The 1996 Masters:
A duel that defined an era
Author: Andy Farrell
Published by: Elliott and Thompson
Total # of Pages – 250

At the 2012 Masters Aussie Adam Scott finally ended the curse of Augusta National. The world’s number two player won the green jacket and became the first winner from Down Under of a title that eluded plenty of other fellow countrymen — the most notable being Greg Norman. But the breakthrough of Scott’s enormous achievement only makes what happened 18 years ago to fellow Aussie Greg Norman resonate even more so.

The 1996 Masters: A duel that defined an era

Nick FaldoGoing into the final round with a six-shot lead at the 1996 Masters it appeared finally and fittingly — no pun intended — the long overdue awarding of the green jacket would go to Norman — a golfer of immense talent but one who had shown a consistent propensity failing to execute down the stretch of a number of key golf events throughout his career. In 1986 — a flared 4-iron to the right at the 72nd hole produced a crippling bogey and no playoff with six-time Masters champion Jack Nicklaus. In 1987 — Norman was in a playoff and watched in disbelief as Larry Mize miraculously chipped in from 140 feet away at the 11th hole — the 2nd of the playoff — and, once again, Norman was the bridesmaid — not the bride.

Author Andy Farrell, the former golf correspondent of The Independent and the Independent on Sunday (UK publications) chronicles not just the unbelievable meltdown on April 14, 1996 — but the overall context of the respective careers of Greg Norman and eventual 1996 winner Nick Faldo.  Farrell delves into how a particular era drew to a close with the ascension of Tiger Woods on the immediate horizon.

Farrell outlines capably when and how Norman burst on the international golf stage — finishing 4th at the 1981 Masters. Over the next 15 years Norman would rise to the top of the pecking order — culminating with 331 weeks atop the world rankings as the planet’s supreme golfer — second in overall consecutive length to what Woods would ultimately achieve. Despite the imagery and swagger Norman presented — Farrell peels away the many facets in examining the man behind the image.

To Norman’s considerable credit his incredible skills returned him to center stage time after time. The 1996 Masters provided the final exclamation point — two very different men with varying ways in preparing themselves for the game’s most demanding championships.

Throughout the book Farrell interjects a range of comments from different sources — most of it press from the United Kingdom. A bit more perspective from various American writers would have been most welcomed but there’s still enough of diversity placed into the narrative.

The build-up is neatly organized with each hole from the course outlined. Farrell pays respect to the combatants but he adroitly paints a picture of what it must be like to enter the final round of a major event — no less than Sunday at The Masters.

Farrell is not a Norman basher — but he’s not shy in stating it plainly and candidly that Norman’s talent was never reaffirmed — just a few additional wins would have surely elevated Norman to even greater heights. It’s been said golf is a humbling game and no doubt Norman was humbled on the biggest stages. Farrell captures the pain but he also salutes Norman for facing the music of press and the wider golf audience.

There’s little question the final round for Norman that April day in 1996 was “excruciating.” But, for Farrell to suggest the round was “gripping” is a bit high on the self-imposed sensational meter. Other Masters have had endings of the heroic sort — the aforementioned win by Nicklaus in 1986 — or the Golden Bear’s triumph over Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf in 1975. One could even include the maiden win by Tiger Woods which happened the next year in 1997. Hats off to Carrell for mentioning the arrival of Woods and how ironic that Faldo, the defending champion, would be paired with Woods during his professional debut at The Masters that year.

Faldo / Norman could have been better served with photographs being included — none are. The pace and style of the prose is good and the book is a good read for golf aficionados and those less so. Collapses in any sport are never easy events to encapsulate because the thrill of the win is missing — but nonetheless the book does provide for a grand culmination of two men competing against one another for some time and which has never really been outlined in such grand detail. The era of Norman, Faldo and those of their generation closed with the 1996 Masters – just one year later the exploits of a man named Tiger Woods would slide that side of golf history deep into the shadows. Farrell has done well to bring it back to life with Faldo/Norman.