The term hungry is much bandied about in golf these days. We are told Nick Faldo is hungry, and so are Greg Norman and Nick Price. But golf's elite now routinely make more money off the course than on and only get that hollow, desperate look at major championships.
There is another, mostly ignored, rung of players for whom hunger is not a conceit. These are people who don't travel by private jets, don't start the year with $1 million in guaranteed endorsement income and don't get invited to feast at the trough of made-for-TV events at the end of the season. And when lesser events—like the Northern Telecom Open, which awards $198,000 and a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour to the winner—roll around, they don't weigh playing against going on a fishing trip or a chance to oversee the addition of a new wing to the house. They show up.
So it was that a ravenous pack of no-names went after the top prize in Tucson last week, with a tight bunch of contenders scraping and grinding until the very end. Finally, Andrew Magee, a former fat cat who has been living through lean times lately, came away with a new lease on a promising career.
"I didn't recognize half the guys," said the 31-year-old Magee, who won his first tournament in more than two years with a 69-67-67-67-270 that gave him a two-stroke edge over four players who tied for second. "But I'll take it."
Meanwhile, most of golf's well-fed took a pass, as is becoming the custom on the Tour's opening swing. Last year, five of the Tour's top 10 money winners played in half or fewer of the West Coast's eight events, and the trend will probably worsen. Fred Couples won't make his first full-field appearance until the second week of February, in Los Angeles, and Norman and Price won't make theirs until the Tour hits Florida in March. Of the top 10 finishers on the 1993 money list, none showed up for the Hawaiian Open, the first full-field event of the year, and only Lee Janzen and Payne Stewart made it to Tucson.
"For the top guys, it's basically pay-for-play at the end of the year," says Stewart, who won $280,000 at the Skins Game in November but shot a rusty 281 and tied for 42nd in his season debut at Tucson. "You really can't pass those things up, but then you see guys taking their breaks at the start of the year. Of course, if you don't play in November and December, you are itching to play in January."
That was the palpable sensation in Tucson, where rookies and retreads couldn't wait to get their spikes into long (7,148 yards) Tucson National and the slightly shorter (7,010 yards) but more sharply angled Starr Pass, the two courses where the tournament was played. A big check early in the season can give such a player a boost up the money list, which at year's end plays a crucial role in his future. Because so many of the Tour's top players passed up the event, the 10 players who gained exemptions off their performance on last year's Nike Tour, as well as 35 of the 46 players who earned 1994 playing cards at the Tour's qualifying school, got into the field of 156. The preponderance of eager youth is why Tucson has become the Tour's Futurity Open, the place where Robert Gamez won in his first start as a pro in 1990, where Phil Mickelson won as an amateur in 1991, and where Janzen won his first tournament in 1992.
"When I won," said Mickelson, who with his ninth-place finish Sunday became the youngest player to reach $1 million in Tour earnings, "I knew that a lot of top players weren't playing, most of the ones who were hadn't been practicing, and that by practicing hard in December maybe I could sneak up and get them. Now the younger players are so excited just to get on Tour they are ready when the first tournament comes around."
You want hungry, just take a random sample of the lop 10 finishers at Tucson. There were three Tour rookies under the age of 27, Bob Burns, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk; two world-class foreigners trying to make their way in America, David Feherty of Northern Ireland and Vijay Singh of Fiji; and a 34-year-old qualifier from the Nike Tour in his second go-round on the PGA Tour, Olin Browne, who spoke for the group when he said. "Hungry? Man, I'm starving."
Magee, for sure, was not starving. Two years ago he was one of golf's young lions, along with Davis Love III the only player under the age of 30 to have achieved three PGA Tour victories. The son of a geologist for Mobil, Magee was born in Paris, then lived in Tripoli and London until he was 10, when the family moved to Dallas, and he took up golf at the age of 11. He made All-America three times at Oklahoma, turned pro in 1984 and won his first Tour event, the Pensacola Open, in 1988. In 1991, Magee won the Nestle Invitational at Bay Hill and the Las Vegas Invitational and finished fifth on the money list with $750,082. He was gaining an identity as a rakish figure who wore stylish Italian clothing and sported an even more stylish power game.