May returned, tail between his legs, to Asia in 1995 and finished fourth on the Asian money list. Still, he felt so adrift that he took the last eight months of that year off, floating around Lake Mead and trying not to think about golf. Jerry hadn't lost his enthusiasm for serious recreational boating, and in the summer of '95 he was breaking in a new toy, a 25-foot Eliminator that could slice through the water at 125 mph. The boat was so cutting edge that it landed on the cover of the January '96 Hot Boat magazine. There were Bob and Brenda, smiling at the camera. "It was like getting caught cutting school," she says.
After much reflection Bob set out for the European tour in 1996. In his freshman year he finished a demoralizing 133rd on the money list. In 1997 Bob was off to a good start in Europe, but Brenda, enduring a difficult pregnancy, had to spend most of the season in Las Vegas. They went as long as five weeks without seeing each other. "We tried to keep the phone bills less than the house payment," says Brenda. "It didn't always happen."
Not until 1999 did May's comfort level catch up with his talent and work ethic. He got off to such a strong start on the European tour that Colin Montgomerie began calling him Top 10 Bob. May's seasonlong excellence was reflected in his stroke average (70.49, fifth best on tour) and standing on the money list (11th, with $618,197). The year was punctuated by a rousing victory over Montgomerie at the British Masters, in Woburn, England. The victory was the first of his pro career after an astonishing 22 second-place finishes. In the transatlantic phone call that followed, Bob and Brenda wept for what seemed like an eternity, longdistance charges be damned.
Emboldened by his play in Europe, May breezed through the PGA Tour's Q school last fall, and even before the PGA Championship he was having a sneaky good year, with strong showings at the U.S. and British Opens, in which he came in 23rd and 11th, respectively. At the Fedex St. Jude Classic in June, May played in the final group with Notah Begay and after a hot start was two strokes ahead with 10 holes to play. May failed to make another birdie and in the end was passed by a hard-charging Begay. "I learned a lesson there," May says. "In that situation you have to keep going. You can't be afraid to keep making birdies."
This mantra obviously served him well when he went toe-to-toe with Woods. Not including the highlights in the city council chamber, May has watched the tape of that momentous final day only once, and upon further review he was as thunderstruck as the rest of us. "I was so focused on my game, I didn't appreciate what was happening at the time," he says.
The only time May let his mind wander during the duel was when Woods was lining up his devilish six-footer on the final hole to force the playoff. What earth-shattering thoughts were going through May's mind? "If he misses this putt, you're the PGA champ," May says. Not exactly the sound bite of the year but very Bob May. "I knew he would make it," May adds. "That's what makes Tiger, Tiger. Hats off to him. I played my best. No regrets."
It didn't take long for May to begin being treated like a matinee idol. At 6 a.m. on the day after the PGA he was signing autographs at Louisville International Airport. One of the first things Brenda told him upon his return home that afternoon was, "Bob, we have to change the phone number."
"You're overreacting," he said. The next morning he was awakened by a predawn phone call, the mysterious voice on the other end of the line saying, "You don't know me, but I got your number off the Internet...." The Mays had a new phone number that afternoon.
Before the blackout, one of the more presumptuous calls came from a real estate agent, who told Brenda, "I saw how much money Bob made, so now are you ready to buy a new home?" To be sure, Bob is tempted. He salivates over a buddy's eight-car garage, and no wonder. "His biggest dream in life is to have one of those monster trucks that is 10 feet off the ground," Brenda says. "I think that's known as a little man's complex."
The Mays, however, aren't going anywhere. They have carved out too nice a life in THE SUBDIVISION OF THE PGA RUNNER-UP CHAMPION, which was the wording of a charmingly clunky homemade sign hung by a couple of kids at the entrance to the neighborhood. Summerlin is 15 minutes of freeway and a world away from the bright lights and the dice and the vice of the Strip. (The Mays have been "downtown," as they call it, only once this year.) Their quiet cul-de-sac is home to 22 kids, including Trenton and Madelyn.