Pavins Major 4-Wood Defines His Career

By George WhiteJune 13, 2004, 4:00 pm
Corey Pavin has had a career full of great shots. Remember the 8-iron hole-out for eagle on the 72nd hole which led to a playoff victory at the 1992 Honda Classic? How about the 18-foot chip-in for birdie to defeat Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer in the 95 Ryder Cup? A 140-yard hole-out in the 93 Ryder Cup, or the 40-foot chip-in to win a playoff at the 1991 Bob Hope?

None is as synonymous with Pavin, though, as the 228-yard 4-wood he hit to the 18th hole of the 1995 U.S. Open. The 4-wood and Shinnecock are forever united in Open history, Pavin winning the tournament after a tense fourth round which saw several players have a chance to bring home the championship.

Pavin will play again at Shinnecock in the Open this year. But regardless of what he does, he will never hit a more critical shot in his career. It was the shot that defines his golfing life, a perfect strike hit under the most crucial circumstances imaginable.

Pavin hadnt played well to start the tournament. On the very first hole, he had driven the ball into an unplayable lie and took bogey. And on the third hole he bogeyed again, leaving him at 2 over going to the fourth ' a par-5 that was playing into a stiff breeze.

But that was where the funny stuff ceased. Pavin holed a 9-iron for eagle on the par-5 and managed to escape the day without further incident. And after the round, he uncharacteristically pounded balls trying to decipher why he had hit it so poorly. And he found an answer.

I discovered I was taking the club too outside on the takeaway, he said. So I made an adjustment and started moving it slightly inside, making a better turn on the ball. The rest of the week, I just concentrated on those two swing thoughts and I hit it much better.

Pavin slogged through Friday and Saturday in lockstep with the field. It was Greg Normans tournament, then Tom Lehmans, with a maybe thrown the way of Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson or Bob Tway. At the end of the third round, Lehman and Norman were tied for the lead, three shots ahead of Pavin, who was lying low without fanfare all week long.

No one interviewed me and I was not asked into the press room (Saturday), said Pavin. I was thinking, Gee, only three shots back and only four players to pass, and no one wants to talk to me.'

Shinnecock was a brutal foe that week. As the final round began, Pavin was 2 over. Player after player clung on by their fingernails, forgetting birdie and just trying to make par. Sunday was a lesson in patience ' pure patience.

I wanted to play smart golf, said Pavin. If I missed the green, at least I tried to miss it below the cup to give me an easier chip.

And on Sunday, I executed it better than any other round. I dont recall how many greens I hit, but I never put myself in a position to give me a difficult up-and-down.

He finally wrested away the lead on the 15th hole with a medium range birdie putt. Now he got nervous. Thats when I knew I was in the drivers seat for the first time, said Pavin. I had been chasing the leaders the entire week up to that point. I felt if I parred the last three holes, Id have a good chance to win.

The 17th hole was very nearly Pavins downfall. He had to make a crucial 6-footer for par, and his saving putt went right in the heart. It was more important than the 4-wood shot on 18, he said. That par save kept him ahead of Norman and Lehman, playing behind him.

And then, he was at 18, a 450-yard uphill par-4. By now he was two shots ahead of the field. Pavin could afford to hit his tee shot conservatively, concentrating on just getting it in the fairway.

This was before titanium drivers and souped-up balls were in full bloom. Pavins poke to the uphill fairway traveled about 230 yards, well short of the dogleg-left. If he were to reach the green with his next shot, he would have to do it with the 4-wood.

Between him and the hole was a huge expanse of rough and three bunkers. He would have to hit his shot into a right-to-left wind, carry the rough and two of the bunkers, and land the ball in a narrow opening to reach the pin cut on the far left side of the green.

Pavin considered hitting a 2-iron. He weighed the pros and cons, finally committing to the 4-wood.

It never did bother me, hitting the 4-wood instead of the 2-iron, he said. Ive hit a lot of fairway woods in my life. Lots of times, I can get a 4-wood closer than a 2-iron.

So the wood it was. He took an unusually long time before he hit, weighing all the possibilities of the 72nd hole in a U.S. Open.

It was a longish 4-wood for me ' 220 was usually my distance with that club, explained Pavin. And it was uphill. But, I was pumped up and I didnt think I could go past the hole with the 4-wood. I didnt want to go past the hole and have a tricky downhill putt.

As it turned out, I hit the shot as good as I could. I was trying to hit a hard low drive to keep it out of the wind. When I saw the ball come off the clubface, I knew I hit a good shot. And it certainly was the right club.

At exactly 5:56 p.m., the ball bounced once 10 feet in front of the green and ended up 5 feet from the pin. It was entirely fitting that Pavin, one of the games best putters, would dunk it for birdie. But he grazed the right edge, leaving open the day for a possible miracle finish. Norman had to make birdie on the 18th to tie, and he didnt come close. Pavin became the U.S. Open champion.

Since then, fate hasnt been kind to Pavin. The advances in ball and club technology have slowly left him behind. Long-hitting Hank Kuehne or John Daly would probably play that 228-yard shot today with no more than a 5-iron. Pavin himself averages 12 yards longer in driving distance ' 267 this year compared to 255 in 95, but he has slipped 24 places toward the rear, 183rd this year, 169th in 95.

Length, though, shouldnt be that big a problem says Pavin. When I won at Shinnecock, I read about the course being too long for me ' and I won, he says. I dont feel like theres any course I cannot win on.

Spoken like a true David in an arena full of Goliaths. Corey Pavin, above all, has the heart to make up for what he lacks in distance.

Hes just really competitive in everything he does, says Paul Azinger. Bottom line ' intestinal fortitude. He has tons of it.
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