Never mind what you've heard. Mark O'Meara is not cheap. Sure,
he doesn't see the need for the amenities that make a $90 hotel
room cost $250, and he would rather have a quiet breakfast on
his own at McDonald's than go to the hotel dining room and
sample the $12 omelettes. But that doesn't mean O'Meara's a
penny-pincher. He just has better ways to spend his Tour
earnings. And last week at the Kemper Open those earnings passed
the $7 million mark.
By finishing tied for second behind first-time winner Steve
Stricker at the TPC at Avenel in Potomac, Md., O'Meara, 39,
increased his winnings to $967,468, assuring himself of the best
season of his 16-year career. O'Meara already has won twice in
1996 and has placed second, first and second in his last three
starts, which were sandwiched around a two-week bout with the
measles. That $500,000 run moved him to eighth on the alltime
money list. But as O'Meara knows all too well, greatness isn't
measured in money. He's the only player in the top 12 alltime
who has never won a major.
O'Meara is aware of this hole in his resume, and it's a subject
that can make him a bit prickly. "If I don't win a professional
major in my career, it'll be a real disappointment," he says,
"but I'll be damned if I'll let that take away from the
unbelievable accomplishments I've had. I wouldn't trade what
I've done for a professional major or two. Forget it, it's not
Rarely does he leave the word major unadorned. He invariably
says professional major whether or not he goes on to explain
that he counts his 1979 U.S. Amateur title as a major. After
all, O'Meara reasons, when Bobby Jones won his Amateurs they
were majors, and when Jack Nicklaus won his, Jones was still
alive, and Nicklaus has always counted his two Amateurs among
his majors. So there.
In the absence of a professional major, O'Meara has contented
himself with things money can buy. While a Ramada might be good
enough on the road, O'Meara's home is the ultimate Hyatt. The
multimillion-dollar, 9,000-square-foot house is more than ample
for Mark, his wife Alicia, and their two children, Michelle, 9,
and Shaun, 6. Nestled between the practice tee at Isleworth Golf
and Country Club and one of the Butler chain of lakes in
Orlando, it bristles with toys. Inside are 21 televisions, eight
refrigerators, 16 telephones, six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, one
workout room, a large dining room (never used), a home theater
and an elevator. Lakeside are two boats and a couple of
waverunners. Beneath the house is a 10-car garage currently at
half-capacity. The three Toyotas are part of a sponsorship deal.
O'Meara got one of his two Mercedes for winning the
season-opening Mercedes Championships. The car that came with
his Honda Classic win last year went to the in-laws, and the
Chrysler for last month's victory in Greensboro went to his
O'Meara has never made the mistake of thinking money is
happiness, but he has also never lost his awareness of it. With
O'Meara, almost every topic of conversation touches on money.
When he speaks of how pleased he is to be able to give away
automobiles, he adds that the only downside is that the cars are
still considered income and he has to pay taxes on them. He
nearly lost his card his second year on Tour, but he
characterizes the season this way: "I really struggled. I had to
send in the entry fee in case I had to go back to Q school."
A veteran of three Ryder Cups, O'Meara is not sure he wants to
be part of a fourth. "It's tremendous for spectators and
wonderful for golf, but it's gotten to a point where it's a
battle," he says. "There's almost hatred there. It's always,
'We've got to beat them. We've got to kill them.' There's too
much pressure. It takes all the fun out of it. We get paid to
play, and if I'm not getting paid, then I ought to at least have
Yet it is not money that motivates O'Meara. Although he has won
the Amateur, 12 Tour events and tournaments on four other
continents, he has never been considered a champion. And this
pains him. He points out that he is 13th in the Sony Ranking and
that no one has won more Tour events in the last two years.
His friend Payne Stewart says that O'Meara is vastly underrated.
In the endless debate over who is the best player without a
major, "Mark's never even mentioned," Stewart says. "They're
always putting forward all these kids, like Phil Mickelson, who
is 25 and has plenty of time to win all the majors he probably
Though he has won twice this year and stands second on the money
list behind Mickelson, O'Meara will not go to Oakland Hills as
one of the favorites in the U.S. Open. His recent record in the
championship is awful. After tying for third at Brookline in
1988, his best finish, he hasn't made a single cut and last year
failed to qualify.
O'Meara says he has put too much pressure on himself to play
well in the big events, and that has interfered with his
performances, particularly at the 1992 Open at Pebble Beach, the
only time, because of his four wins in the AT&T Pebble Beach
National Pro-Am, that he was a prechampionship favorite. "I
played pitifully there," he says, "but still had to bogey the
last two holes to miss the cut by one."
While O'Meara may never gain fame for his play in the
professional majors, he's acknowledged as a champion schmoozer.
Five of his 12 wins have come in tournaments with pro-am
formats. Ambitious yet pleasant and possessing a glib tongue,
O'Meara was described by one of his peers on Tour as "Dan
Forsman with an edge." O'Meara is gregarious in pro-ams, outings
and corporate meet-and-greets, and makes no bones about the fact
that one of the best things about being a Tour pro is the
opportunity to befriend other successful people, in sports and
business. For instance, AT&T chairman Bob Allen commiserates
whenever O'Meara plays poorly, and O'Meara was a sympathetic ear
earlier this year when Allen came under public attack after
announcing a series of 40,000 layoffs. Two weeks ago Ken Griffey
Jr. and Seattle Mariners teammates Jay Buhner and Chris Bosio
flew to Orlando to spend the day golfing, fishing and watching
hockey with O'Meara.
In the early '90s O'Meara wearied of travel and found it harder
and harder to find the fun in competition. The result was a
slump in 1994--a struggle that he thoroughly enjoyed. "It sounds
crazy, but I loved the fact that I was in trouble, that I had no
confidence," he says. "It's not fun missing cuts and shooting
bad scores, but I loved the challenge in turning my game around."
At no point did he think he had earned enough, or accomplished
enough, to quit. "There's so much more I want to do," he says.
"I'm nowhere near done. When I'm at home I'm watching golf,
watching people go by me, and I want to be out there. I want to
be the one going by everyone else. I've been playing really well
this year, and my goal is to keep going and do everything I
possibly can in this game."
Maybe even win a professional major.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MAURICE HARMON With the $99,000 he won at the Kemper, O'Meara topped the $7 million mark on the career money list. [Mark O'Meara walking across footbridge]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MAURICE HARMON Mired in a slump for most of 1994, O'Meara has rebounded with two straight $900,000-plus seasons. [Mark O'Meara]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERTO BOREA/AP PHOTO First-time winner Stricker got the seal of approval from wife-caddie Nicki. [Nicki Stricker and Steve Stricker kissing]