As he is now the first to admit, Mac O'Grady has always been his own worst enemy. His perfect swing was at the mercy of an imperfect head, his benevolent nature offset by a nasty aversion to authority, his restless intelligence obscured by a compulsion for grandiloquence exceeded only by Don King's.
Those qualities made O'Grady a unique character, but they also made him a maverick, and since retiring from the PGA Tour in 1990, he has all but disappeared from the game's landscape. Which is why one of the more interesting sights at last week's Masters was the 43-year-old O'Grady, resplendent in dress shirt and tie, gliding smoothly amid the movers and shakers on the clubhouse veranda as if he were a card-carrying member of the golf establishment. For incongruity, the scene matched Sonny Bono's first day in Congress.
Just as he did last year, O'Grady came to Augusta in the camp of two-time Masters champion Seve Ballesteros. The two have been friends since they first played together on the PGA Tour in the early 1980s, and in the past year O'Grady has dedicated himself to rehabilitating Ballesteros's game. At the Masters, O'Grady walked every hole with Ballesteros.
"Mac has given Seve back his confidence," says Joe Collet, Ballesteros's business manager. Says Ballesteros, "I have had a lot of teachers, but Mac is the best for me. He believes in me and that helps me believe in myself."
No one would dispute that O'Grady understands the golf swing. Over the years countless pros have gone to him for swing instruction. Along with Ballesteros, O'Grady has been working closely with Vijay Singh and Steve Elkington, both of whom came off subpar years in 1994 to win on the Tour this year.
But even O'Grady finds it ironic that the emphasis in his current tutoring is on the mental side of competition. A certifiable head case who missed the cut at the Tour's qualifying school 16 times in a row, O'Grady was an exempt player from 1983 to 1990. His two victories came at Hartford in 1986 and the Tournament of Champions in 1987, but he is most remembered for his bizarre shot selection and incendiary temper tantrums.
"When I played, I was the worst in terms of judgment and controlling my emotions, as if I had a deformation of chromosome 17," says O'Grady, lapsing into one of his obscure scientific allusions. "But competition made me blind. Now I can see my mistakes in Seve and Vijay. I've learned more about golf by being outside the ropes than I ever did in my eight years inside the ropes."
O'Grady's new perspective grew not only out of his retirement, which was the result of a congenital back problem that finally required surgery last year, but also from his ongoing work on a novel, titled The Golfing Prophet. "I realize now I was driven to write it as a journey in self-discovery," he says. "I learned I was entombed in my own immaturity."
In December 1992, O'Grady's wife, Fumiko, was told she had breast cancer. After treatment that included a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy, her cancer is now in remission. "It's been the best experience of our lives, not the worst," says O'Grady. "It's taught us to try to capture eternity in every second.
"I finally asked myself, Do you want to keep blaming everyone for problems, or do you want to move forward? You know, it's a question that applies on the golf course, as well as in life."