So when news reached that he finished 13th at Milwaukee Sunday, I was overjoyed. For all the little guys, for all the people who appreciate someone who gets by on guile and guts and a whole lot of heart, this was awesome news. Could it be that Pavin is making an anxiously awaited comeback?
Corey Pavin, who a decade ago was winning a U.S. Open and starring in Ryder Cups, has been largely forgotten of late as the big bashers of the tour left him in the dust. Pavin doesnt hit it a long way, see, and the men of the PGA Tour have taken quantum leaps in driving distance. Corey is 5-9, 155 pounds, and learned to play golf by hitting all the proper shots ' except the long ball. The men who learned to play by just hitting the long ball and one or two other shots have gotten a distinct advantage in the past six or eight years.
Paul Azinger paid Pavin a high compliment on a Peter and Friends segment that was re-aired on TGC Sunday night. Azinger said that Corey was hugely talented, able to curve a ball 40 yards if need be to reach a pin. But, Zinger said, Pavin is hurt now because he doesnt play the air game. Neither, incidentally, did Azinger during a seven-year run at the top of the PGA Tour, he admitted. Pavin mastered the ground game and big-time golf has now moved on past the time when the ground game won consistently.
I dont know exactly was Zinger meant, but I suppose it has to do with players winning who hit the ball high and far, as opposed to those who make it dance while boring low and on a line. In a day when courses are often set up at 7,400-7,500 yards and pins are cut three paces from the side or from the front edge, it is imperative to arc the ball high and make it stop quickly.
But Pavin, like Azinger, has tried very hard to retool his swing to be more of a high-ball hitter. And it looks like it is beginning to succeed. He probably will never again achieve the success he did from 1991 to 1996, when he never was lower than 18th on the money list. But he could reasonably be a top-50 player if just a few things went right for him.
I've made some changes in my swing, it's different than it was in '95, he said at the U.S. Open, noting that he has worked on making his swing wider.
I've searched with a few different teachers, and worked with Butch Harmon for eight, nine months, 10 months, and it's improved a lot. Now I have to get out there and execute on the golf course.
As late as last year, Pavin was still struggling. He finished 148th on the money list and missed 18 cuts in 26 tournaments.
This year, he made the cut in his first six tries, hit a rocky patch when he missed three in a row, but has made it again in five of his last six. And he has improved 57 places on the money list from last year, having already won $532,291 for 91st position. Only once in the last seven years has he finished higher.
Pavin always was a deadly short-game player. But he lost confidence in all aspects of the game while going though his slump. Last year he finished 131st in putting, for example. This year, he stands third on tour on putts per round, 50th on putting average. Sounds like a little of the ol magic is back.
The ball itself doesnt curve nearly as much as it did before, negating one huge Pavin advantage of the early 90s. And the clubs further resist the bending of the ball. So he had to virtually learn the game all over again.
But Pavin is a golfer ' period. Hes going to succeed, regardless, hes going to come up with something to stay alive. He has one more year remaining on the 10-year exemption of his 95 Open victory. He is smart enough to devise a new game plan, even one which succeeds in the bash-it and find-it game.
His 267.3 yards per drive is only 189th on the tour ' about the same ranking as he had most of his career. But hes getting a little air under the ball now, and that is a positive when you consider that the courses now demand plenty of air-time. Pavin has been forced to change.
Its a little like telling Rembrant he no longer can use paint, he now has to use Crayons. But Pavin is certainly making the switch. And I, for one, am happy to see it.
Email your thoughts to George White