The Other Year In Golf

RSS

First of all, let's just say we are not going to mention 'his' name. Legends, lore and epic tales have and will be written about 'him.' This is not one of them.
 
No, this is for the other men. The overshadowed. The obscure. Those who resurrected careers. Those who established a household name. Those who bettered adversity. And those who, were it not for 'him', would be the primary subjects of golfing greatness.
 
For many, 2000 was a year of redemption. A chance to revive a fledgling career. A chance to taste victory once again. A chance to finally have reporters stop asking you that same damn question - 'When are you going to win again?'
 
This year Tom Lehman (Phoenix Open), Steve Lowery (Southern Farm Bureau), Scott Verplank (Reno-Tahoe Open), Dudley Hart (Honda Classic) and Stewart Cink (MCI Classic) all broke winless droughts that extended at least three years. Verplank won the Thirst Quencher Award by earning his first PGA Tour title since the 1988 Buick Open.
 
Of all the players to re-enter the winner's circle in 2000, none was more apprized than Paul Azinger with his victory at the SONY Open in Hawaii. It had been seven long years since Azinger won the '93 PGA Championship. Seven years without a trophy - but not without victory.
 
In between Tour titles, the 40-year-old husband and father of two successfully conquered cancer - lymphoma, to be exact. Bigger than any trophy or winner's check he'll ever receive. But my, how poignant, how rewarding it was to see Azinger - full head of hair blowing in the Hawaiian breeze - holding his hardware, pride in check, but radiating a sense of accomplishment. Knowing he had defeated more than just 155 other men that second week in January.
 
NEXT QUESTION, PLEASE
While their winless streaks weren't as barren, a handful of other players triumphed again in 2000. And in the case of one man - again and again and again.
 
Phil Mickelson entered this season with 13 career PGA Tour victories, but none since 1998. However, the left-hander broke the dam in 2000, and flooded those heavy expectations, winning four times. Two of those conquests came at the expense of 'him'. Mickelson won the Buick Invitational and the Tour Championship with 'him' in the field, thus avoiding the statement: 'Yes you won, but `he' wasn't playing.'
 
A trio of players were forced to deal with that Catch-22 situation. David Duval, Ernie Els and Justin Leonard all won in 2000. Duval won the Buick Challenge. 'He' wasn't there. Els won the International. 'He' wasn't there. Leonard won the Westin Texas Open. Well, you know.
 
Davis Love III didn't 'officially' win this year, but he did capture one of the year's biggest unofficial events - the Williams World Challenge. Despite coming so close so many times in 2000, and posting eight runner-up finishes since his last PGA Tour win at the 1998 MCI Classic, Love fired a final-round 64 to earn a come-from-behind victory over Sergio Garcia and 'him.' In addition to the $1 million paycheck, Love also collected a much needed confidence boost heading into 2001.
 
FACES IN THE CROWD
From the 'When are you going to win again?' department to just, 'Are you ever going to win?'
 
Kirk Triplett joined the PGA Tour in 1990. 266 starts later he was finally a Tour victor. Triplett won the Nissan Open in February, thus finally giving the public a name to 'the guy in the funny hat.' He finished 11th on the season-ending money list, and qualified for his first Presidents Cup. He even wore a baseball cap instead of his traditional bucket hat that week in Prince William County, Va. Of course, people mistook him for Tom Lehman. Three victories and one tie later, however, Triplett was his own man - and a recognizable one at that.
 
In all, there were eight first-time winners in 2000: Jim Carter (Tucson Open), Robert Allenby (Shell Houston Open and Advil Western Open), Tom Scherrer (Kemper Insurance Open), Dennis Paulson (Buick Classic), Michael Clark II (John Deere Classic), Rory Sabbatini (Air Canada Championship) and Chris DiMarco (SEI Pennsylvania Classic) all joined Triplett in the blissful world of triumphant Tour winners.
 
Not included in those eight is Darren Clarke at the WGC-Andersen Consulting World Match Play. Clark was the only rookie to win on the '00 PGA Tour; as a result, the 31-year-old was awarded Rookie of the Year honors. Clark won the John Deere Classic in a dramatic Monday playoff, defeating none other than Triplett, who was trying to become a multiple winner just months after becoming a maiden winner.
 
ROCKY
Winning wasn't everything in 2000. Bob May proved that. May, a 32-year-old journeyman, achieved near-celebrity status in the mid-August Kentucky sun - by finishing second.
 
May, who by his own count has in excess of 25 professional runner-up finishes worldwide, took 'him' to the limit in the PGA Championship at Valhalla. Including the three-hole playoff, the final 12 holes on Sunday were reminiscent of a classic heavyweight fight.
 
Punch. Counter-punch. May matched the champion shot-for-shot.
 
Eventually, 'he' proved a bit too strong - just a bit. It wasn't Tyson-Douglas, 1990. But it was Creed-Balboa, 1976. Rocky got another shot at the champ. May? We'll have to wait and see.
 
PERSPECTIVE
Courage comes in many forms. Professional and personal. Blaine McCallister knows both sides. Blaine's wife, Claudia, suffers from pseudoxanthoma elasticum, a rare eye disease that causes the deterioration of the central vision. Legally blind, Claudia often follows Blaine around the course, using high-power binoculars to magnify her husband's blurry image.
 
This year, Claudia saw her husband finish second at the COMPAQ Classic of New Orleans and tie for third at the Westin Texas Open. It was just a year ago that McCallister missed a four-foot putt on the final hole of the season's final event that would have secured his 2000 PGA Tour card. Instead, the then-41-year-old was forced to go back to Q-School. He responded by finishing as medalist.
 
McCallister completed the 2000 campaign 49th on the money list. Any notion of a return trip to Q-School vanished in early May in New Orleans.
 
Searching for his first win since 1993, McCallister had the COMPAQ Classic in hand. All he needed was a par at the home hole to garner victory. Rather, he missed a 10-foot putt to force a playoff. On the first extra hole, McCallister was again faced with the four-footer, the same length he missed from to lose his card a year ago. Again he missed.
 
One hole later, McCallister was collecting a runner-up check of $367,200, while Carlos Franco hoisted his second-consecutive COMPAQ trophy.
 
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow. McCallister said he felt like he was 'bleeding all over the place,' down the stretch.
 
Yet, with his wife by his side, McCallister rationalized: 'There are a lot of things worse in this world. You know, it's kind of like what they say, you get knocked down, you got to be able to get up. We've been dealt the hand in front of us and we are just going to, you know, play the cards.'
 
Well-said by a man who never needs to be reminded of life's priorities.
 
MOVING ON
Another athlete gone awry or an honorable young man owning up to his transgressions. There were differing views when the news broke about Notah Begay III's DUI arrest, and his confession to having a prior incident.
 
Regardless, Begay took his medicine. Served his time. And successfully put the past behind him.
 
Begay won back-to-back tournaments at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and Canon Greater Hartford Open in June. He finished the year 20th on the PGA Tour money list with over $1.8 million. He moved from 87th to 33rd in the World Ranking. And he qualified for the Presidents Cup, where he compiled a 3-2 record to help the Americans win back the Cup.
 
DENOUMENT
Each year there are compelling stories which define the season. Some bad, most good. But there always seems to be one that stands out. Sometimes it's a series of actions. Sometimes it's a lone incident. Sometimes it's just a picture perfect moment.
 
The latter was the case in 2000.
 
If ever there was one image that golf fans will never forget, it's that of Jack Nicklaus sitting on the fence of the 18th hole at Pebble Beach, Friday in the U.S. Open. His final U.S. Open. The man. The venue. The sun - setting, reflecting. As perfect an image as there will ever be in sport.
 
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem Talks about Tiger, Rights Fees and the future.