Rainmaker – Hughes Norton, The Man Who Made Tiger Woods Rich

Hughes Norton, one of the original SuperAgents of IMG, made Tiger Woods a rich man. What’s more, thanks to Norton, Woods never had to win a golf tournament to get his first $60 million, an unheard-of amount in golf.
Tiger Woods - The Masters
Tiger Woods - The Masters / TIMOTHY A. CLARY/GettyImages

Then, two years after signing the initial contracts, Woods fired Norton as his agent. Then Mark McCormack fired him from IMG. Then Norton disappeared for a quarter of a century.

What happened between then and now, is the subject of a new book called Rainmaker, elegantly written by Norton with an assist from George Peper, former editor of Golf Magazine. Once started, this story is impossible to put down. Many deals are revealed, including dollar signs.  It’s the inside scoop people in golf have wanted to know.

Here’s how it started for Woods. 

Norton, after concluding a business trip to LA, took a jaunt to Cypress, California, to introduce himself to the Woods family.  Tiger was only 13.  Norton offered no money, no deals, because that would have been a violation of NCAA rules, and it was certain that Tiger was headed to college.  But he spoke with Earl Woods about Tiger’s future, which was easy, because it was one of Earl's favorite topics.   

Several of Norton’s colleagues thought he was nuts to spend time with someone so young, but Norton, like Tiger’s father, was convinced that Tiger was going to be something special.  He was already winning so many junior tournaments that his mother made him clean more than 100 trophies out of his room. 

After that initial introduction, Norton stayed in touch with the Woods family, eventually hiring Earl Woods to be a junior talent scout for IMG because the elder Woods accompanied his son to all the important junior events. There was a chance Earl would point out another prospect or two, but the main reason was that Norton knew the Woods family needed extra money to pay for all Tiger’s travel.  Hiring Earl Woods was the only way he could help.       

It all came to fruition the evening before Woods turned pro in 1996, prior to the Greater Milwaukee Open. Norton delivered offers from Nike for $40 million and from Titleist for $20 million both with all kinds of escalator clauses. Norton, by then, was the head of IMG’s golf division.

“There were no outs for Nike. There were no clawbacks, same for Titleist, and I submit to you that that piece -- that financial security, in his case, generational wealth, set up at the beginning, eases the mind of a player,” Norton told The Golf Show 2.0 in a recent interview.  “You know how ephemeral this game can be…. One week you've got it.  The next week you don't. Turns out Tiger had it every single week.”  

Really, it was a great deal for everybody, except, as it turned out, for Norton.  

Before signing Woods, Norton was known for creating exceptional opportunities for his golf clients.  He learned from the best, Mark McCormack, founder of IMG. Rainmaker has plenty of details on that part of the story.

McCormack, for those who don’t know, was the agent for Arnold Palmer beginning a few years after Palmer turned pro and lasting until his death. The Palmer family is still, in many financial ways, a beneficiary of IMG’s and McCormack’s work.   

Norton’s career as a SuperAgent, like McCormack’s, began well before all the TV shows and HBO dramas and movies about fictitious sports agents. It was just what they did, what they knew how to do. They changed the lives of their clients one fistful of dollars at a time, making literally billions for IMG.   

In his years with IMG, Norton’s lineup of professional golfers included Curtis Strange, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson, Mark O’Meara, Peter Jacobsen, David Graham, Bill Rodgers, Nancy Lopez, Bobby Clampett, and Greg Norman.  Norton made many of them incredible amounts of money.   

For certain, before Woods, no golfer had ever received $60 million before hitting a tee shot as a pro. A close second, though, was probably what IMG and Norton did for Norman.   

Between 1983 and 1993, when Norton produced opportunities for him, The Shark’s on-course earnings were just over $10.8 million, but his off-course deals from IMG generated nearly $50 million. 

Norton got Norman a clothing deal with Reebok, and he found graphic designers to create the multi-color “Shark” logo that became synonymous with the “Shark” brand.

It was Norton’s idea to “build a tournament” around Norman, which became the Shark Shootout, later changed to a sponsor name plus Shootout because active players are not allowed to have their names on PGA Tour-sponsored or co-sponsored events.   

Several times, Norman asked Norton to leave IMG and work for him exclusively, but Norton felt Norman would benefit more from the other assets IMG brought to the table in terms of additional business deals, the worldwide staff of lawyers and accountants, people that, on his own, Norton did not have and would need to hire for Norman.     

When it comes to describing his top two clients, Norton provided an original opinion, one not heard before.  According to Norton, Woods “lived for competition, practice, play, more practice, going to the gym. That's all that mattered to him.”   

Norman was different.

“Greg Norman,” he said, “lived for fame, fortune and wealth. The Ferraris in the garage and the yachts and the Gulf Stream airplane.”

The pressure of delivering for his golf clients, the 60 and 70-hour work weeks, the high-dollar contract negotiations, and the travel around the world on behalf of other people, all eventually took a toll on Norton’s marriage, which ended in divorce.  

McCormack, who hired Norton after college, did provide a multi-million-dollar severance package, but one with a non-compete clause enough so that Norton could not create his own sports marketing firm.  By then, he certainly knew the business.  Now, he says he doesn’t miss it and hasn’t for decades.

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In Rainmaker, Norton puts the reader inside the business deals that made Woods, Norman, and others rich and enlightens with stories about those who play professional golf.  In addition, he admits to his own personal failures as well as successes during the time when he was one of golf’s most famous SuperAgents.