Golf is all about numbers. On the PGA Tour, however, one number towers, King Kong-like, above the rest. Fifty-nine? Sorry, Mr. Geiberger. The one true faith on Tour these days is 125. That number is the Mendoza Line, the point of no return, the 38th parallel and final Jeopardy all rolled into one. If you finish 125th or better on the Tour's annual money list, you're exempt for another year, which makes you one of the beautiful people. Pass the courtesy-car keys, please. The buffet is on your left, sir, and pardon us while we throw money at you.
If you're 126 or worse, you might already be a journeyman. "It's cold, but if you're not 125, you're out," says 15-year Tour veteran Blaine McCallister, who birdied the final hole at last week's Las Vegas Invitational, the next-to-last full-field event of the year, to win $11,575 and, temporarily, inch inside the golden gates at 123rd on the money list. For players in McCallister's position, a slipup this week at the Walt Disney World Classic, in Orlando, means, See you at Q school and next year in towns like Madison, Miss., site of the Deposit Guaranty Classic.
"Most of the time you play in the summer when it's hot, conditions are crappy and nobody wants to play," says Mike Springer, who was Mr. Bubble, the man holding down the 125th spot, in Las Vegas. "I don't think Madison, Mississippi, is anybody's favorite spot in July."
Neither is No. 125, except after the Disney. In Vegas, while Jim Furyk scrambled for par on the 90th hole to withstand Mark Calcavecchia's late charge, and nail down his first victory in 2� years, the real drama at the TPC at Summerlin was the race for exempt status for '99.
Some players cashed in. Tom Byrum, who started the week 126th, vaulted 15 spots by finishing 12th. Kevin Wentworth, the 1991 NCAA champ who through June had won only $8,570, tied for 10th despite a nervous bogey on the closing hole. His $52,000 payday carried him to the safety of 116th on the money list. He's in.
Springer probably got in, too. He had made 18 cuts before Vegas but hadn't had a top 10 finish and was running out of patience. "I've been in this situation before, so f—-it," he said. "I've had my nuts in a vise for three years, so I'm used to it. Just play and add 'em up."
The sum was 68 at Las Vegas Country Club in the second round, which he concluded by flinging his putter off the 18th green after reaching the par-5 hole in two shots and three-jacking. Afterward, as he rubbed the putter's grip with sandpaper, Springer Yogi Berra-ized, "All you can do is all you can do, and that's all you can do."
Springer was a rising star in 1994 when he won in Greensboro and Milwaukee, but in 1995 he split with his longtime coach, Ralph Lomelli Jr., and Springer's swing slipped away. He fell off the charts the next two years, then began working with Craig Chapman, a teaching pro in Palm Springs. "My swing had broken," says Springer. "I found Craig to help me. I spent a lot of money and, basically, bought a golf education. It's been a slow process, but now I'm swinging as well as I have in my life."
Springer, though, is frustrated because he feels his scores haven't reflected his improved play. He was solid last week, his 33 rd start this year, making his fifth consecutive cut. He finished 68-70 at user-friendly Summerlin. In the Saturday round, he holed a key bogey-saving putt at the closing hole, and on Sunday he stiffed a seven-iron shot on 18 for a birdie that got him to 12 under, 13 strokes behind Furyk, and into 22nd place. The $19,200 he won left him 122nd on the money list with $230,795 and confident about his chances for making the elite 125. "All I know is that that was a big birdie on the last hole," he said, grinning.
Brett Quigley was 124th on the money list before Las Vegas, and last week his lie looked unplayable. The three players immediately behind him made the cut while he was surrounded by fresh dirt, mulch and a wheelbarrow. Quigley was doing yard work at his home in Barrington, R.I. He had been unable to get into the Las Vegas or Disney tournaments, both invitationals, and felt as if he were stuck in the slow lane. "I was 128th last year, so it's d�j� vu all over again," Quigley said. "I've had a couple chances down the stretch to [secure a spot in the top 125] but haven't done it."