If there is an art to golf, it lies somewhere within the phrase getting it around. Like taking what the course gives, knowing where to miss it or golfing your ball, the words are an earnest but necessarily loose attempt to describe the ability to score well.
Mark Brooks, who is quick to assert that in terms of his sport, "I'm not a great anything," is a cold-eyed Texan who knows how to get it around. And Sunday, in winning the Shell Houston Open by outputting Jeff Maggert on the first hole of sudden death, the 35-year-old Brooks did it so well that—at least for a day—he was definitely a great something.
With an old-fashioned, buggy-whip swing that includes a flat, homemade follow-through, the 5' 9", 150-pound native of Fort Worth negotiated his way around a baked-out but water-hazard-laden TPC at The Woodlands with significantly less than his A-game. A few shots went left, others went right, and a good many were short. In all Brooks hit only six of the 18 greens in regulation, an exceedingly low number even considering the firm, shallow nature of the targets. But it was a tribute to Brooks's management that he was never in an untenable position. And to more than compensate for his less-than-stellar ball striking, he made everything when it counted during the best display of final-round putting seen in professional golf this year.
Officially Brooks needed only 21 putts in his closing 70, although that number did not count the five times he used his mallet-headed putter from off the green. And on the back nine, which he started three strokes behind Maggert and two behind David Duval, Brooks had the kind of run that, if repeated with any frequency, will make him the stuff of putting legend.
Actually it started on the 9th hole, where Brooks missed a five-foot putt for par. "I kind of said, That's it," he said later. "I made my mind up: I was going to try to stay aggressive with the putter." Employing a new preputting routine that featured no practice strokes while over the ball, Brooks got rolling by holing a three-footer for birdie on the 10th. On the 12th he saved par from 12 feet, and he followed with a five-footer for a par on the par-5 13th. After a poor tee shot on the par-3 14th, Brooks drained another long par putt, a 10-footer, and then lipped out a 60-foot eagle putt on the 15th. After missing the 177-yard par-3 16th short and to the right, Brooks failed to hit his first putt through 20 feet of fringe, but he nailed his 15-footer for par. On the home hole Brooks pulled a two-iron approach shot but trundled his first putt from 60 feet to within five feet and pipelined it from there. Finally, on the same green in the first hole of the playoff, Brooks stepped up to a 30-footer for birdie and rammed his ball home.
The clincher—statistically Brooks's eighth putt in eight holes—brought a gasp from the gallery, most of whom were pulling hard for Maggert, a Houston native who makes his home at The Woodlands and has nearly won the tournament three times. When Maggert couldn't make his 18-footer, Brooks almost apologized. "We kept the trophy in the state, anyway," he told a partisan group of tournament volunteers. "That was the best I could do."
Despite his apparent modesty, Brooks's best is pretty good. He won at the Bob Hope in January and joins Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara as the PGA Tour's only multiple winners in 1996. A closing 64 at Los Angeles brought him within one stroke of a playoff. With $627,190 in prize money, he is on the verge of surpassing his best year, 1991, when he also won twice. But when asked where the sixth victory of his 12-year Tour career might propel him, Brooks seemed indifferent.
"Let's see, I won't have to qualify for the U.S. Open," he said. "And I get to go back to Augusta and try to putt those greens again. What else? I'd say, if anything, it certainly helps schedulewise for the rest of the year."
Zzzzzz. A spin doctor for a defeated political party would have had a hard time taking more luster off a victory. Perhaps Brooks prefers to remain in the large pool of unknown pros, but that would be a shame because he's an interesting mix of word and deed.
For example Brooks is a member of Fort Worth's Colonial Country Club, but not because he took the sort of cut-rate deal that many private clubs extend to Tour pros. Brooks forked over the full initiation fee and pays monthly charges so that there is never any resentment from the other members. He is a top-notch cook, with a specialty in sauces, and his 63-year-old Tudor-style home in the leafy Park Hill section of Fort Worth has a gourmet kitchen. A few years ago he stopped drinking partly to set an example for his daughters, now 10 and six, although he still can't stop smoking. Last July he traveled with his family to Scotland in an attempt to qualify for the British Open. He made it and then came within a stroke of the playoff between John Daly and Costantino Rocca. At the postvictory party on Sunday in Houston, he fronted the musical group Duck Soup in a respectable rendition of Wild Thing.