Had Moe Norman attended his own funeral, he would have been embarrassed by the crowd, the police escort, the fancy coffin with golf balls and putters on the four corners. "No, I don't think Moe realized how big a person he was," said Walter Gretzky, the most famous father in Canada and one of several hundred friends and family members who attended Norman's funeral yesterday at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church in Waterloo.
"He never made out that he was any better than anyone else," added Gretzky, who met Norman 15 years ago. "He was just another human being and he loved everybody. But he was very shy, as you people all know."
Shy. Odd. Mysterious. All those words were used to describe Norman, who died a week ago at 75. But the man could hit a golf ball, possibly better than anyone else.
Norman lived something of a sad life by common standards, but while his lows were very low, his highs were very high. His bouts of personal turmoil and shocking poverty were counter-balanced by his legendary athletic status and a stable of deeply loyal and protective friends.
"I've known Moe for 55 years," said 87-year-old Nick Weslock, a fairly legendary golfer himself. "I played golf with Moe three times in the week that he died.
"He'd hit two balls down the middle, and he'd be breathing kind of heavy. Then he'd hit two balls on to the green and go to the cart. I'd say: 'Moe, do you want to putt these balls?' And he'd say: 'No.' His breathing became pretty rough.
"He's going to be missed terribly by me. He had a strange way about him, but we were the best of buddies. Next to Gus Maue, I would classify myself as his closest friend."
Maue's wife, Audrey, eulogized Norman yesterday, as did one of Norman's nieces, Sandy DeCorso. Audrey said she and her husband essentially were Moe's "care-givers" for several years, a description with which no one could find fault.
But Moe Norman made an impact that reached far beyond his inner circle. If you met him even once, you had no trouble remembering it.
About a dozen years ago at the National Pines course in Barrie, my playing partner, Gary Vine, and I noticed Norman behind us, all by himself. As Norman caught up, Gary asked: "Moe, would you like to join us?"
Moe mumbled something that sounded like "yes." Gary, a professional golfer himself, was delighted by this remarkable opportunity. I, on the other hand, was terrified because of the less-than-subtle weaknesses in my own game. Why couldn't Gary simply have told Moe to play through?
"Oh great, the best ball-striker in history with the worst ball-striker in history," I thought to myself. "Moe and I should pose for a damn picture."
But I needn't have worried. Moe was not even remotely concerned with me. He was neither friendly nor unfriendly. We played together for two or three holes, Moe silently making his ball do whatever he wanted, me just trying to keep mine in the province.
I'd like to say I took the time to admire Moe's swing and shot-making, but to be honest, I was just too nervous.
And then it was over. As Gary and I lagged behind momentarily, probably looking for my ball, Moe got ahead of us and didn't stop.
"Just let him go," Gary said, admiringly.
This week, it occurred to me that in a small way, my brush with Moe Norman was indicative of his life. For a brief few minutes, Moe and I went at the same speed. And for a brief few years, Moe and the golf world went at the same speed, long enough for him to earn a spot in the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.
But generally speaking, society moved too quickly for Moe, and the golf world moved too slowly.
Maybe in the next life Moe Norman and the rest of us will be in perfect sync. Only then will we completely understand him, and he us.