If you took all the big cardboard winner's checks for the 2003
PGA Tour season and planted them at 10-yard intervals on the
452-yard 1st hole at Torrey Pines Municipal South, they would
stretch all the way to the green and beyond. If you traded those
checks for silver dollars, you could fill all the greenside
bunkers with them. If you converted all the official prize money
for the season--all $236.7 million of it--into a 20-karat gold
chain, you could use it for gallery rope and have enough left
over to pave Greg Norman's driveway. James McLean, the rookie
Tour player from Australia, knows this. He also knows that he
won't win much of that loot if he lets it dazzle him. Ask McLean
how much he needs to earn to keep his Tour card, and he smiles
uneasily. "I haven't even thought about that," he says, adding,
"One of my problems is that I tend to overanalyze things. I tend
to get in the future too much." He is determined, in other
words, not to count any chickens before they're hatched, lest he
end up laying an egg of his own.
It would be easier for McLean to ignore the monetary impact of
his daily rounds if the Tour didn't rank and reward its players
on the basis of their earnings. When he missed the cut at last
week's Buick Invitational in La Jolla, Calif., the former NCAA
champion fell from 122nd to 133rd on the money list. To keep his
card, which he earned by tying for second at the Tour's Q school
in December, McLean needs to finish the season in the top 125. To
accomplish that, he probably needs to win $500,000, averaging
roughly $18,000 an event (assuming he enters 30 tournaments). So
far McLean has won $22,640 in four starts--an average of
$5,660--but that's misleading because Tour players earn their
keep with bursts of brilliance, not consistent plodding.
"These days, you can win one tournament and practically retire,"
McLean said last week, exaggerating slightly. He cites as an
example 2002 rookie Jonathan Byrd, who missed 17 cuts in 32 tries
but wound up as rookie of the year after winning the Buick
Challenge in October. "Jonathan had a stretch during which he
missed five straight cuts, but he stayed positive. It can turn
around in a week."
The debit side of the McLean ledger is more predictable. He
spends about $600 a week on discounted coach airfares for himself
and his sweetheart, Missy Kretchmer. He pays roughly $180 a week
plus taxes for car rentals. His caddie, Justin Hoyle, gets from
$850 to $1,000 a week plus, says McLean, a percentage of his
winnings based on a system of "10, 7 and 5" (10% for a victory,
7% for a top 10, 5% for the rest). Meals don't eat up much of the
budget. Players get free breakfast and lunch at Tour venues, and
James and Missy rarely dish out more than $50 for a restaurant
dinner for two. "Our taste buds haven't changed since last year,"
Hotels are another matter. Last year, when he played on the
Buy.com tour, James and Missy stayed at places costing $60 to $80
a night. This year they are paying from $100 to $150, choosing
from a weekly list of hotels offering Tour-negotiated discounts.
Missy handles all the travel bookings, and it usually goes
smoothly--except for the time, a few weeks ago, when she asked a
reservations operator if she had a room for the week of the
Buick. "Yes," the woman said, "we have a nice oceanfront villa
for $800 a night."
Gulping, Missy said, "This isn't the Clarion, is it?"
"No, this is La Valencia."
"I was so embarrassed, I turned red," Missy says. She wound up
booking a room at the Doubletree in Del Mar.
McLean has been equally cautious about big-ticket items. In
December he almost bought a new Cadillac Escalade but changed his
mind and decided to squeeze some more miles out of his 1994 BMW
325is. Last month, during the week of the Phoenix Open, he and
Missy went condo hunting in Scottsdale, Ariz., where other young
Australian pros such as Aaron Baddeley and Geoff Ogilvy have
settled. But again, it was no sale. "What we like and what we can
afford are two different things," says McLean, who lives in
Minneapolis with Missy and her dentist dad. "Having a mortgage
and a car payment can wait until I'm more established."
Besides, if you rule out McLean's taste for trendy clothes--he
sometimes plays in tight-fitting pinstriped slacks and shirts
with rolled-up sleeves--he is a young man with simple wants and
minimal needs. He developed his somewhat frugal nature growing up
in Wahgunyah, Australia, a tiny wine-country town on the Murray
River, a few hours north of Melbourne. Having learned to play
golf on sand-green courses, he was noticed first by the
Australian Institute of Sport, which gave him a stipend to study
and train in Melbourne, and later by the University of Minnesota,
which lured him to America with a golf scholarship. Says McLean,
"I couldn't have done the things I've done if I hadn't gotten a
free ride everywhere."
Fledgling pros need financial help too. McLean got his two years
ago in the form of roughly $25,000 in loans from Minneapolis
businessman Rick Born, CEO of a information technology consulting
firm. McLean also signed a three-year contract with Titleist that
pays him a variable amount per quarter based on his Tour status
and performance. Last year McLean earned enough on the Buy.com
and Australasian tours to repay Born with interest and bankroll
his second try at Q school, where he won $35,000.
To keep track of these quirky credits and debits, McLean requires
the services of an accountant, a financial planner, an agent and
a traveling secretary (Kretchmer). The Tour provides support too,
supplying him with, among other things, a laptop computer loaded
with spreadsheet programs and software that enable him to conduct
his Tour business without taping notes to lockers. "It has the
tax breakdowns for every state," an enthusiastic Kretchmer said
on the eve of the Buick Invitational after a computer training
session at the Del Mar Hilton. "And the Tourcast program is so
cool. I can be on the computer at the hotel and see exactly where
James is on a hole."
Tour business can be dull, but it's not all spreadsheets on
bedsheets. On Thursday night James and Missy dined at Del Mar's
Epazote restaurant as the guests of John Ashworth, cofounder of
apparel maker Ashworth Inc. and president of Fidra Golf. Waiters
brought plates of duck tamales and sesame-crusted mahimahi. A
mariachi band plucked guitars and hammered on a marimba. "It
wasn't like a business dinner," Missy said the next day. "It was
more like a get-to-know-you thing."
Tournament golf, by way of contrast, is a get-to-know-yourself
thing. McLean was all business when the Buick Invitational got
under way; it was just his bad luck to be in the one business
where it pays to be in the red. He three-putted five times in two
rounds and finished at four-over-par 149, missing the cut by six
Frustrated but still optimistic, McLean packed for the drive to
Los Angeles, where $4.5 million is up for grabs at this week's
Nissan Open. Before he left, he was asked if playing for so much
money added to the pressure he felt as a Tour rookie. "I think it
relieves the pressure," he said. "You can finish 20th and get a
check that the average American would envy." He laughed. "Look at
it this way. At the Phoenix Open I made more money in one week
[$22,640] than Joe Millionaire made in a whole year."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH BIG PROBLEM McLean averaged 292 yards off the tee at Torrey, but he fizzled out on the greens.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK TECHED UP Missy and James took advantage of the free computer equipment and training provided by the Tour.
Rookie on Tour Part 2
JAMES MCLEAN is a first-year pro on the PGA Tour. SI will check
in with him periodically during the 2003 season.
TOURNAMENT SCORES FINISH MONEY
SONY 72-75 Cut --
PHOENIX 65-72-68-68 32nd $22,640
HOPE 75-68-69-70 Cut --
BUICK 76-73 Cut --
WORLD RANK: 272nd 2003 MONEY LIST: 133rd
Go to SI.com to read the first installment of Rookie on Tour