Having an ‘aura about you’ in sport is what every great champion possesses. It’s the ultimate sign of greatness because it separates the best from the rest. Think Roger Federer in tennis, Michael Jordan in basketball or Lionel Messi in soccer. You can’t see it; you only feel it.
I’ve been fortunate enough to come across it a few times in golf. My first encounter was the aura of charisma Greg Norman exuded during our third round together at his tournament, the Greg Norman International, in 1998. I’d never met the Shark and idolised him growing up. So, on the first tee when he said, “Hi, I’m Greg,” I felt like saying, “No s**t, Sherlock!” but thought better of it and mumbled out some semblance of my first name. He proceeded to put on a ball-striking clinic unlike anything I’d ever seen. Spectators 10-deep on every hole were wrapped around his little finger and, fortunately, I had the best seat in the house to take it all in.
‘Only Tiger knows whether that invincible feeling is back… ‘ – Nick O’Hern
Seve Ballesteros had an aura of genius. Admittedly, when I played with him he was well past his prime, but his imagination and creativity for shots were phenomenal. From off the tee or on the fairway he couldn’t hit the planet, but put him within 100 metres of the green or somewhere deep in the rough, and my goodness he was mesmerising! I loved watching him stalk his ball around the course, looking to conjure up some magic from an impossible predicament.
Jack Nicklaus has, quite simply, an aura of greatness. It’s unfathomable what it must have been like competing against him in his prime because I felt nervous just from conversations with him at his Memorial Tournament and the two Presidents Cups I competed in where he was the US captain. His presence drew reverence wherever he went and watching people’s reactions as he passed by was always entertaining.
Tiger Woods had the aura of invincibility. Throughout his career he won more tournaments through an innate ability to get the job done while not performing at his best – more than anyone in the history of the game, I believe. Yes, he played some incredible golf to blast fields away, but even when not at his peak he still won, and his aura of invincibility drove those victories. When his name appeared on leaderboards, players’ shoulders seemed to slump ever so slightly knowing they were playing for second place.
That aura began disappearing after he hit a fire hydrant next to his house nearly 10 years ago. Time away from the game, injuries and failed comebacks saw him become a shell of his former self, and the aura had all but gone. The next generation who’d grown up inspired by his game took over the reins and most thought Tiger was done. Then, slowly but surely, the rebuild began and by the end of 2018, everyone’s hopes of a miracle comeback were rekindled. His recent Masters win was one for the ages and might even be his greatest win to date. Only Tiger knows whether that invincible feeling is back, but the fun part now is he’s competing against everyone he paved the way for.
A few years ago, David Duval made a classic comment when he heard players wish they could have come up against Tiger at his peak. “The hell you do!” Duval stated emphatically. Well, now they might just get their chance. Even if Tiger isn’t as dominant as he once was, they’ll feel what everyone felt before… his aura.