Almost from the first time he wrapped his small hands around a golf club, the ball always flew true for Ron Commans. The chip shots always rolled enticingly close to the pin. The putts always fell. From his days at Agoura High through his fine career at USC, which included finishing in the top 20 at the 1981 Los Angeles Open, Commans seemed headed for the top. The Masters. The U.S. Open. The titles and the bucks.
It all seems so long ago.
Commans finished 206th on the Professional Golf Assn. money list in 1985, earning $6,000. Greg Norman probably spent more than $6,000 on socks. Jack Nicklaus could accidentally drop $6,000 into the cuffs of his pants and not miss it.
Later this month, Commans will tee it up in the Scottish Open on the European golf tour. Immediately after hitting his first tee shot, he will feel a heavy burden on his shoulders. He will feel as though he is lugging a 20-pound weight around with him. The reason for this is that he will be lugging a 20-pound weight around with him. Commans, who turned pro five years ago, will be carrying his own golf clubs to save money.
"Sure I'm disappointed with the way things have gone," Commans said earlier this week after a practice round at North Ranch Country Club in Westlake. "When I got out of USC I figured I could just go out and handle the PGA Tour. This week most of the best golfers are in Toledo for the PGA Championship, and I always figured I'd be there with them. I used to see myself winning the PGA Championship."
Not this year. While Norman and Nicklaus and the rest of the big guns of the golfing world are chasing down birdies and eagles, Commans will be in Oregon with USC golf Coach Randy Lien, chasing down fish.
"I love fishing. It's a great way to relax, a way to get away from golf for awhile," he said.
For all but the fanatical followers of the sport, it seems that Commans has already been away from golf for quite a while. Those who have tried to follow his career this year have been reduced mostly to searching the agate pages of newspapers for the results from such golfing hotspots as India, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and that real golf mecca, Thailand. The results of those tournaments are generally sandwiched in the small type between skeet shooting tournaments and calf roping.
Commans has played in 19 tournaments in 1986, 10 of them on the European tour and nine on the Asian tour. The highlight of the year thus far has been a strong early showing in the prestigious British Open last month in Turnberry, Scotland. There, on a course raked by rain, bone-chilling cold and winds gusting to 40 m.p.h., Commans shot an opening round of 72 and was just two strokes out of the lead. But he came back the next day--in much easier playing conditions--and ballooned to a 77. He finished the tournament tied for 13th place, 16 shots behind winner Norman. His paycheck of $4,753 was the largest of his career.
Commans readily lists co-lowlights for this season.
One was at the Monte Carlo Open in Mont Agel, France, during the first week of July. In that $245,000 event, Commans led after each of the first three rounds with scores of 66, 63 and 67. He played well on the first nine holes of the final round, and visions of the $45,000 winner's check danced in his head.
But Commans was six over par on the final nine holes, finished with a 74 and plummeted into a tie for 11th place as Seve Ballesteros sprinted to the win. Among the interesting diversions Commans was forced to endure during his tumble was watching his golf ball land in a shrub on the 14th hole and stay in the shrub, a few feet off the ground. Having failed to bring either a tennis racquet or a baseball bat, he had to return to the tee, where he was hitting his third shot after the penalty. On the 17th hole he hit his drive into the rough. For all Commans knows, that ball is still in the rough. Another two-stroke penalty.
"With nine holes left I looked up at the scoreboard. It was the first time all day I had looked at it," Commans said.
"Greg Norman shot six under on the front nine," Commans recalled. "Right then I started thinking about everything but golf. I started thinking about how much was at stake, how much I had to win and how much I had to lose. All I could think of was $45,000 and the things I could do with it. Instead of $45,000, Commans picked up $4,200.
The other co-lowlight of 1986 came in a tournament in April in Calcutta. But there it was not his golf game, but his introduction to the appalling conditions on the streets of the Indian city that left a scar on Commans.