Pavin developed some bad habits in his swing in 1997 and his game hasnt been quite the same. On one shining day in 1995, though, he stood on top of the world. On June 18 of that year, he won the United States Open. In the one major that he was sure he would never win, Pavin took the trophy at a course that never seemed right for him ' Shinnecock Hills. And he did it hitting a 4-wood approach to the par-4 18th, a 450-yarder that today would play anywhere from a 6-iron and a 9-iron for most of the field.
This week, another course not far from Long Islands Shinnecock ' Bethpage Black ' hosts the U.S. Open. In 1995, though, Corey Pavin and Shinnecock were at the center of the universe.
His fellow professionals knew what they were getting in Pavin. Corey is a fighter, said Tom Lehman. He has a huge heart. He has all the shots. And he is a great putter. There isnt a course in the world that Corey cant play.
That Pavin was the champion comes as a shock to those who think that length is the most important weapon in the arsenal. During the four rounds he averaged just 257 yards off the tee, a figure that was beaten by all but three players. He didnt do particularly well at hitting greens ' he was 50th out of 73 weekend players. But he was a Pavrotti with the putter, finishing in a tie for first on Shinnecocks little greens.
Pavin won it on the 72nd hole. It was the second most difficult hole during the week, doglegging sharply left towards the green, the flag cut to the far left of the hole. To reach the pin from Pavins angle 228 yards away, a gap of perhaps 20 years of rough had to be negotiated.
He stood in the fairway after a drive of a little over 230 yards with a wind whipping right to left. All I wanted to do was get the ball in the fairway so I could have a decent shot at the green, said Pavin, who was one shot ahead of Greg Norman as he played 18. He had steadily clawed his way up the leaderboard after starting the day three shots off the lead.
Then came The Shot. It was a longish 4-wood, he said of the 228-yarder. Two-twenty is usually my max. But I was pumped up and I didnt think I could go past the hole with a 4-wood. I didnt want to go by the cup and have a tricky downhill putt.
As it turned out, I hit the shot as good as I could and it ended up exactly pin-high. I was trying to hit a low draw to keep it out of the wind. It was certainly the right club.
The ball landed in the intervening rough and bounced twice to get to the green. It hopped and rolled right up to the cup, stopping five feet away.
When I saw it come off the clubface, I knew I hit a good shot, Pavin said. It was the best shot I have hit under pressure. It was the best rush I ever felt.
Pavin, of course, missed the putt ' the only putt he missed all week, said his caddy, Eric Schwarz. But he won the Open by two strokes. And, to be honest, no one was surprised.
Pavin had won 13 times on the PGA Tour, nine times world-wide. He won in just about every way imaginable, and in 1992 he beat Fred Couples at the Honda two ways ' with an 8-iron holeout to send it into overtime, then a 12-footer dead in the heart to end it.
Corey is too good a putter to just watch him putt, said Couples, who was the best in the world at the time. I just knew he was going to make it, and of course he did, right in the center.
From 120 yards, I would have to say hes got an advantage. From 15 feet, hes definitely got an advantage.
For a long time, Pavin was unbeaten in playoffs. He was a perfect 4-0 in his first four, lost one, then beat Couples in his sixth.
I really dont know what he does, said Craig Stadler, a playoff victim. When he got me, I just looked up and the damn ball was dropping in the cup ' a 35-foot putt.
A pit-bull kind of mentality, said Gary McCord.
Perhaps the most dramatic stroke ' besides the 4-wood in the Open ' was the chip shot he hit in the 95 Ryder Cup that went in, boosting him and Loren Roberts to a win over Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer.
Thats the epitome of the type of situations I like to be in, Pavin said. I like the pressure where somethings gotta give. Its a lot of fun.
He may yet be the master again if he find the old magic. But Pavin in his prime was awesome to behold.
Hes like a pinball machine ' ding-ding-ding-ding, said Paul Azinger. All over the course, he uses everything the architect gives him. He just keeps applying the pressure.
Hes not a guy who can airmail bunkers out there 260 like other guys. He cant reach those par-5s. He has to do other things. To win as much as he has is really impressive.
Bottom line ' intestinal fortitude.