While Americans were waiting to see who would be our next President, I was involved in my own waiting game. From my home in upstate New York, I was monitoring Joe Ozaki's play at the American Express Championship, watching to see whether he'd finish 41st or better and knock me out of the top 125 for the first time since 1984. After finishing 43rd two weeks ago in the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, the year's final event for players not qualified for the AmEx, I was 125th on the Tour's money list. Before I could claim the final spot, I had to wait, and no, not for commissioner Tim Finchem to recount everybody's earnings. Ozaki, who had been 128th on the money list, needed to earn only $35,000 at Valderrama to bump me down to 126th.
Each night during the Southern Farm Bureau I would review my list of possibilities and calculate every conceivable scenario. At the top of the list were the names of players I could pass to gain some breathing room, while at the bottom were "bad guys"—players who could pass me. After the third round I figured that if I could shoot 67 or better on Sunday, I'd probably be safe. I shot 69, and both players who could pass me, Pete Jordan and Brant Jobe, did, tying for fourth and 13th, respectively. But I passed Tom Pernice, and I was Mr. 125, at least for the moment.
At first I told myself that I wasn't going to think about Ozaki last week, but that was difficult. Every day somebody called to see if I had any fingernails left. On Sunday afternoon Bruno Mazza, a golf buddy and a gastroenterologist in Elmira, N.Y., called to say, "Joey, Ozaki bogeyed the last hole and tied for 35th. Is that good enough?"
I knew the disappointing truth. "No, Bruno. Ozaki clipped me by a hair." Ozaki earned $39,500 and climbed to 123rd, while I sank to 126th. Maybe I should ask the commissioner for a recount.