Numb and Number


Tiger Woods generates $80 million income in 2003. Vijay Singh wins more than $10 million in America in 2004. Ernie Els banks a check for more than $1.8 million in London over the weekend.
And we all become a little more numb.
It is harder than ever to identify with the sums of money being made in golf these days. Not that long ago it was unusual for a player to earn more than a million dollars in one season. In the not-so-distant future, it will not be unusual for a player to need to make a million dollars in a year to keep his card.
Which brings us, in a semi-roundabout way, to 45-year-old Michael Allen, who finished second all by himself at the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro Sunday when he rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole.
The money is precious to Michael Allen. He has ground out his playing privileges six times at Q-School, including last year when he finished third at professional golfs annual 108-hole crucible. When he returned home to Mesa, Ariz., his friends had tacked a sign on his locker that read: All-time money winner at Q-School.
Allen loves his friends but everybody knew, deep down, this was a dubious distinction. Michael Allen has never been able to afford to be numb about the money. Quite the contrary, his nerve endings have been raw for years now because of the suggestions that he didnt have the dollars or the sense to quit playing golf for a living.
He tried building homes for a while. He tried working in a shop. He tried medical sales. Only once before, until Sunday, did he make enough money on tour to regain his playing privileges for the next season.
So here he was Sunday in the press room at Greensboro answering questions about what it felt like to have won more money than he could count.
I sat in the trailer, signed my card and looked at the amount, he said. I couldnt believe they were going to give me a half million dollars for this and I was, like, geez, what a great time.
To be specific, Allen won $496,800 at Greensboro. It was enough to jump him from No. 153 on the money list to No. 84. The putt on the 72nd hole alone was worth almost $100,000. There will be no return to Q-School for Michael Allen this year. He will be fully exempt in 2005.
Half a million bucks. Thats like a career for me, pards, Michael Allen said.
Half a million bucks for Greg Norman is jet fuel.
None of which is to suggest that Norman, Woods, Singh or Els havent worked hard for their financial rewards. In fact it can be argued that all of them have made enough money now so that money doesnt matter any more and they are free to play to win and to play for the love of the game.
But there are a lot more Michael Allens in golf and in the real world. There are a lot more people who have to count every last loving, living penny.
On Saturday Michael Allen said nobody recognizes him in public and he understands that. Thats OK, he said. Why would anybody know me?
The answer to that question is easy. Just because people dont know Michael Allens face doesnt mean they dont recognize his life.
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