Just another weekend in the Year of O’Meara.
Mark O’Meara made the most money at the Skins Game and he didn’t even have to work overtime.
O’Meara bowed out of the competition when he bogeyed the first playoff hole, leaving Fred Couples, Tom Lehman and Greg Norman to fight for the $270,000 skin still on the board.
It took five more holes for Lehman to collect his cash, while O’Meara sat Buddha-like on the ninth green, looking up only to sign autographs or shake hands.
O’Meara had already guaranteed himself the all-time highest take for the Skins weekend, collecting $430,000 over the two days.
So the event went much as the PGA Tour went this year. O’Meara has been in the clubhouse with the lead since he won the British Open July 19 to follow up his Masters championship in April. Everyone else has been scrambling to pick up the leftovers.
“This year has been a tremendous year for me in golf,” O’Meara said. “To win the Skins Game just kind of caps off everything else that has been happening positive for me.”
O’Meara could sit on that green for the rest of his career now. He doesn’t have to worry. Two majors in one year bring those perks.
Oh, to be in O’Meara’s position. Tiger Woods wins a Masters and it merely whets appetites. O’Meara wins one and it brings a sense of closure. His first major. Then he wins the British Open for dessert.
If he chooses, he could simply return to his regular old efficiency and no one will call him a disappointment.
He was already effective, just not overly hyped.
His career is much like his golf game. He never wows anyone with booming drives. He just lays up and puts himself in great position, then nails the putts.
Norman is the PGA Tour’s leading money-winner with almost $12 million in career earnings. But O’Meara isn’t too far behind at $10 million in his 18 years on the tour.
Most golf followers know that O’Meara is Woods’ neighbor in the Orlando-area gated community of Isleworth. They probably didn’t stop to think that O’Meara must be doing pretty well just to afford to be in Woods’ neighborhood.
Part of that loot has come from staying consistent in an era of exploding PGA purses. He made $465,873 in 1984, which was the second-most on the tour. This year he collected a career-high $1,786,699--and finished seventh.
In many ways, O’Meara’s year in 1998 was just like his previous three. He won two tournaments and finished in the top 10 seven times. Nothing new. He won two events a year in 1995, 1996, 1997 and finished in the top 10 eight, eight and six times.
But when those two victories come at the Masters and the British Open, it’s considered a breakthrough season.
“It’s been a year of playing some good golf at the right times,” O’Meara said. “Coming down the stretch and getting the job done at the right moments and holing the right putts, maybe getting the right break when I’ve needed it. I think that was, basically, the difference.
“I’ve always been a pretty good closer. This year I had the opportunity to make the championships and I was able to get it done.”
So now there are more corporate appearances, more time spent standing around, schmoozing and shaking hands.
It’s not as if O’Meara didn’t keep a busy schedule already.
Check out this account of his travel plans: “I flew from Orlando to Japan to Honolulu, to L.A., to Orlando. Orlando to L.A. to Palm Springs. [Next from] Palm Springs to Orlando. Orlando to New York. New York to Japan, transfer to Melbourne, Australia. Melbourne, Australia to Sydney. Sydney back to L.A. L.A. back to Orlando.
“I rack up the frequent flier miles.”
Golf is a lot like the business world in that making money gets you the opportunity to make more money. Win the prestigious events and you get the perks like this one, the Skins Game.
But spread yourself too thin, chase dollars over too many courses around the world and your game could suffer.
“I’m 41; I don’t think I need to be worried about burning myself out,” O’Meara said. “I’ll hopefully be ready at the beginning of the year.
“Those things come with the banner year I had. There’s no reason I shouldn’t take advantage of that. This is something that I worked for all my life, to take my game to the next level. Winning two major championships, that does open the doors.”
Golf is such a tortuous sport. The high of a birdie can disappear as quickly as the following tee shot splashes into the water. But not even this cruel game can take away O’Meara’s 1998.
“I feel a tremendous sense of pride, a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” O’Meara said. “I think as a player starting out, I always considered myself a very solid, consistent player. That’s what I strive for. But this kind of moves me up in an area where I didn’t know, necessarily, whether I was going to be good enough to take it to this level.”
He got up off the grass Sunday not because he had to, but because he wanted to. He went to go accept the winner’s presentation, talk with the media, then hop into a limo to start the trip back to Orlando.
Plenty of things to do, nothing to prove. Now that’s a schedule.
J.A. Adande can be reached at email@example.com
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How He Rates in ’98
A look at Mark O’Meara’s PGA Tour season:
Cuts Made: 15
Wins: 2 (Masters, British Open)
Top 5: 6
Top 10: 7
Top 25: 11
Money: $1,786,699 (seventh place)
Scoring average: 69.63 (fifth)
Career money: $10,293,473 (fourth)