Although Tway didn't immediately turn into chopped liver, he did stop winning. His next victory didn't come until the 1989 Memorial, only a month after he started to work with swing instructor David Leadbetter. "Lead was great in terms of showing me what I needed to improve," says Tway. "But long term, I just wasn't able to take his mechanical thoughts and turn them into a feeling. That's what you have to do. That's what Nick Faldo is able to do. Take a thought and turn it into a feeling."
Instead, Tway was beginning to lose his confidence. He did win again the next year at Las Vegas, but it marked the end of any improvement in his game. In 1992, he fell off the end of the world, dropping to 179th on the money list. The next year he was 109th, then fell again to 146th last year. During much of the three-year crash, Tway, normally a longer-than-average hitter, was near the bottom of the Tour in both driving distance and driving accuracy.
"I made a mockery of the game," he says. "I was driving the ball so awful I couldn't play. I guess I had the driving yips. I didn't know if I was going to drive it right or left, I just kind of knew it wasn't going straight. It was embarrassing. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that I had once played the game at a level that was good, and that maybe I could again. That, and that I discovered I love playing golf."
When he hit bottom in late 1993, Tway consulted with his college coach and close friend, Mike Holder. The timing was right, because Holder, despite having coached Oklahoma State to six NCAA titles, was reassessing his approach to the development of good young players. What troubled him most was the fact that the three best players he had ever had, Tway, Willie Wood and Scott Verplank, had all had erratic pro careers in which they had been plagued by an obsession with mechanics.
"I take the blame for that," says Holder, who earlier this month led his team to another national title. "At the time, I was trying to understand the golf swing better in order to be a better coach. But I thought if a little bit of advice was good, a lot must be better, and I went a little bit overboard. I left them with the impression that the secret to playing better in the long run is to continue getting better technically. That approach causes you to lose sight of what made you a good player to begin with, which is yourself. Everybody who went from Oklahoma State to the Tour during that period ended up suffering from the same lack of confidence and self-esteem. They seemed to need to ask others how to get better or to find out what was wrong. But that was the direction I sent them in. I wish I could get those same players and start over."
Holder's revamped approach was precisely what Tway needed to hear. Ridding his mind of clutter, he began to feel the beginnings of comfort again on the golf course. "Coach and I have kind of gone full circle in our thoughts about the golf swing," says Tway. "I had tried a connect-the-dots approach, and that wasn't me. I had thought I was a mechanical player, but the more mechanical I got, the less feel I had. I kept trying to get the club in these positions I knew were good, I just couldn't do it by placing the club there. When I stopped thinking about it, the club started going in those positions."
While Tway began to feel more comfortable on the golf course, he had to wait for more than two years worth of mental scar tissue to heal. "My game had undergone a slow deterioration, and it required a slow rebuilding," he says. "Your confidence is such a major part in this whole affair, and my confidence was shot. I didn't realize how much confidence meant until I didn't have any."
Tway started to show signs of a resurgence with a couple of top-25 finishes late in 1994, and he began this year solidly with a tie for sixth at Tucson. He missed only one cut in the next eight tournaments leading up to Hilton Head. Seemingly out of contention there on Sunday, Tway capped a rally by holing a 30-yard pitch for a birdie on the 71st hole to get into a playoff with David Frost and Nolan Henke. When he won with a par on the second extra hole, the man who in the '80s had been dubbed Dial Tone for his shy, colorless answers to the press, couldn't hold back his tears.
"Winning Hilton Head was the most gratifying thing I've ever done," says Tway now. "It felt better and meant more than the PGA win."
So, finally, did his performance at Shinnecock. Tway had gotten into the championship through sectional qualifying in Columbus, Ohio. Once he arrived in the Hamptons, he felt positive vibrations and a vague sense of d�j� vu. He opened with two 69s to trail Norman by three strokes but reacted like a man who had learned some hard lessons about expectations. "I really have no thoughts of winning the Open," he said last Friday. "Ask me on the back nine on Sunday."