As he prepares to play this week's Senior PGA Championship, where he finished in a tie for 10th last year, McCumber has much to be thankful for. A three-time winner on the PGA Tour in 1994 and a 10-time victor over-all, his golfing career was hanging by a thread after several mystifying ailments in the latter part of the 90s.
At one time he could barely walk. He went from one of the best golfers in the world in 94 to a baffled bed patient a couple of years later, various ailments keeping him sidelined up until his rookie year on the Champions Tour in 2002.
In 2001, competing on a medical exemption his last year as a PGA Tour regular, he had tried to play though the ailments but missed the cut in eight of nine starts. But in 2002 he finally was healthy enough to compete in 17 tournaments. In 2003 it was 18. And when the men of the Champions Tour play their first major this year ' the Senior PGA Championship May 20-23 - McCumber will have played eight times in 2004.
And the difference in his health in 2004 as compared to the late 90s ' well, there is no comparison. Considering what it was, what I started with, its wonderful, says McCumber.
McCumber, incidentally, is an accomplished golf architect and actually did the course where the Honda Classic was played for several years ' the TPC at Heron Bay in South Florida. But when his health began to fail, all activities slowed to a crawl.
In 1996 the problems began with persistent throbbing pain in his right shoulder. He still was competing at a high level, finishing runner-up in the British Open. But he eventually had surgery performed on his rotator cuff.
Despite the shoulder surgery, though, something still didnt feel right. While in the process of rehabbing the shoulder, he began having dizzy spells, accompanied this time by pain in his neck. There were all the earmarks of a ruptured disk in his back. But nothing was ruled out and everything considered ' there could have been a tumor, an aneurysm, even multiple sclerosis.
Doctors did an exhaustive number of tests until they finally came up with a diagnosis ' a lesion on his spinal cord. Physicians theorized that the lesion might have started forming as early as 1995. McCumber underwent extensive physical therapy to overcome numbness in his left hand and fatigue in his legs.
You know when you fall asleep sitting in a funny way, he said, and as your legs are waking up, you get that prickly feeling? Thats the way I felt.
But McCumber, who is still in his early 50s, can play golf ' albeit maybe not at the high level he once did.
I think I still drive the ball really well. Im not as long as I used to be, but I feel like under pressure I can still drive the ball in any fairway. Ive always felt that was the best part of my game, he said.
I think I manage myself pretty well. Ive always felt my misses were pretty good. In other words, I dont usually double-cross. I can usually block out half the golf course. Its just the thunder isnt as loud as it used to be.
The Thunder was particularly loud for a man who stands just 5-foot-8. He won Doral in 1979 for his first tour victory. Fifteen years later, he prevailed at the Tour Championship with a 40-foot playoff putt to defeat Fuzzy Zoeller - the last win of his regular career, in 1994.
On the Champions Tour, he has finished inside the top 10 six times, including a tie for fourth at the Tampa tournament last year and a tie for fifth at the season-opener in 2004 at the Royal Caribbean. He finished in a tie for 10th at the Senior PGA last year.
And ' he feels lucky that he can play once again, even if he doesnt quite reach the dizzying heights of 1994. My mother keeps reminding me that its not just the trouble in my spinal cord - its that Im in my 50s, he says with a hearty laugh.
No, he isnt the same Mark McCumber of the 80s and early 90s. But this Mark McCumber isnt bad. He faces the reality and he goes on.
Im left with some things thatll never change, they say, he said. But its so minimal compared to what it was. I can walk around, I can swing a golf club, Ive got a little bit of a ' they call it spasity of rubberiness in my legs.
But ' I mean, Im out here playing and walking. Im very happy.
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