When Pavin's swing started going south, he got by on his short game. Then he landed a new equipment deal in '97, and as his game continued to deteriorate, some observers concluded that his problem was the new clubs. As the season wore on, his goal became making the Ryder Cup team. The only way he could do that was as a wild-card pick, and his last chance to impress captain Tom Kite came at the PGA Championship at Winged Foot.
Pavin figured he had to win the tournament and actually felt good about his chances, but he never teed it up. His father, Jack, died two days before the opening round, so Pavin withdrew and rushed home. "That put the Ryder Cup into perspective in a hurry," Pavin says.
A month later, as the matches were being played in Spain, Pavin began working with Smith at the B.C. Open in upstate New York. Smith saw that Pavin's downswing was too steep, that his club face was too open at the top of the backswing and that his left wrist was too cupped. As a result he either hit weak shots to the right or flipped over his hands and pulled the ball. "I was swinging so poorly for so long, my bad swings became comfortable," Pavin says. "A good swing felt uncomfortable. It's very difficult to hit shots confidently with a swing that doesn't feel right."
Smith says Pavin's swing was back on track by the '98 Masters, but his confidence level was still low. Getting him to believe in himself took the rest of the year. Now, at 39, Pavin is again a player with something to prove. "I feel as if I have lots of golf left," he says. "I can definitely feel a rise in my game since December. I've taken a few big steps in the last couple of weeks. I want to make sure my expectations stay where they should be."
That would be somewhere in the vicinity of those of Greg Kraft, who tied the Colonial course record last week with a 61 in the third round and eventually tied for second with four other players, and Browne, who eagled both of Colonial's par-5s during his final round. Browne's first Tour victory came at Hartford less than a year ago. Win number 2 might have a ticket into next month's U.S. Open at Pinehurst attached, as well as a lifetime pass to the Colonial. Browne was tickled. "As my old man would say, I just backed my butt into a tub of butter," he said.