Popgun Pavin Fires Biggest Shot

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Hes a man from my era, this fellow Corey Pavin. By that, I mean someone who played at the highest peak from, say, from the mid-1980s to the mid-90s. During those years he was an absolute golfing terror, despite his unassuming size (5-foot-9), weight (150 pounds) and his short length off the tee (around 250 yards before the advent of the big-basher technology).
 
Corey played Nick Faldo head-up when Nick was in his prime, and beat him in the finals of the World Match Play in 1993 ' in England, no less. During the same period, he stared down Fred Couples, again one of the worlds best players, in a playoff at the Honda Classic in 93. In fact, he won five off his first six playoffs. He won the U.S. Open in 95, and compiled an 8-5 career Ryder Cup record, the highlight being a match in 1995 in which he chipped in on the final hole to defeat Faldo and Bernhard Langer.
 
We have heard precious little from Pavin the last 10 years. He had become the poster child for all references to puny driving, and he tried to change his game a little to compensate. Wrong move, as he was about to discover.
 
His personal life about this time also unraveled. His long marriage ended and he lived a nomads life for a time, leaving his longtime residence in Orlando, Fla., before finally remarrying and settling near Dallas. All these changes meant Pavin was destined to bounce hither and yon, doomed to year-end finishes such as 169th, 160th, 150th, 111th and 108th.
 
This is the backdrop where we found Pavin, who had all the earmarks of a 46-year-old golfing has-been, at the beginning of last week. Then, in the space of four days, Corey set a PGA TOUR nine-hole scoring record of 26, led a tournament wire-to-wire, and captured the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee.
 
In so doing, Pavin had to defeat a homegrown son to win the title ' Jerry Kelly of nearby Madison finished second before a wildly enthusiastic home crowd. Ironically, in his first tour win in 1984, Pavin had to pull the same trick. It was there, in Houston, that he defeated Houstonian John Mahaffey, who led the tournament going into the final round. And then, lest you forget, there was the matter of Faldo in England.
 
Corey has been a personal favorite of mine for almost 20 years, so perhaps youll forgive me for crowing just a little. Despite his difficulties the past 10 years, not once has Pavin forgotten his manners, not once has he forgotten what friendship means. Not once has he changed his upbeat persona, not once has he failed to smile and utter pleasant salutations.
 
But I digress. This renaissance of Pavins began three years ago when he threw himself at the mercy of swing coach Butch Harmon. Pavin never will launch his drives 350 yards ' he currently is averaging 264 and change, 197th and last among the players who are ranked in the tour driving statistics. Predictably, he was last at Milwaukee. But his drives certainly are higher and carry further, paramount on the tour courses which are pock-marked with fairway bunkers.
 
And hes finished in the top 30 or better in five of the last eight tournaments. That may not seem to be a bragging point. But when you have finished down around 120, 130 or 140 for much of the last decade, this is a real confidence booster. And at Hartford in his last start preceding Milwaukee, he finished 11th.
 
The situation, at least as far as golf is concerned, has brightened considerably for the 46-year-old Pavin.
 
'These last 10 years and the journey mean everything to me,' he said. 'I always feel like every part of our lives means something and builds character of some kind. That's what I feel happened over these 10 years. I've never given up on myself and it felt so good to prove to myself that I could still win.'
 
Pavin chose a perfect time ' his 95 win at the U.S. Open gave him a 10-year exemption. This is the final year. But after the Milwaukee win, he gets two more years. By then he will be almost 49, and he becomes a senior at the age of 50.
 
He and wife Lisa have a great life together now, living in the heartland and experiencing the day-to-day existence of a happy couple in suburbia, regardless of what happens on the golf course. But he is a golfer at heart, a man who needs his occupation. And despite the downturn of fortunes the last decade, his work with Harmon has slowly started to reverse the downward trend.
 
Things are starting to click a little bit. I'm getting more comfortable. I'm hitting the ball better, he said.
 
Last year I played a lot better. The whole year was a lot more consistent, and it's just working hard and hopefully working on the right things. And the changes I made with Butch were pretty good changes in my swing. It takes time to get those to a comfortablish kind of point, and I'm getting more and more comfortable and feeling a little bit better.
 
His putting is what has held him back this year ' this from a man who was absolutely deadly with the roller for the better part of 20 years. But he reunited with his old caddy, Eric Schwartz, recently and Schwartz spotted the problem immediately ' His alignment was real bad,' Schwarz said. 'It took about two, three hours to get him straightened out.'
 
But he was first in the putting stats at Milwaukee. And if he continues to feel comfortable with the revamped swing ' well, who knows?
 
Frank Lickliter, who was in the Milwaukee field, says that overlooking Pavin the rest of the year would be a huge mistake.
 
'Yeah, he's 46 years old, but he's got a huge heart,' Lickliter said. 'And the man has got a lot of talent. A lot of talent. I couldn't think of a better competitor to beat.'
 
As for Corey, he is thrilled that his career has been rejuvenated when he is on the back side of 40. And he hopes that the rejuvenation doesnt stop anytime soon.
 
I hope it never ends, he said. I love playing. I don't really want to stop playing. If I have to, obviously I will. You know, I still feel like I've got a lot of game left in me. The Champions Tour is ahead. Still five years away for me. I see myself probably playing there.
 
I don't want to stop playing. I enjoy it. I love playing golf. It's frustrating, just like it is for everybody else. But when I do play well, it's a lot of fun.
 
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