May Finally Having His Day on Tour
Though casual golf fans might have thought otherwise, former Southland phenom Bob May did not fall off the end of the earth after 1985, when he became the youngest player ever to qualify for the Los Angeles Open as a 16-year-old sophomore at Hacienda Heights Los Altos High.
He did, however, see the world.
May’s travels through Europe, Africa, Asia and along the back roads of America led Sunday to Memphis, Tenn., where he tied for second in the FedEx St. Jude Classic and won $240,000, easily the biggest payday of a checkered nine-year professional career that is finally on the upswing.
Now 31 and living in Las Vegas, May enjoyed his best season as a pro in 1999, winning the British Masters in September for his only pro victory, finishing in the top 10 nine other times on the European Tour and winding up 11th on the Order of Merit money list, the highest U.S.-born player on the list last year.
In October, he tied for 13th in the Las Vegas Invitational, his best finish on the PGA Tour before Sunday. Then, in November, he qualified for the PGA Tour for the first time since 1994, playing six rounds at Doral in Miami at 14 under par.
May started slowly this year, missing the cut in four of his first eight events, among them the Nissan Open at Riviera, but he has come on strong in the last two months, having made the cut in his last six tournaments.
He tied for 23rd in the U.S. Open two weeks ago and led after three rounds at Memphis before bogeying the 12th and 13th holes Sunday and opening the door for Notah Begay, who posted a one-stroke victory over May and Chris DiMarco.
“I’ve been playing pretty well all year,” May said this week from Cromwell, Conn., where he shot an even-par 70 in the opening round of the Canon Greater Hartford Open. “It just seems like everything is kind of coming together right now. . . . I’ve been hitting the ball, really, pretty good all year, but I wasn’t getting much out of my game. Now I’m starting to get something out of it.”
May’s second-place showing in Memphis was perhaps the least disheartening of his 23 runner-up finishes around the world, and not only because he nearly doubled his all-time PGA Tour earnings to $521,531.
“It was disappointing not to win, but I wasn’t really disappointed because I didn’t hit any real, real bad shots,” he said. “The 12th hole, I hit five good shots and just happened to make bogey. . . . Then I bogeyed the next hole. . . . Other than those two holes, I played pretty well. The only hole I didn’t have a birdie chance on was 17, where I made a good par putt.”
His run to contention in a PGA Tour event had been such a long time coming that May, who grew up in La Habra, wasn’t about to quibble about falling short.
A winner of virtual every junior tournament in the Southland before he graduated from Los Altos and became an All-American at Oklahoma State, May failed to earn his PGA Tour card after turning pro in 1991 and played in Asia and on the Ben Hogan and Nike tours for most of the next two years.
With financial backing from actor Joe Pesci and radio personality Rick Dees, he earned a tour card for 1994 but suffered a back injury and was unsuccessful.
May returned to Asia in 1995, then began a four-year run on the European Tour in 1996.
Before this year, he had played in 39 PGA Tour events, missing the cut in all but 11.
“When I had the injuries and I kept on trying to play out here, I think I just beat my confidence into the ground,” he said. “You can’t play out here without any confidence. It’s hard enough as is, and without any confidence, you’re done. . . . You’re playing against the best players in the world.”
May has steadily rebuilt his self-esteem since January 1999, when he persevered in a tournament in South Africa after his clubs didn’t arrive until the morning of the opening round. He shot in the high 70s or low 80s that day, he can’t remember which, but was seven under the next. Though he finished well back in the pack that weekend, he rebounded with three consecutive top-five finishes.
“It just rolled on from there the rest of the year,” said May, who went on to win about $612,000 on the European Tour last year. “I just kept on playing well.”
The season’s highlight, of course, was his victory in the British Masters, where May overtook third-round leader Colin Montgomerie with a final-round 67 to win by a stroke over Europe’s No. 1 player.
“To beat him head to head over there like that, it gave me a lot of confidence,” May said.
Having won $400,322 through June, he is well on his way to his most lucrative season.
And after last weekend, May believes it’s only a matter of time before he wins on the PGA Tour.
“Deep down inside, yeah I do,” he said. “But it’s not something I’m going to voice freely. . . . But I think I have it within me, sure.”
Tiger Woods, notoriously tight-lipped about his schedule, said this week in a conference call that he is committed this summer only to the British Open next month and the PGA Championship and World Golf Championships-NEC Invitational in August.
“In the summer, I generally don’t play that much golf,” said Woods, who will also play in a charity event in Ireland before going to Scotland for the British Open. “I play a lot early in the year and at the end, but I don’t play much in the middle of the year. That’s just kind of what I like to do.”
He said he had not picked up a club, other than to caddy for former Stanford teammate Jerry Chang in a tournament last weekend at Henderson, Nev., since his record-shattering performance in the U.S. Open.
STOP THE PRESSES
Woods seemed apologetic about his profanity-laced outburst, caught on camera, in the second round at Pebble Beach.
“You know, obviously I let my emotions get the better of me there,” he said. “One thing that did bother me about it was that I did do it. And the other thing that I didn’t really like is . . . what [television commentator] Johnny Miller said: ‘Michael Jordan would never do anything like that.’ . . .
“I don’t think he’s ever been to a basketball game on the floor and heard what those guys say down there.”
What, NBA players curse too?
Ending a 27-month victory drought, Lee Trevino became only the ninth 60-year-old to win on the Senior Tour last weekend in the Cadillac NFL Golf Classic.
“I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t think I could win,” said Trevino, who finished out of the top 20 on the senior money list last year for the first time since joining the tour in 1990.
“The day I don’t think I can win, I’ll quit, and it might be in the middle of a round.”
Davis Love III, on how to stop Woods: “It’s just a matter of whether he gets bored. Right now, I don’t see anyone knocking him off, except somebody beating him a couple of times and making him think he can be beat.” . . . FYI: Though May is still the youngest player to qualify for the L.A. Open, Woods is the youngest to play in it. Woods was invited in 1992. He was also 16, but two months younger than May had been in 1985.
Juli Inkster’s playoff victory over Stefania Croce in the McDonald’s LPGA Championship made it five major titles in succession for Inkster and Karrie Webb, the most dominant run of major championships by two players on the LPGA Tour in nearly 40 years. LPGA Tour Hall of Famer Mickey Wright won four consecutive major titles in 1961-62, with Mary Lena Faulk in 1961 and Murle Lindstrom in 1962 book-ending her streak. Inkster, 40, has won three major titles in slightly more than a year, boosting her career total to six and moving her into a tie with Pat Bradley, Betsy King and Patty Sheehan for the most among active players. Patty Berg is the all-time leader with 15.
John McCook, who was named head professional this week at Lost Canyons Golf Club in Simi Valley, is the former head pro at Ocean Trails in Rancho Palos Verdes, which was set to open last June before a landslide plunged half of its 18th hole into the Pacific. Said McCook of his new home base, a 36-hole, Pete Dye-designed layout expected to open before the end of the year: “One thing I can tell you about Lost Canyons is that we aren’t going to see any greens fall into the ocean.”