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Clinton-Norman friendship forged on a golf course

March 14, 1997

Many relationships are formed on the golf course and that’s where President Clinton and Greg Norman struck up the friendship that brought Clinton to Norman’s Florida home _ and landed him in the hospital with a knee injury.

The two men first met in November when the president went to Australia on a post-election vacation and Norman returned to his homeland to play in the Australian Open.

Clinton, an avid golfer, said several times before the trip that he would love to play with Norman during his vacation. Norman picked up on the hint.

``We had a great time,″ Norman said last week. ``I really have a lot of admiration for the man as a man.″

Norman said his friendship with Clinton was more of a guy thing than a shared sense of politics.

``I didn’t know the president prior to that time of playing golf with him,″ Norman said. ``I had drawn a conclusion, which was an incorrect conclusion, until I met him. But we had a great time. We enjoyed it, so much so that we communicate almost on a weekly basis.″

Clinton was leaving Norman’s home at Hobe Sound on the east coast of Florida when he stumbled on the stairs early Friday and tore a tendon in his knee, requiring surgery.

The president was in Hobe Sound to play in a charity member-guest tournament sponsored by Norman at his home course, The Medalist. Clinton was spending the night at Norman’s 80-acre oceanside estate.

``I think he’s a real man’s man,″ Norman said of Clinton. ``I think he wears his heart on his sleeve. He likes to sit down and just have a good chat, like any one of us would like to sit down and have a good old chat.″

Norman and Clinton probably hit it off because they shared a few other things beside golf. Norman, 42, is a baby boomer like Clinton, and both are charismatic men who can charm a crowd.

``He grabs your attention when he walks in the room,″ Norman said. ``And there’s only a few people who have ever done that to me, like Nelson Mandela. George Bush was one. Seve Ballesteros is like that.″

Norman is the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer but is known more for opportunities squandered in major tournaments than his two British Open victories. He captured the hearts of golfers everywhere last year with the way he handled his disappointment after blowing a six-stroke lead in the final round of the Masters.

Clinton referred to that blown lead repeatedly during his re-election campaign, constantly cautioning aides who pointed to his big lead in the polls with the words: ``Greg Norman.″

Norman, who considers Clinton’s golf game ``pretty good for the lack of time he gets to play,″ said he hasn’t been invited to spend a night in the Lincoln Bedroom.

``I’m a Republican,″ Norman said.

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