Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Moe Norman - The golf savant

Moe Norman (1929-2004) is the savant of the golf world, leveraging a tragic mental disability into becoming the world’s greatest Canadian golf ball striker.

The term “Idiot Savant” refers to someone with the ultimate paradox, the “brilliant idiot”:

- A severe mental disability in one area of their brain, and

- A corresponding brilliance in another metal area, usually music or math.

Many idiot savants are retarded at birth for genetic reasons, but Moe Norman suffered frontal lobe brain damage from a tragic childhood accident.

Research suggests that damage to the prefrontal cortex of the brain can occur when the brain smashed against the inside of the skill, and it’s a common result of high-speed automobile accidents that involve huge velocity changes, such as a rear-end collision or hitting a stationary object at high speed.

Further, doctors note that damage to the prefrontal cortex is associated with several DSM-IV disorders, including obsessive behaviors, and loss of social skills.

Moe’s friends have speculated that Moe is a higher functioning autistic, likening him to Dustin Hoffman's character in the movie "Rain Man.”

Moe Norman’s unconventional swing was amazingly accurate

The “brilliant idiot” makes for many compelling storylines, and there are many movies that feature idiot-savants:

- Being There - Peter Sellers plays a dummy with “powers”.

- Rain Man - Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic man with super-human math skills.

- Forrest Gump - Tom Hanks plays a “dullard” who has supernatural ping-pong skills.

When considering Moe Norman, we have to ask abut the “root cause” of his gifted golf swing and the cause-and-effect behind his amazing talent. Did Moe have an inate skill, or did he suffer from a obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that led him to master golf? Moe was a nonconformist, and he had a very strange golf swing, gripping the club with his palms, not his fingers, like “regular” golfers.

Tiger Woods said that Moe Norman was on-par with Ben Hogan for a “unique” swing:

“Only two players have ever truly owned their swings; Moe Norman and Ben Hogan,"

Again, the question is whether Moe’s astounding golf skills were a direct result of his brain injury? Doctors say that frontal lobe brain damage is sometimes expressed with obsessive-compulsive behaviors, like hitting golf balls until your hands bleed, something that Norman did frequently.

“During one of his clinics, Moe hit over 1,500 drivers in a little over 7 hours, all of which where within 15 yards of one another.”

Brad Clayton, a PGA master golf instructor in North Carolina, remembered meeting Moe Norman and says that Moe could hit a whole bucket of balls more than 200 yards with superhuman accuracy, and the resulting ball cluster was only 10 feet wide.

I wonder if anyone will do a movie about this amazing fellow?