Remembering “Pipeline” Moe Norman

Golfer Moe Norman tees up the ball for a drive

One of Moe Norman’s crowd-pleasing tricks was to use an empty Coca-Cola bottle as his tee. (Image: MoeNormanGolf.com)

Canadian golf pro Doug Robb tells a tale about the shot-making prowess of his old friend Moe Norman that would be impossible to believe if it weren’t true.

Tiger Woods has said that only two golfers, Ben Hogan and Moe Norman, have ever truly “owned” their swings.

My closest encounter with the Canadian shot-making genius renowned as “Pipeline Moe” came during a media day at a Toronto golf club. While standing in a fairway waiting for the green ahead to clear before hitting my approach shot, I suddenly heard a ball thud to a landing no more than a dozen feet to my rear. Startled, I looked back toward the tee, where Moe stood pointing at me and laughing.

“Gave you a scare! Gave you a scare!” a grinning Moe said to me later in the clubhouse.

Moe, who almost certainly was on the autism scale, had a habit of repeating everything he said twice in rapid succession, much like the Dustin Hoffman character in the movie Rain Man. Though he dominated the Canadian golf scene in the 1950s, Moe’s social awkwardness caused him to flee home to Canada following a brief and unhappy sojourn on the buttoned-down PGA Tour. He played just 27 events on the tour, but made the cut 25 times.

Though largely out of the spotlight, Moe’s legend continued to grow. Sam Snead told the story of how, while playing an exhibition match with Moe in 1960, they came to a par-four hole where a creek crossed the fairway about 240 yards from the tee.

“This is a lay-up hole, Moe,” Snead cautioned him. “You can’t clear the creek with a driver.”

“Not trying to,” Norman said. “I’m playing for the bridge.”

After Snead had safely laid-up, Moe aimed for the bridge and unloaded a drive that landed just short of the creek and rolled over the bridge to the other side.

Moe Norman in golf tournament surrounded by spectators

Moe Norman was the biggest star in Canadian golf when he tried his luck on the PGA Tour. (Image: Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame)

Moe played faster than any man alive, setting up in his stiff-legged, bolt upright stance, sneaking a quick look down the fairway, then swinging through with a long reach that ended with arms aimed straight as a rifle at his target. Before the ball had even dropped to earth, Moe was off in hot pursuit, eagerly anticipating the undiminished pleasure of doing it all again.

Moe once hit 1,540 drives in a little under seven hours during an exhibition. None of his drives was shorter than 225 yards, and all landed inside a marked 30-yard-wide landing zone.

Like Hogan, Moe had managed, through trial-and-error and obsessive perseverance, to construct a repeatable swing, golf’s version of the Holy Grail. A legion of acolytes now teach his trademark single-plane technique. And his reputation as a shot-maker continues to awe and influence the world’s best golfers. The modern game’s mad scientist, Bryson DeChambeau, readily acknowledges the debt he owes to Moe.

As I said, I had only a nodding acquaintance with Moe, who passed away in 2004 at age 75. But I do sometimes tell a story about him that, though I know it to be true, I can still hardly credit. It was told to me by Canadian golf pro Doug Robb, a good friend of Moe’s who in the 1970s played alongside him in tournaments across the country.

“This happened during a practice round before a tournament in Calgary,” Robb began. “The 12th hole, a par five, had a power line running over the fairway about 160 yards out from the tee. Moe took out his driver and winged his ball off the power line. Then he teed it up and did it again. Then he hit the power line a third time.”

It goes without saying that Robb was awestruck by what he had seen. “It wasn’t even as if Moe was trying to hit the power line,” he told me. “It was just that his swing was so perfectly grooved that each ball took off on exactly the same trajectory.”

After he had hit his third ball, Moe put the driver back in his bag and took out a 3-wood.

“This time the ball missed the power line,” Robb wrapped up. “Moe turned to me and said, ‘Well, I guess this is a 3-wood shot.’”

 

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