Never mind what you've heard. Mark O'Meara is not cheap. Sure, he doesn't see the need for the amenities that make a $90 hotel room cost $250, and he would rather have a quiet breakfast on his own at McDonald's than go to the hotel dining room and sample the $12 omelettes. But that doesn't mean O'Meara's a penny-pincher. He just has better ways to spend his Tour earnings. And last week at the Kemper Open those earnings passed the $7 million mark.
By finishing tied for second behind first-time winner Steve Stricker at the TPC at Avenel in Potomac, Md., O'Meara, 39, increased his winnings to $967,468, assuring himself of the best season of his 16-year career. O'Meara already has won twice in 1996 and has placed second, first and second in his last three starts, which were sandwiched around a two-week bout with the measles. That $500,000 run moved him to eighth on the alltime money list. But as O'Meara knows all too well, greatness isn't measured in money. He's the only player in the top 12 alltime who has never won a major.
O'Meara is aware of this hole in his r�sum�, and it's a subject that can make him a bit prickly. "If I don't win a professional major in my career, it'll be a real disappointment," he says, "but I'll be damned if I'll let that take away from the unbelievable accomplishments I've had. I wouldn't trade what I've done for a professional major or two. Forget it, it's not worth it."
Rarely does he leave the word major unadorned. He invariably says professional major whether or not he goes on to explain that he counts his 1979 U.S. Amateur title as a major. After all, O'Meara reasons, when Bobby Jones won his Amateurs they were majors, and when Jack Nicklaus won his, Jones was still alive, and Nicklaus has always counted his two Amateurs among his majors. So there.
In the absence of a professional major, O'Meara has contented himself with things money can buy. While a Ramada might be good enough on the road, O'Meara's home is the ultimate Hyatt. The multimillion-dollar, 9,000-square-foot house is more than ample for Mark, his wife Alicia, and their two children, Michelle, 9, and Shaun, 6. Nestled between the practice tee at Isleworth Golf and Country Club and one of the Butler chain of lakes in Orlando, it bristles with toys. Inside are 21 televisions, eight refrigerators, 16 telephones, six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, one workout room, a large dining room (never used), a home theater and an elevator. Lakeside are two boats and a couple of waverunners. Beneath the house is a 10-car garage currently at half-capacity. The three Toyotas are part of a sponsorship deal. O'Meara got one of his two Mercedes for winning the season-opening Mercedes Championships. The car that came with his Honda Classic win last year went to the in-laws, and the Chrysler for last month's victory in Greensboro went to his parents.
O'Meara has never made the mistake of thinking money is happiness, but he has also never lost his awareness of it. With O'Meara, almost every topic of conversation touches on money. When he speaks of how pleased he is to be able to give away automobiles, he adds that the only downside is that the cars are still considered income and he has to pay taxes on them. He nearly lost his card his second year on Tour, but he characterizes the season this way: "I really struggled. I had to send in the entry fee in case I had to go back to Q school."
A veteran of three Ryder Cups, O'Meara is not sure he wants to be part of a fourth. "It's tremendous for spectators and wonderful for golf, but it's gotten to a point where it's a battle," he says. "There's almost hatred there. It's always, 'We've got to beat them. We've got to kill them.' There's too much pressure. It takes all the fun out of it. We get paid to play, and if I'm not getting paid, then I ought to at least have fun."
Yet it is not money that motivates O'Meara. Although he has won the Amateur, 12 Tour events and tournaments on four other continents, he has never been considered a champion. And this pains him. He points out that he is 13th in the Sony Ranking and that no one has won more Tour events in the last two years.
His friend Payne Stewart says that O'Meara is vastly underrated. In the endless debate over who is the best player without a major, "Mark's never even mentioned," Stewart says. "They're always putting forward all these kids, like Phil Mickelson, who is 25 and has plenty of time to win all the majors he probably will win."
Though he has won twice this year and stands second on the money list behind Mickelson, O'Meara will not go to Oakland Hills as one of the favorites in the U.S. Open. His recent record in the championship is awful. After tying for third at Brookline in 1988, his best finish, he hasn't made a single cut and last year failed to qualify.