Tour victories are like women, if H.L. Mencken was right about
the latter. "A man always remembers his first love with special
tenderness," Mencken said, "but after that he begins to bunch
That helps explain Louisianan David Toms's feelings after his
storybook win at last week's Compaq Classic at New Orleans's
English Turn Golf and Country Club. Toms, born in Monroe, a
resident of Shreveport and a star golfer at LSU, dazzled family
and friends by shooting a 30 on the final nine to make up a
six-shot deficit on the second-best player in the world, Phil
Mickelson. Toms's round included an unlikely chip-in for eagle
and, with Mickelson watching from the fairway, a double-breaking
25-footer for birdie on the 18th green to end the suspense. The
instant Toms's ball tumbled into the hole, giving the 34-year-old
the fifth victory of his nine-year Tour career, the partisan
crowd roared and then chanted the cheer of the day: "L-S-U!
L-S-U!" Life is never this good, not even on Sesame Street, yet
when he was asked how he would rank this victory, Toms said,
"It's right up there, maybe running even with my first win."
See? That's how special the first one is. Not that Steve Flesch,
Harrison Frazar, Jerry Kelly, Franklin Langham or Kevin
Sutherland would know. They're all candidates for best player on
Tour without a victory (even though certainly it's only a matter
of time before all of them win). We've left out the players who
have won on foreign tours but not in the U.S., men such as Sergio
Garcia, Colin Montgomerie and Craig Parry. Besides, picking on
Monty would draw a 15-yard penalty for piling on.
Identifying the best players who haven't won is one way to detect
up-and-comers who are on the verge of winning. Unfortunately, the
exercise puts the spotlight on those who have an embarrassing
hole in their resumes. "It's an awful label," says Frazar, a
round-faced Texan who ranks among the Tour's longest hitters.
"I'd rather be the worst player who has won than the best player
Nobody wants to be on the list. Flesch, a lefthander from Union,
Ky., might be No. 1 on it if his peers did the voting, because he
has a fluid, aggressive swing, a deft putting stroke and the
ability to shoot low numbers. He also has a nickname, courtesy of
the caddies: Fury, for his occasional displays of temper. Flesch
had 13 top 10 finishes last year, second only to Tiger Woods.
Paired with Woods for the final round of the 2000 Disney, he got
his man, matching Woods's 69. The only problem was that Duffy
Waldorf shot a 62 and got them both, along with the W.
"I saw a thing on the Golf Channel where they listed me among the
best players who haven't won," says Flesch, who turns 34 on May
23. "That doesn't help. I thought, Oh s---, now everybody thinks
I should win. It's a compliment, but I know what the other guys
are saying. You don't want to get a reputation as a guy who can't
win. Right now I'd rather win one and miss every other damn cut."
Part of Flesch's wish came true at English Turn. He missed the
cut, his fortunes souring on the 13th hole last Friday when he
hit a drive that nose-dived into the deep grass less than 30
yards off the tee and led to a triple-bogey 7.
Last year Frazar, 29, left New Orleans a haunted man. That first
win was within his grasp in the final round when he came to the
par-3 17th hole with a one-shot lead, but he pulled his six-iron
tee shot and watched it take a hard bounce left into pampas
grass. He made a double bogey and dropped to third. "I've thought
about that shot for a year," Frazar says.
During a practice round last week Frazar got a little nervous as
he approached the dread 17th. On the 16th green his caddie, Bob
Riefke, tried to lighten the mood by asking if Frazar wanted to
skip 17, since the 18th fairway was only a few feet away and they
could easily cut over, drop a ball and avoid any bad memories.
Says Frazar, "He said, 'Are you going to be able to walk down 17
without getting sick?' I said, 'I'm a big boy. I can make it.' It
wasn't so much that shot; it was not winning the tournament. That
was very disappointing. To admit I screwed up something I'd
worked so hard for was too much to handle at the time. I didn't
miss the shot because of a gust of wind, somebody yelling during
my backswing or a bad kick. I messed up. Once I could admit that,
I was able to move on. But that took four or five months."
Frazar analyzed and reanalyzed the fateful shot. He was trying to
put his ball 25 feet right of the pin but believes he succumbed
to a player's instinct to shoot at the flag, which caused him to
pull the shot. "If I would have stuck to my game plan," he says,
"I would've been all right."
That night, on the charter that took many of the players to the
next Tour stop, the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas, Mickelson sat
next to Frazar. "Phil complimented me and then dropped it, and
the conversation continued normally," Frazar says. "That made me
understand that what I had done wasn't unique. He made me feel
like one of the guys, a normal person."
Frazar grew up in Dallas playing junior golf with Justin Leonard,
and they both went to Texas. After graduating in '94, Leonard
went on to almost instant stardom on Tour, but Frazar, who
finished school a year later, burned out on golf and unsure of
his ability, took a job in real estate. Six months later he took
the advice of a friend, '96 PGA champ Mark Brooks, and jumped
back into the game. Frazar had two close calls in a row as a
rookie in '98, at the Nelson and at the Colonial. He held the
lead after 36 holes in both tournaments before finishing second
and fourth, respectively.
"That was kind of my coming out," says Frazar, whose short game
has improved over the last two years. "But getting into that
position so early in my career and not coming through tainted me
a little bit. If I had come through in one of those tournaments,
I might've been off to the races."
Not long after his Battle of New Orleans last year, Frazar
trailed Woods by a shot after 36 holes at the Memorial and was
paired with Tiger for the third round. Frazar, though, got caught
up in watching Woods, who went on to win, and shot a 78,
prompting the obvious headline in The Columbus Dispatch: DOWN
GOES FRAZAR! "Everybody uses that," says Frazar. "They use that
when I choke and they use it when I go low. After New Orleans
last year, people patted me on the back and said, 'You'll get 'em
next time.' Then I went to the Memorial and shot a 43 for nine.
That was hard to swallow."
What stood between Frazar and a breakthrough win last week at
English Turn was Toms, who shot 63-64 on the weekend, and
Frazar's putting, which was erratic. Mickelson tried to gift
wrap a win for Frazar by playing the first five holes on Sunday
in four over par. Mickelson sprayed drives into the water on a
pair of par-5s and triple-bogeyed the par-4 5th hole after
snap-hooking his tee shot. That put Frazar into the lead, but he
was passed when he bogeyed the 8th hole from the back bunker and
made only one birdie on the back nine while Toms was firing his
Frazar was two behind when he reached the 17th tee, where he hit
a five-iron to the middle of the green, 20 feet below the
pin--exactly where he had tried to play his shot last year. The
consolation was negligible, however, when he missed the must-make
birdie putt and then bogeyed the 18th. "I'm disappointed but not
as disappointed as last year," Frazar said. "I feel as if I got a
little bit of the monkey off my back by playing strong here, but
I won't feel real redemption until I win."
The next two weeks are home games for Frazar. He'll commute from
his house in Dallas to the Nelson, in Irving, Texas, and to the
Colonial, in Fort Worth. He's familiar with both courses and
usually plays them well. It could be his time to shed the hated
label. "It's flattering to have people think you're talented
enough to win," Frazar says, "although that adds a lot of
pressure. I don't feel as if the clock is running. At the same
time, I should've won by now."
Frazar missed a golden opportunity on Sunday, but, accompanied by
his wife, Allison, he still stopped to sign autographs for fans
gathered along the walkway from the 18th hole to the clubhouse.
He held their 17-month-old son, Harrison, on his shoulder when
they finally broke away toward the locker room. The baby, whose
cheeks were red after a day of sun, looked back at the
spectators, with whom he had been comically exchanging high
fives. "Bye-bye," the boy said.
So long, kid. Bet we'll be seeing you and your dad again soon,
and this time with a trophy.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND LOUISIANA LIGHTNING Toms struck fast, jumping from 25th to first with rounds of 63 and 64 on the weekend.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND BEST PITCH It took Frazar, who was fourth last week, months to get over the shot that cost him a title in the 2000 Compaq Classic.
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND RUSH STUFF Mickelson was in control until the 5th hole, where his triple-bogey 7 from the pampas grass brought him back to the field.
You don't need to win to get rich on today's PGA Tour. Of the
exempt players (pros who finished in the top 125 on the 2000
money list), here are the leaders in career earnings (in
millions) among those who have never won a Tour event.
STARTS CAREER $
Craig Parry 205 $4.10
Steve Flesch 110 $3.80
Frank Lickliter 166 $3.58
Skip Kendall 222 $3.51
Greg Kraft 275 $3.30
Kevin Sutherland 161 $3.19
Jerry Kelly 181 $3.16
Franklin Langham 134 $2.77
David Peoples 426 $2.61
"You don't want to get a reputation as a guy who can't win," says
Flesch. "Right now I'd rather win one and miss every other damn