By Paul Knowles
Moe Norman is a legend among golfers everywhere. Moe, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 75, was renowned for consistently making perfect golf shots. His swing has been praised and admired by hundreds of golfers up to and including Tiger Woods himself. Moe was also known as the quirkiest good golfer ever – an introvert, described as “slightly autistic” as well as “a savant.” His skill was unquestioned, but his struggles with learning disabilities and self-esteem robbed him of the success he could undoubtedly have achieved on the biggest stages of golf.
He was born in Kitchener, Ontario, and during his finest playing days, was primarily associated with Rockway Golf Course, the municipal course in the heart of Kitchener. But in his later years, Moe was mostly found hanging around Foxwood Golf Course, west of Waterloo, because Moe liked to spend time with his friend, advisor, and advocate – Gus Maue, at that time owner of Foxwood.
You can find dozens of Moe Norman anecdotes through a simple search on the internet. And in the works is a Moe Norman movie, the project of Canadian moviemaker David Carver, who told me that some big Canadian names are on board: famed Canadian comedian and actor David Steinberg and his wife, Robyn Todd “are executive producers, and Wayne and Janet Gretzky are co-producers.” Carver hopes to start production of the movie this fall, depending on the availability of a still-to-be-named director and actors.
This movie will tell the Moe Norman story to the world. But Gus Maue has a store of other, more private, and poignant Moe Norman stories – and he sat down to share some of them for this article. So, this is not an exhaustive, biographical piece – it’s a collection of powerful stories about Canada’s quirkiest – yet internationally revered – golf legends, a man who Gus simply describes as “a golf genius.”
Gus remembers his first encounters with Moe Norman – and the year Moe perfected his drive. “I would bicycle to Rockway when I was 12. When I was 13, Lloyd Tucker hired me in the pro shop, and I got to know Moe. But we were all a little afraid of Moe, because of the way he was. At nighttime, Moe would hit balls down the first hole – we didn’t have a practice range large enough to hit drivers – so I would pick the balls up with him. He wouldn’t say too much to me. I was 14, he was about 22. He would duck-hook almost every ball. And I would pick the balls up every night with him, and he finally got to be a little friendlier with me than he was with the other kids.
“But the next year, all of a sudden, he was hitting everything dead straight. I couldn’t believe it. He just figured something out himself.”
Moe Norman found ways to turn his amateur wins into dollars – although until a amazing event later in life, he never had much. Gus remembers how Moe converted a tournament prize into $200 – in the days when $200 was a significant sum.
“Harold Seegmiller invited me to come to a 54-hole tournament in Kawartha Lakes, to caddy for him. I would caddy for Harold in flight A, and Moe, one of the better players, would go off in the afternoon. After Harold finished, I would run off and find Moe around the 8th or 9th hole and pick up his bag. He always carried his own – except for me, he wouldn’t let anyone touch it.
“There was a big prize table, with beautiful prizes, including a big lawn mower. Before the tournament, this fellow came up to Moe and said, ‘Moe are you going to win this tournament?’ “’Yep, yep, gonna win, gonna win. Can’t take the prize home, though. No room in the car, no room in the car, four of us with golf clubs, can’t take it home, can’t take it home.’ ‘The guy says, ‘You win the power lawn mower, I’ll give you 150 bucks for it.’’ “’Okay, pal, okay,’ said Moe.
“In the final round, we get to the 13th or 14th hole, now we’ve got maybe 200 people following, because the word has spread about Moe. He goes to his bag and he pulls out this big tee – he’s showing off. I grabbed it out of his hand, and he whacked me! He said, ‘Watch the 150-yard marker.’ “This ball went out like a jet, right out over the 150-ball marker, and now we’re leading the tournament. I said, ‘Moe, no more big tee. You want to win the lawn mower.’ We end up winning.
“I knew Moe would hang around, but I knew he wouldn’t come in for dinner. He gave me his meal ticket. I could see him on the putting green. And they’re going to start the prize presentation.
“Jack Riordan, who had driven us there, said, ‘I’ll pick the lawn mower up.’ But two other people come over besides the guy who said, ‘I’ll give you $150.’ Moe had sold it three times – for $150, for $175 and for $180! “I went out to the putting green and asked Moe, ‘Why did you sell the lawn mower three times?’ ‘I wanted to make sure it was sold.’ He said, ‘You look after it, pal.’ I was 14 years old! I went back and said, ‘He’s not coming back in.’
“So Jack says, ‘You tell him he’s going to walk home if he doesn’t come in.’ “I went back out and said, ‘Moe, Jack’s not going to drive you home unless you come back in.’ Moe says, ‘That’s fine. You and I are going to hitchhike. I’ve done it before.’
“But it worked out. The first guy who bought the mower said to the others, ‘I don’t need it, you guys flip a coin and settle on the price. The winning guy gave me two 100-dollar bills. “I ran out to Moe and said, ‘You have to give Jack 20 bucks for gas, to get back on his good side.’ So Moe did.”
There are many such stories. Gus remembers an early tournament, in St. Thomas, where Moe blew his drive on the first hole, took three or four shots in the trees, and quit. He picked up his ball, went back to the clubhouse, and started doing trick shots on a hillside. The winner of the tournament won a toaster; Moe, who played less than one hole, picked up $75 from people passing the hat during his unscheduled trick shot demonstration.
One trick shot that has become legendary involves Moe hitting drives off a Coke bottle. But Gus says that only happened on two occasions, because the second time, a chip of glass flew up into Moe’s sweater, and he realized he could lose an eye through such shots. Gus smiles. “People have told me they saw him hit a ball off a coke bottle on many occasions – but no, they didn’t.”
Moe’s habit of selling his prizes cost him his amateur status, because of a decision by the Royal Canadian Golf Association (now known as Golf Canada). But Gus insists, “That really wasn’t fully the truth. I think the reason why they took his amateur status was, they thought he was going to embarrass them.”
“That really upset Moe. He was kind of forced to turn pro.” It led to a short-lived opportunity for Moe – and then, a devastating crisis. Gus recalls: “In the early 1960s, came one of the lowest points of Moe’s life. He was stripped of his amateur status… because he had sold some of the prizes he had won. He was in limbo – not an amateur, not a pro.
“There was a PGA tournament, called ‘The Bursary’, for pros 30 years of age or younger. There were 130 pros in the tournament; top three winners earned entry into the American PGA tour for five to six tournaments with all expenses paid. “Moe was allowed into the tournament, and won one of the three spots. “In the first two PGA tournaments, Moe made the cut, but didn’t win much money. The third tournament was New Orleans Open; Moe finished 4th.”
“That winter, Audrey and I had rented a home in Florida. On Monday morning, I read in the paper that Moe finished forth. I said to Audrey, ‘Moe’s going to win the next tournament!’ But next thing we knew, there was someone banging on the door. It was Moe, looking pale, and very distraught. He said, ‘I will never play again in a PGA tournament.’”
Moe wouldn’t tell him why, but Gus heard the story from some other golf pros. After the fourth round, two PGA pros confronted Moe in the locker room, and told him to clean himself up, to get some dental work done, to stop “show boating.” Says Gus, “I just kind of destroyed him. They really had dressed him down. Sure, he had a dirty shirt, and was missing a couple of teeth – but they went about it the wrong way.
“For 45 days straight, Moe came to our rented house. I would play cribbage with him from 7 p.m. until midnight. He would beat me most of the time – he was good with figures. In those 45 days, we were able to convince him that he was worthy of playing, and that golf fans enjoyed watching him. That spring, he went out on the Canadian tour and did very well. He dominated it for a number of years. He played in a lot of small tournaments… but no more PGA Tour events. We had so many offers where sponsors of tournaments were going to pay him to play in the States, paying his expenses…. But we could never get him to play.
“The most Moe ever earned annually was $30,000. There wasn’t much money out there.”
For all his adult life, Moe was estranged from his family. Gus Maue, and a few close friends – and especially Audrey Maue – became Moe’s surrogate family. Gus was involved in managing Moe’s finances, such as they were, in arranging for care when he became ill, and eventually, making the funeral arrangements after Gus’s passing.
He recalls his role in Moe’s later years, a self-assigned duty he shared with Audrey, their friend Ernie Hauser, and a few others. “We could see that Moe was deteriorating. When you see that people are taking advantage of Moe, or saying things because they don’t understand… We didn’t protect him, but we did what we could to keep the wheels on.”
It wasn’t always – or perhaps ever – easy. Gus remembers an incident from his early days as head golf pro at Westmount Golf and Country Club in Kitchener-Waterloo. “I used to have to watch him like a hawk, because he would sneak onto the golf course, and cut in on people. This one day – and I’ve never told anybody this story – it was Ladies’ Day. On Tuesdays, men couldn’t come to Westmount until 1 p.m. “I had a meeting a sales rep; we were sitting on the patio. I see three balls on 18, within 15 feet of the hole, and I don’t see anybody coming up the hole… then, it’s Moe. And it’s Ladies’ Day. He’s singing, ‘Here comes Santa Claus.’ He’s singing Christmas carols… in May. I was just shaking… I know I’m going to get fired. “I said, ‘Moe, what are you doing?’ “He said, ‘Ladies in front of me, ladies behind me, didn’t bother anybody, didn’t bother anybody. I walked out to number 14, saw a little gap, so I filled in.’ “I said, ‘Moe, you’re not even supposed to be in the parking lot!’ “I wasn’t going to run and hide, I waited there all day, but not one lady said a word. This went on for years!”
Moe Norman was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 1995 and posthumously into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2006. Gus remembers that Moe’s entrance into the Golf Hall of Fame did not go all that smoothly. “They wanted to have the induction ceremony at Glen Abbey [location of the Hall of Fame], and they wanted to fill the place, and were even thinking of the Royal York. Moe said ‘No.’ “He said, ‘I want to have it at Foxwood, and I want to have the people I want there.’ “So, I had to negotiate with Stephen Ross, head of the RCGA… and it was a different regime [than the people who took away his amateur status]. Stephen and his team understood Moe.
“I suggested they have a list of 50 guys, while we get 30 for Moe. So that’s where we had it… his introduction to the Golf Hall of Fame was held at Foxwood,” in Wilmot township, outside Kitchener-Waterloo.
In the early 1980s, Moe’s financial challenges caught up with him. Gus says, “Moe was bankrupt. The bailiff was coming to pick up his car. I said to Audrey, ‘What are we going to do?’ I had given him about $1500 to pay for his motel – he always lived in a motel. We decided to have an Appreciation Day for Moe. We didn’t have the clubhouse built at that time, so we had the golf at Foxwood, and the board at Westmount was good enough to give me the clubhouse that night, and we filled it. It was amazing! There were people there that I thought didn’t like Moe, and they’re giving me $100 bills for Moe!’”
That was a good, but temporary solution. But a year or two later, a golf miracle happened for Moe Norman. Gus tells the story: “In 1985 or 1986, I got a phone call from Titleist’s sales manager for Canada. He said, ‘Can you give me Moe’s life history, fill me in a bit?’ So I did. He added, “Wally Uihlein, CEO of Titleist world-wide, would like to know the history on Moe.”
“Then, I get a phone call from Wally Uihlein’s secretary. ‘Are you going to the PGA show in Orlando?’ We went every year. ‘Can you bring Moe with you? We’d like you to be at our booth on Saturday’. “My sons Danny and Mark, and Audrey and I were there. Wally Uihlein came over and said, ‘Where’s Moe?’ “’He’s over there – I have Danny looking after him, so he won’t run away.’ “Wally said, ‘I want to do something for him. I want to give him $5,000 a month.’
“I said, ‘Just a minute! What does Moe have to do?’ “’I don’t want him to do anything. I just don’t want him living out of his car. The only thing I want is a recording of his golf swing so it can be in my golf archives 50 years from now.’
“I got Moe. Moe broke down. Wally and Moe shook hands. The cheques came to my office every month. A couple of times, Moe lost the cheque, so I would phone Wally’s secretary and explain, and she would send another one.” And that enabled Moe to move into a nice retirement home – and to buy his beloved, brand-new Cadillac.
In his final decade or two, says Gus, “It was kind of downhill for Moe. Moe stopped playing golf tournaments in his 60s, because his clubs were too heavy for him. He had very strong arms, and when he was younger, he could swing those heavy golf clubs. I would say to him, ‘Moe, your clubs are too heavy,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, George Knudson told me that, 40 years ago.’ I said, ‘Why didn’t you listen?’ Moe said, ‘We didn’t talk about club head speed; I didn’t figure it out.’
“He wouldn’t play tournaments, but he did play Scrambles at Foxwood. And he was very, very happy at the retirement home. “I was there several times when he was taken to Emerg. Moe would always pat his pocket, and I knew his money was in there. So, I would have to pull his money out. Moe knew I would look after his money for him. He always had six or eight thousand in his pocket”.
Gus, Audrey and a few close friends stuck by Moe during hospital visits, and a wild stay at University Hospital in London, where he had heart surgery – but only after several escape attempts, and an incident when, as Gus and Ernie Hauser tried to help Moe get to an X-ray appointment, Moe’s pants fell off, leaving him commando in front of the nurse’s station. Gus remembers, “I said, ‘Mo, this is best clinic you’ve ever put on.’”
I asked Gus to share one more powerful, personal memory of Moe – and his answer was surprising. “It’s a little bit ugly, but it’s one of my favourite memories: A lot of the pros were going to Titusville, Florida, because the Canadian PGA had bought the golf course there. A lot of the senior pros had bought condos around the Royal Oak golf course, guys that were pros at high-end golf courses across Canada. We bought a place in Cocoa Beach, and had it for 20 years.
“Moe would never play with the senior pros, but he would wait around, and hang around with us when we finished, and have a drink with us. This one day, he said, ‘Pal, you gotta come with me. I can’t play, I’ve lost it.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I can’t hit the ball. Come and play a few holes with me – you know my golf swing.’
“So, we teed off on 10, and he tops the first two tee shots. He’s not trying, just quitting at the ball. So we sat on a bench, and I said, ‘Moe, what’s going on?’ “That’s when he told me that he was running out of money. It was that summer the bailiff came to get his car. But then he said, ‘I’m out of pills.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about? What pills?’
“He said, ‘If I take one white pill, I feel good. If I take another white pill, I think about nothing but birdies and eagles!’ “I said, ‘What? Show me!’ He brought out this big fruit jar. It was empty. I asked, ‘Where did you get this?’ He told me. He had paid a guy $200 of the jar of pills. I knew the guy. I said, ‘That little bastard!’ Because when I played with him, he was a hustler. After the round, the guy is handing out cards. ‘You want to bet a horse? You call me. You want a lady? You call me. You want something to make you feel good?’ “I’m thinking, ‘This little bastard, what did he give Moe?’
“I’m really upset. So, I go through Moe’s bag, and I find a little white pill. It’s dirty, but I go to the clubhouse and get a Kleenex and I wrap it up. I am guarding this thing all the way home. I had a friend who was a GP, who knew Moe. I phoned him and told him the story. He had the pill analyzed. It was something just to relax you a little bit. “I said, ‘He wants more.’ The GP answered, ‘But that’s a prescription. Moe would have to have a medical.’ I knew Moe wouldn’t go for that.
“Later on, I found out about his financial issues. But Moe blamed it on running out of pills. “Well, the GP got him a jar of pills. But Moe didn’t know, they were baby aspirins, in the same jar. “I phoned a friend, who knew the guy who sold Moe the pills. I asked where the guy was. Moe had told me the guy moved down east. He was down east – in the Kingston Penitentiary!”
Gus held Moe Norman’s Power of Attorney. As such, he was the one who got the 3 a.m. call on September 4, 2004; Moe had died. Gus went to the hospital, at least partly to make sure that Moe’s ever-present wad of cash didn’t disappear. “I was worried that his money would still be in his pants, but no.” Gus then got the night watchman to let him into the retirement home, but there was no money in Moe’s room. Gus eventually found it in the trunk of Moe’s Cadillac – not $6,000 but $25,000, some American, stuffed into his shoes and in amongst his golf equipment.
Moe had once asked Gus to bury the money with him in his coffin when he passed away, but Gus had persuaded him to leave it as educational bursaries for Moe’s nieces and nephews.
When Moe’s family learned that he had passed away, they asked Gus to make the funeral arrangements. He arranged for a reception for 150 guests at Westmount, after the funeral service at the church. One of the people who showed up at the funeral was Walter Gretzky – Moe and Walter would meet sometimes on golf courses when Moe was playing and Walter was looking for golf balls. Gus was to be a pallbearer, but when Titleist’s Wally Uihlein showed up, Gus gave his place to Wally.
Gus says, “We got to the church, and I had never seen so many cars. I see all the people, and I’m panicking… there were 500 people there!” Westmount’s golf pro quickly arranged for the staff to “start making sandwiches!” Three hundred and fifty people showed up at Westmount. The Golf Channel, CBC, and CTV all covered the funeral. Says Gus, “I couldn’t believe how many people… it was just amazing!”
There may have been 500 people at the funeral, all feeling some connection to Canada’s most unorthodox golfer, but none could have felt as closely connected as Gus and Audrey Maue. Gus recalls a tribute from Rockway pro Lloyd Tucker: “I remember him saying, ‘Fred Astaire was the best dancer ever, and Moe Norman was the best striker of the ball.’ I don’t know if he was the best striker of the ball, but I know he was the straightest, without a doubt.”
Gus adds, “You always looked forward to seeing him because you never knew what he was going to do, what was going to come out of his mouth.” He smiles. “Moe was Moe.”
All photos by Paul Knowles, of artifacts in the Moe Norman Collection at Rockway Golf Course unless otherwise identified.
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