This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2018.
Greg Norman, one of the most dominant golfers of the 1980s and '90s, doesn't hit the links much these days, but don't be deceived into thinking "The Shark" is out of shape. At age 63, you'll find him hiking in Kyrgyzstan, exploring sinkholes in the Yucatan or planning to scuba dive beneath the Antarctic ice sheets. Norman slowed down long enough for the Body Issue to talk about his midcareer diet and fitness revelation, his postcareer workout regimen and the mountains he still wants to climb.
I truly believe it was my surfing that allowed me to make that fast adjustment [to golf]. I was 16 when I took up the game. My first handicap was 27; my first official score was 108. But I was a pretty damn good surfer. When you drop in on a double overhead wave with a lot of turbulence in the water, your proprioception [body position awareness] from your feet all the way up into your core generated a lot of stability. So my inner core muscles behind my navel and my lower abs were so strong at sensing anything, I would make these minor corrections as you're dropping in on a wave. When you're swinging a driver at 128 miles an hour, like I was supposedly recorded one time, you can make those minor adjustments with your muscles at any moment in time to correct the angle of attack or correct the plane of your swing.
To hit the ball a long way, you've got to learn to swing from the ground up. It's core strength. It's your glutes, it's your abs, your thigh muscles. It's your base. When you swing from the ground up, you're storing a lot of energy into your shoes. When you want to release that energy, it's got to be in a sequence that matches up right at impact. I had an incredible amount of fast-twitch muscle speed. My hips were really quick. That's the reason why I could hit the ball so far when the equipment really never allowed you to hit the ball that way.
It never bothered me if we had to play more than the 18 holes. In my younger days, when I was No. 1 player in the world, I was golf-fit. If we had a weather delay and we had to walk 36 holes, I knew I was already 2 strokes up on the field because of my fitness. It never bothered me playing in adverse weather conditions that would test you physically. That, I knew, was my 15th club in my bag back in those days.
I could do a whole split against the wall. My strength and flexibility were my priority. I could rotate my shoulders probably beyond 220 degrees. My hip joints and my shoulder joints were extremely flexible to the point of being detrimental, which created a lot of problems over the years.
I've had 13 surgeries because of that extreme mobility. I've had knee surgery, shoulder surgery, hip surgery, back surgery. All of those, and multiple occasions too. That is the wear and tear of 5 million golf balls, day after day after day.
Back in those days, the only water you would find was a water fountain that was on the golf course. So I was drinking sodas, and the sugar was disagreeing with me. I made a commitment around that time that I'd never drink another soda again. I never have. My body started reacting instantaneously. I dropped sugar out of it, and I started changing my diet. I started dropping anything white, like white rice, white pastas, anything like that, and my body reacted incredibly fast. From there on, it was more trial and error and me being very aware of my body ... what it was screaming out for. My body thanked me, and that's why I thank it back by keeping it the way it is today.
Oh sure, I binge every now and then. If I want to have a handful of Cheetos, I will. At the same time, my outflows completely dictate my inflows. I won't put anything in my body that I know I can't exhaust in my first session in the gym. ... Your body gives you what you give it. So my body's giving [me] everything that I wanted out of it and expected out of it. It thanks me on a daily basis.
My fitness life now is just a continuation of my discipline. I work out a minimum of five days a week, sometimes six days. I always take at least one day off. I have a full gym at my house. I built it. It's got a cardio room, a full weight room, free weights, all that stuff.
"If we had a weather delay and we had to walk 36 holes, I knew I was already 2 strokes up on the field because of my fitness." Greg Norman
I'm a big proponent of trying to get my heart rate deep. I do everything from free weights to the Bosu ball to ropes to machine weights to exhaustive reps. I'll be on the tennis court here an hour and a half, and I'll play for a solid 90 minutes, maybe two hours, and it's more just hitting tennis balls. I actually don't play. I have a guy who runs me around the court, and that's great for my cardiovascular work because my heart rate will spike. I love that. I think that's probably for me the new part of my workout where I've actually become very passionate about it.
If somebody asked me to go climb Mount Everest tomorrow, I'd say, "Give me two years, I'll be ready to go." Actually, I was there a couple of months ago with my wife and it almost went on the top of my bucket list. Realistically, my first thing I'll check off that I've wanted to do for the last 20 years is dive under the Antarctic ice pack. I just spoke to some people about trying to get it done in the summer of 2020. It takes a lot of planning. There's only a certain window of time that you can get there. I've spoken to a couple of people, and, yes, it's very opportune that it could happen.
I don't shortcut. If my body's tired, I keep telling myself, "You gotta finish your reps. You gotta finish your reps. You're here for a reason. ... Do it proper. Don't cheat yourself."
I walk around naked at home. It's not a big deal to me, right? At the end of the day, I do enjoy keeping fit at my age. I don't have any ego about me, but I do love having a fit life.
For more from the 2018 Body Issue, pick up a copy on newsstands starting June 29.
Production by Overflow Productions; Hair & Makeup by Alaina DeBernardis; Prop Styling by Elie Rossetti Serraino; Set Design by Mike Froitzheim