil. My mother not only made me aware of that, she also taught me to care about others, to have an appreciation for good people, and to be loyal to my friends and family.

Over the years, Mum and I played a lot of golf together. She would educate me about the history of golf. And even though I wasn't very good yet, I told her that I wanted to one day win the British Open, because that's where golf was born. Never once did my mother tell me I couldn't do it. Rather, she told me I'd have to work exceptionally hard to achieve that particular dream. "I'll send you the trophy when I win, Mum," I would joke. "That'll be your reward for getting me started in golf."

Copyright © 2006 by Great White Shark Enterprises, Inc.