"I don't see it in my nature to do that," says Irwin. "Playing competitively is a part of me that will always be there. I'm certainly not going to take this year and say, See ya. I won't play more next year, but I won't play any less."
That's the scary thing. Irwin's already talking about 1998 and thinks he could play even better. This season has been full of distractions. He and his wife of 29 years, Sally, are building a home in the Phoenix area, and they've been sweating even more intricate details for their daughter Becky's wedding in early January. Their son, Steven, graduated from Colorado in May, and the old man has had the agony of watching his kid suffer through his first few months as a pro golfer, on the Golden State minitour. Then there is Irwin's golf-course design business, which is booming. He's putting the finishing touches on three courses, recently broke ground on the TPC of Raleigh (N.C.) and has been laying the groundwork for several more projects that are to get under way next spring. "When all I have to focus on is golf, I usually do pretty well," says Irwin, which isn't good news for his competitors.
One person who is sure to keep tabs on Irwin's progress is Thomson, even though he doesn't get the tournament results Down Under until they appear later in the week in the local paper. Pointing this out last Friday, he asked if it wouldn't be too much of an imposition to give him a ring when the Kaanapali Classic was over, just to let him know how his record was faring.
On Sunday evening, after Irwin had packed up his oversized check for $127,500 and his piece of history, a call was made to Thomson's home to give him the bittersweet news.
The phone rang, but nobody answered.