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Par Saver, Life Saver : Golf Has Helped Mike McCune Get Straight at the Age of 30

July 11, 1993|STEVE ELLING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mike McCune crawled out of a hotel bed in Monterey on the biggest day of his athletic career and looked at his Mission College golf bag with its scribbled inscription, "Peak in May."

He rubbed his sleepy eyes.

Make that peek in dismay.

Overnight, the clubs had changed, oxidized, practically metamorphosed.

What little chrome that remained on his well-worn clubheads and shafts had dulled considerably.

"The set was so old that the clubs rusted in the salt air," McCune said.

Rusty, like their owner. Tattered and worn around the edges, like their owner.

"I had to wipe 'em down before I played," he said.

Otherwise, the clubs were serviceable, like their owner, who wiped out the field with those same battered weapons.

In May, McCune, 30, won the state junior college individual championship in Monterey. Only two years earlier, he had pulled out the clubs for the first time in eight years.

Not long before that, he had picked himself up, dusted himself off and started everything anew.

Revival time.

*

Better to burn out than fade away?

From 1981 to 1991, there were plenty of highs for McCune, which meant there were as many lows. It was a decade of decadence.

"He went all the way to the edge, and just before he fell over, he turned it around," said Terry Bommer, McCune's coach at Mission.

McCune's driver's license photo is more than a snapshot, it's a time capsule. In the photo, McCune is sporting rock 'n' roll hair, enough to make Jon Bon Jovi envious. He is wearing an earring made from a rattlesnake's tail. Sometimes, he wore as many as three earrings in his left earlobe and still has scars to prove it.

McCune was into the Native American look. He wore feathers and tomahawk earrings, and received gifts of an Indian theme for Christmas.

"He decided that if he was a rocker, he had to have a cause," said his brother, Gavin.

Smoking dope was McCune's primary pastime, and then some.

"That was no hobby, that was a career," Gavin said.

Despite the wild lifestyle, McCune is well-preserved. He doesn't look 30, and nobody in the state tournament inquired about his age, though all were several years his junior.

"My drug abuse put me in what I call a decade of stasis," he said, laughing. "I was metabolically preserved."

Maybe so, but McCune lived recklessly. He hung out at the hard-rock Hollywood nightclubs like the Whiskey and Roxy. He played bass in a band that had no name and commensurate direction.

"We were a bunch of posers," he said. "We didn't go anywhere, we didn't have a name. We were just a bunch of guys who smoked pot."

He fired up for the first time on July 4, 1981, a day known for combustion. When McCune talks of "wasted" time, the term can definitely be interpreted two ways.

One night, he and a friend, both wired on cocaine, climbed to the top of a transmitter tower near Malibu. The pair first had to climb a barbed-wire fence before scaling the 200-foot-tall structure. Crazy, he said.

"We could see all three valleys from there," McCune said.

The view in the mirror, though, remained grim. He worked at a variety of low-paying jobs, and his self-esteem matched his hourly wage. He installed air conditioners, worked in a warehouse and was a gas-station attendant.

Dead ends, every one. Deader than some of McCune's synapses. Some guys are a little slow on the uptake, however.

One day two years ago, while sitting at home stewing in his own juices, McCune underwent a spiritual change and became a Christian.

God and golf usually aren't mentioned in the same sentence, unless there are a few expletives sprinkled in between. For McCune, the world's most-frustrating game was the perfect complement to his newfound religious beliefs.

"Golf is part of my recovery, part of my direction, part of my regimen," he said.

His religious awakening happened almost by accident, in April of 1991. McCune had quit another job and was attempting to get his life in order. He was broke, felt miserable, and started reading the Bible.

"After about two or three days of smoking heavily and drinking tequila, I took a look at myself," he said. "I began to think, 'What would happen if the world ended?'

"I didn't want to be remembered for lying on a couch in a drugged-out, vaporized state."

Desperately needing something to occupy his mind, McCune took a walk through the garage of the home he shared with a drug-dealing friend. McCune spotted his golf bag in the cobwebs.

"I went looking for something to do and I found my clubs," McCune said. "I said, 'Thank you, Lord.' That's the answer.

"The only things I never sold were my golf clubs. I sold tools, I sold other stuff, but for some reason, I never sold my sticks."

The sport stuck with him. McCune killed time by hitting punch shots into a pillow in his bedroom.

"I didn't have any money and I didn't have a job, so I needed something to pass the time," he said.

McCune was determined to turn his life around and golf was therapeutic. He got his Ted Nugent hairdo trimmed. He went out to Wilson Golf Course in Griffith Park with Gavin and shot 73.

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