In the strictest terms, a golf tournament produces more losers at one time than your ordinary, everyday track meet. The effect is accentuated when a finishing sprint like the one Corey Pavin put on Sunday at the U.S. Open seems to induce a collective collapse of all the other challengers. But in broader terms—the only kind pros should consider if they want to keep their sanity—the final day at Shinnecock Hills produced several victors.
Despite yet again failing to hold on in the final round of a major, Greg Norman won because his sheer doggedness in returning to the hunt is in itself a cause for admiration. Despite suffering a severe and sudden loss of acuity on the back nine, Tom Lehman was a winner because his game and unflappable nature once again proved custom-made for golf's toughest tests. Despite seeing his virtuoso putting stroke desert him for nearly the entire final round, Phil Mickelson won because he learned a little more about how to deal with the unique nervousness of an Open. And despite suffering the most deflating finish of all the contenders, Davis Love III won because, for the second straight time in a major championship, he conquered what had been a career-long inability to perform at his best in those events. "At least now I know I can win these things," said Love, who was second at the Masters and tied for fourth Sunday after missing a three-footer to tie for the lead on the 70th hole and making a double bogey on the 72nd. "I just haven't put everything together. But it was nice to be two or three holes from winning the tournament. I feel very confident I can win at the British Open."
However, besides Pavin, the biggest winner at Shinnecock was a lanky, unobtrusive veteran who finished five strokes back in a tie for 10th—Bob Tway. Very simply, no performance in the entire championship represented such a triumphant comeback as Tway's return from the absolute depths of the professional game to the brink of major-title-winning form. Considering that for the previous three seasons he has stepped up to most drives wondering if he would scatter galleries on the left or on the right, the 36-year-old Tway exhibited big-time control on an Open course where a mistake off the tee almost guaranteed a bogey or worse.
In putting together a score of 69-69-72-75-285, Tway arguably played the steadiest golf of anyone in the field, hitting 46 greens in regulation to tie for the lead in that category with Tom Watson. Tway's biggest shortcoming was an inability to convert his opportunities. He notched only six birdies over four rounds, a total fewer than all but four of the 73 finishers.
Actually, Tway's real Waterloo was the last five holes in the final round. He made four bogeys in that closing stretch to nearly obscure a remarkable performance. Now, only historians will remember that Tway was tied for the lead going into the final nine holes and that he had a seven-footer for birdie on the 12th that could have put him atop the leader board by himself.
"Yeah, that leaves a bad taste in your mouth," said Tway, but with no perceptible sourness. "I didn't really expect to win the tournament. I have to feel good, coming from where I've been the last few years." Where he has been is in golf hell, at least until he pulled off a tear-jerking victory in April at Hilton Head.
For two of the last three seasons, he has had to live off the 10-year exemption he earned when he holed out from the 18th-hole bunker to defeat Norman at the 1986 PGA Championship. "If you had told me nine years ago I would have had to rely on that title, I'd have never believed it," said Tway, who won three additional tournaments in 1986. "I thought I was on an upward curve."
In fact, Tway was in the middle of that curve precisely nine years ago when he arrived at the 1986 Open at Shinnecock as the hottest young player in the game. After three All-America seasons at Oklahoma State, Tway had turned pro and toiled for three more years on mini-tours and in Asia before finally joining the PGA Tour in 1985. In his second year the 6'4" Tway found a groove with his stylish swing. He won early, at San Diego, and the week before the Open, at Westchester. In the first round at Shinnecock in '86, Tway took the lead with a 70 on one of the most inclement days in the championship's history. After the third round, in which Tway finished only two strokes out of the lead, Lee Trevino turned to a group of reporters in the locker room and said, pointing at Tway, "If you're looking for the next superstar, there he is. That guy can golf his ball."
In the final round, with 11 holes to go, Tway was one of nine players tied for the lead at one under par. At that point he got overwhelmed by the moment and came home in 39 to finish tied for eighth. The next week in Atlanta, though, Tway won again, and when he got in the hunt at the PGA at Inverness, he held together until his climactic shot scurried into the cup. But even as he jumped up and down in that bunker four times, and TWAY'S TWOOPS T-shirts began being printed, his troubles were starting. Like so many players, including Hal Sutton, Payne Stewart and even Norman, Tway was to lose himself in the labyrinth of swing theory.
"After the PGA, I wanted to see if I could win more majors," says Tway. "In the pursuit of getting better, I got worse. I tried to make some changes in my swing that didn't suit me, and I got far too technical. The other problem was expectations. You can't expect to win three tournaments and a major every year. It's not that easy. When I didn't, I got frustrated. I didn't handle it the way I should have."