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Why Beloved Golfer Greg Norman Refused to Play the Senior Tour: ‘I Didn’t Want to Be a Hypocrite’

In sports like basketball and football, players don’t get many chances to keep playing professionally after they retire. Golf is different in that regard. Once a player gets too old to compete on the regular circuit, they have the option to join the equally competitive senior league, known today as the PGA Tour Champions.

Plenty of golf’s greatest players go on to play in the senior league. One name that won’t show up on a list of participants, however, is Greg Norman. Let’s review the legendary Australian golfer’s career, why he won’t join the senior tour, and how the senior tour works.

Greg Norman’s golf career

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Norman had an impressive career at a time when the competition was at its peak. According to Brittanica, he won a total of 91 pro tournaments, 20 in the PGA and 71 in international competitions. Until Tiger Woods beat his record in 2004, Norman also held the record for the longest time ranked as the world’s top golfer at 331 weeks.

While no one can deny Norman’s greatness, the fact is he’s remembered just as much for his failures as for his successes. Of his 91 tournament victories, only two were major wins: the 1986 and 1993 British Opens. In a different world, Norman might’ve come away with seven or eight major victories.

Instead, he always seemed to falter in the big moments. Granted, he lost a lot of tournaments to extremely talented players like Jack Nicklaus. Yet Norman also blew some tournaments that should’ve been his. Perhaps his most notorious loss was at the 1996 Masters, when he blew a six-shot lead into his final pairing with Nick Faldo.

The senior golf tour

The Senior PGA Tour was formally established in 1980. In 2002, it became the Champions Tour. Then, in 2015, it became the PGA Tour Champions. The senior tour is open only to golfers 50 years of age and older.

It serves both a ceremonial and competitive purpose, offering the world’s best players a chance to keep playing at a pro level. The PGA Tour Champions is every bit as competitive as the regular tour, albeit not quite as lucrative.

Bernhard Langer has the most wins in senior majors, with 11. He currently holds the No. 1 ranking; he’s earned a total of $528,137 so far in 2020, according to the PGA Tour. Other historically great senior golfers include Jack Nicklaus, with eight major wins, and the legendary Arnold Palmer, with five major wins.

Why Norman refused to play on the Champions Tour

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Despite its history of high-level talent and exciting games, there’s still a bit of a stigma around senior golf — at least for Norman. In a 2015 feature in the Sports Business Journal, Norman admitted that he had no interest in being what he called a “ceremonial golfer.”

He even called out the senior tour explicitly, saying: “That’s why I never played on the senior tour because my priorities shifted. It was a quantum shift and a huge commitment to say, ‘I get it. It’s time.'”

In that quote, Norman discusses his realization around age 48 that his days of playing competitive golf were done. Yet he never officially announced his retirement. At the time, people assumed this meant he was considering senior golf. Maybe he was; he admitted he didn’t want to be seen as a “hypocrite” if after retiring he did end up on the senior tournament. 

Today, however, that possibility seems slim at best. Instead, Norman is fully focused on growing his various business ventures.