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Is this normal?

Exceptionally normal. In fact, I can't recall a situation where a physical check wasn't sent.

Why would it require a physical check?

They might be willing to wire it - for a fee. Since your 401k company makes the rules, they probably don't want to deal with the hassle and the liability of an EFT.

I don't recall physical checks being used when I moved my own 401K 7 years ago, nor in her previous small rollover 20 years ago.

I can assure you that if you did not get a check from a rollover, then you very likely paid a wire fee.

Not sure why they can't simply convert all to cash at the end of a specific day and electronically send it to an authorized account.

Lot's of IRS reporting issues with such transfers and I imagine that there is a significant fraud risk when there is not a clear paper trail. I sometimes have to provide written certification for clients if they fund an account without a clear paper trail as to where the money came from. I doubt your broker would automatically know that the check came from a 401k vs a roth 401k vs simply a taxable account. That sort of coding doesn't really exist within the EFT system.
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