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1997 NISSAN OPEN / RIVIERA COUNTRY CLUB | JIM MURRAY

At Length, He Found a Calling

March 02, 1997|JIM MURRAY

Golf is not all Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Golf is Ted Tryba too.

Golf is not all Millionaires' Row, golf is not always flying your own plane to the venue and buzzing the course later on your way home with first money.

Golf is pulling into the clubhouse parking lot with an overheating engine, the air conditioning broken down and a grinding noise coming from the motor.

Golf is not all about birdie-birdie-eagle, front-running all the way to the 72nd hole, golf is about just making the cut so you can play next week without requalifying.

Golf is not about the sponsors begging you to enter and offering to send a limo to pick you up, golf is about begging for a sponsor's exemption so you can enter because you are not otherwise qualified.

Golf is not about being three-time U.S. Amateur champion so you can tee it up any time and anywhere you please from the British Open to the Masters to the U.S. Open, golf is about struggling through Q-school, playing 108 hell holes against 1,100 other players for only 40 spots on the tour.

Golf is not about a Vardon grip and a smooth takeaway and follow-through like melted butter, golf is also Jim Furyk arriving at the ball through alternate routes and a loop in his swing like a guy carving steaks in a slaughterhouse.

Golf is not all smooth, Crenshaw-like putts, golf is striking the ball too easy or too hard or hitting it just right but inwardly screaming as it goes, "Oh, no! It breaks the other way!"

Golf is not all elegance and patience, golf is sometimes leaving your feet at impact and groaning immediately, "Oh, no! Not over there!"

Golf is a game where occasionally you catch lightning in a jar or where you get in a zone where every shot leaves the clubhead and goes directly to the pin, every putt is magic and every round one under--but that happens only once every three years, even to the best of them.

Golf is a game where you get money only for what you accomplish, there are no three-year guaranteed million-dollar contracts where you get paid whether you hit . 350--or .220. In golf, you hit .220, so to speak, and you're begging for sponsors' exemptions or going back to Q-school.

Golf is not going down in the mines or chasing armed criminals down dark alleys, but sinking 12-foot putts for a living can do almost as terrible things to the nerves. There are almost as many golfers in psychiatrists' offices as cops.

Golf is not always being able to go to David Leadbetter to see what you're doing wrong, you sometimes have to check it out in the motel-room mirror.

Golf is for the rich and famous, but it's also for the guy who walks on the green and a spectator rustles his program and says "Which one's he?"

Golf is not always staying at the home of a rich friend at a tournament, golf is a Motel 6. A Marriott. Golf has been known to be sleeping in your car.

Golf is not only getting a set of free Callaways from Eli, it's plumbing the remnant barrel for an unrusted set.

Golf is a fickle lady, an unfaithful wife, a double-crossing partner. But we (they) love it all the same. Somerset Maugham would have understood. Golf is Delilah.

The L.A. Open has been won by Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Palmer, Casper, Watson and Miller, but it also has been won by Fred Wampler, T.C. Chen, Pat Fitzsimons, and Ted Schulz.

Golf can be a member of the British peerage, Nick Faldo (MBE) on his way to being Sir Nicholas Faldo.

Golf is also Scott McCarron.

McCarron will never make the House of Lords, but he was within one stroke of the Pride of Britain after the third round at Riviera on Saturday when he threw a little 64 at the course. Only the best round shot in the tournament.

McCarron is almost a reluctant golfer. Like most of us, he gave the game up as a lost cause once. He was a good collegiate player at UCLA but he found the game so perverse that he decided the closest he wanted to be to it was selling golf apparel.

Selling sweaters to a bunch of 20-handicappers is a melancholy way to make a living, particularly for a guy who used to play eventually successful pros such as Duffy Waldorf even.

McCarron was encouraged to get out of retail golf when he attended a senior tournament and found the old gaffers putting with sticks that came up to their chins. They didn't have to bend over.

Made sense to Scott McCarron. He shortly took a three-wood, sawed off the head and made himself a putter he could steady himself on. If it didn't work, he could always make a rake out of it. He shortly was back on the tour, was winning the Freeport McDermott tournament in New Orleans.

So, golf is also Scott McCarron. He may be "Which one's he?" when he walks on a green. Knighthood may be in flower today, which is to say Faldo may make his one-shot lead stand up.

But no matter what happens, the good news is, Scott McCarron is not going back to selling shirts with alligators on them.

Golf is not selling shirts with alligators on them when the putter is long enough. What a game!

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