Golf is all about numbers. On the PGA Tour, however, one number
towers, King Kong-like, above the rest. Fifty-nine? Sorry, Mr.
Geiberger. The one true faith on Tour these days is 125. That
number is the Mendoza Line, the point of no return, the 38th
parallel and final Jeopardy all rolled into one. If you finish
125th or better on the Tour's annual money list, you're exempt
for another year, which makes you one of the beautiful people.
Pass the courtesy-car keys, please. The buffet is on your left,
sir, and pardon us while we throw money at you.
If you're 126 or worse, you might already be a journeyman. "It's
cold, but if you're not 125, you're out," says 15-year Tour
veteran Blaine McCallister, who birdied the final hole at last
week's Las Vegas Invitational, the next-to-last full-field event
of the year, to win $11,575 and, temporarily, inch inside the
golden gates at 123rd on the money list. For players in
McCallister's position, a slipup this week at the Walt Disney
World Classic, in Orlando, means, See you at Q school and next
year in towns like Madison, Miss., site of the Deposit Guaranty
"Most of the time you play in the summer when it's hot,
conditions are crappy and nobody wants to play," says Mike
Springer, who was Mr. Bubble, the man holding down the 125th
spot, in Las Vegas. "I don't think Madison, Mississippi, is
anybody's favorite spot in July."
Neither is No. 125, except after the Disney. In Vegas, while Jim
Furyk scrambled for par on the 90th hole to withstand Mark
Calcavecchia's late charge, and nail down his first victory in 2
1/2 years, the real drama at the TPC at Summerlin was the race
for exempt status for '99.
Some players cashed in. Tom Byrum, who started the week 126th,
vaulted 15 spots by finishing 12th. Kevin Wentworth, the 1991
NCAA champ who through June had won only $8,570, tied for 10th
despite a nervous bogey on the closing hole. His $52,000 payday
carried him to the safety of 116th on the money list. He's in.
Springer probably got in, too. He had made 18 cuts before Vegas
but hadn't had a top 10 finish and was running out of patience.
"I've been in this situation before, so f--- it," he said. "I've
had my nuts in a vise for three years, so I'm used to it. Just
play and add 'em up."
The sum was 68 at Las Vegas Country Club in the second round,
which he concluded by flinging his putter off the 18th green
after reaching the par-5 hole in two shots and three-jacking.
Afterward, as he rubbed the putter's grip with sandpaper,
Springer Yogi Berra-ized, "All you can do is all you can do, and
that's all you can do."
Springer was a rising star in 1994 when he won in Greensboro and
Milwaukee, but in 1995 he split with his longtime coach, Ralph
Lomelli Jr., and Springer's swing slipped away. He fell off the
charts the next two years, then began working with Craig
Chapman, a teaching pro in Palm Springs. "My swing had broken,"
says Springer. "I found Craig to help me. I spent a lot of money
and, basically, bought a golf education. It's been a slow
process, but now I'm swinging as well as I have in my life."
Springer, though, is frustrated because he feels his scores
haven't reflected his improved play. He was solid last week, his
33rd start this year, making his fifth consecutive cut. He
finished 68-70 at user-friendly Summerlin. In the Saturday
round, he holed a key bogey-saving putt at the closing hole, and
on Sunday he stiffed a seven-iron shot on 18 for a birdie that
got him to 12 under, 13 strokes behind Furyk, and into 22nd
place. The $19,200 he won left him 122nd on the money list with
$230,795 and confident about his chances for making the elite
125. "All I know is that that was a big birdie on the last
hole," he said, grinning.
Brett Quigley was 124th on the money list before Las Vegas, and
last week his lie looked unplayable. The three players
immediately behind him made the cut while he was surrounded by
fresh dirt, mulch and a wheelbarrow. Quigley was doing yard work
at his home in Barrington, R.I. He had been unable to get into
the Las Vegas or Disney tournaments, both invitationals, and
felt as if he were stuck in the slow lane. "I was 128th last
year, so it's deja vu all over again," Quigley said. "I've had a
couple chances down the stretch to [secure a spot in the top
125] but haven't done it."
Last week Quigley split time between chores and working on his
game at Rhode Island Country Club, anything to take his mind off
making the top 125, if that's possible. "I haven't seen any
scores this week," he reported on Friday afternoon. "I didn't
want to know what anybody was doing. So a buddy calls me this
morning and says, 'Holy cow, David Ogrin is tied for the lead!
He's going to pass you this week.' I said, 'You called me at
7:30 to tell me that? Thanks a lot.' It's a slow death."
Quigley believes his dilemma is rooted in the success he had
last February, when he won $74,400 by tying for fourth in
Hawaii. A few more good finishes, he figured, and.... Oops. "I
was thinking about results, not the process," he says. "When I
do that, I have no chance." The 29-year-old Quigley got back on
track in September, making four straight cuts. He was in
contention going into the weekend at the Texas Open and the
Buick Challenge, but slipped to 73rd and 39th, respectively.
"The 125 is all you're thinking about," he says. "You make a
bogey on the weekend and you wonder, How much is that going to
Quigley was taught that lesson in the final round at Las Vegas
in '97, when the tournament was the last full-field event of the
year. He birdied four holes in a row on the back nine but
three-putted the par-3 17th and came in 23rd. Later he learned
that if he had parred the 17th and cut just one other stroke off
his total, he would have won enough to knock Neal Lancaster out
of the 125th position. "As painful as that was," says Quigley,
who had drifted to 128th in earnings after last week's
tournament, "I'd love to have that opportunity again."
On Friday evening Quigley's luck turned: He found out that he's
going to Disney World after all, on a sponsor's exemption. He's
$6,133 behind the new Mr. Bubble, Dave Stockton Jr. "I'm as
excited as I've been all year," Quigley says. "At least I have a
chance. That's all I can ask."
Ogrin missed a golden opportunity in Las Vegas. A 16-year
veteran, Ogrin was 132nd on the money list at the start of the
week. When he tied for the lead after two rounds, it looked as
if he was about to go deep, the way he had several times while
passing the half-million mark in winnings the past two years.
Instead, a disastrous fourth-round 76 sentenced him to 36th
place, for which he won $8,611 to crawl to 131st on the money
list. "A lot of guys would kill to make 21 cuts like I have this
year," said a frustrated Ogrin, "but you don't zoom past anybody
when you finish 35th every week."
The difference between Ogrin's banner years and '98 is a
never-on-Sunday problem. He ranked 155th in final-round scoring
average coming into Vegas, where he closed with a weak 71. His
play on the par-5 16th was emblematic. He inexplicably dumped a
65-yard sand wedge shot into the pond fronting the green, then
threw down another ball and stuck it two feet from the pin.
"That's the way I've played all year," Ogrin said. "I feel like
I've been running in glue."
Ogrin had planned to play the Disney regardless of where he
stood on the money list--orders from his four children. Now he
has to play, and play well, to reach the coveted 125. But he's
going in with a plan. "Choking is worrying about results," Ogrin
says. "I'm going to ride Space Mountain about a hundred times
and make myself sick. It's going to be a family week."
The Magic Kingdom would be more enjoyable if Ogrin had already
reached the magic number. "If I had ripped off a couple
60-somethings, I could have knocked this thing out," he says,
shaking his head. "What can you say? I crapped out in Las Vegas."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL Don't blow it, Dad! Springer had the support of his son, Cody, and daughter, Haylee, in Vegas, where he went from Mr. Bubble to out of trouble. [Cody Springer, Mike Springer, and Haylee Springer blowing bubbles]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB BREIDENBACH Digging deep Quigley kept himself planted at home and purposely in the dark as Furyk hung on for a one-shot win. [Brett Quigley gardening]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL [See caption above--Jim Furyk playing golf]