Tour victories are like women, if H.L. Mencken was right about the latter. "A man always remembers his first love with special tenderness," Mencken said, "but after that he begins to bunch them."
That helps explain Louisianan David Toms's feelings after his storybook win at last week's Compaq Classic at New Orleans's English Turn Golf and Country Club. Toms, born in Monroe, a resident of Shreveport and a star golfer at LSU, dazzled family and friends by shooting a 30 on the final nine to make up a six-shot deficit on the second-best player in the world, Phil Mickelson. Toms's round included an unlikely chip-in for eagle and, with Mickelson watching from the fairway, a double-breaking 25-footer for birdie on the 18th green to end the suspense. The instant Toms's ball tumbled into the hole, giving the 34-year-old the fifth victory of his nine-year Tour career, the partisan crowd roared and then chanted the cheer of the day: "L-S-U! L-S-U!" Life is never this good, not even on Sesame Street, yet when he was asked how he would rank this victory, Toms said, "It's right up there, maybe running even with my first win."
See? That's how special the first one is. Not that Steve Flesch, Harrison Frazar, Jerry Kelly, Franklin Langham or Kevin Sutherland would know. They're all candidates for best player on Tour without a victory (even though certainly it's only a matter of time before all of them win). We've left out the players who have won on foreign tours but not in the U.S., men such as Sergio Garc�a, Colin Montgomerie and Craig Parry. Besides, picking on Monty would draw a 15-yard penalty for piling on.
Identifying the best players who haven't won is one way to detect up-and-comers who are on the verge of winning. Unfortunately, the exercise puts the spotlight on those who have an embarrassing hole in their r�sum�s. "It's an awful label," says Frazar, a round-faced Texan who ranks among the Tour's longest hitters. "I'd rather be the worst player who has won than the best player who hasn't."
Nobody wants to be on the list. Flesch, a lefthander from Union, Ky., might be No. 1 on it if his peers did the voting, because he has a fluid, aggressive swing, a deft putting stroke and the ability to shoot low numbers. He also has a nickname, courtesy of the caddies: Fury, for his occasional displays of temper. Flesch had 13 top 10 finishes last year, second only to Tiger Woods. Paired with Woods for the final round of the 2000 Disney, he got his man, matching Woods's 69. The only problem was that Duffy Waldorf shot a 62 and got them both, along with the W.
"I saw a thing on the Golf Channel where they listed me among the best players who haven't won," says Flesch, who turns 34 on May 23. "That doesn't help. I thought, Oh s—-, now everybody thinks I should win. It's a compliment, but I know what the other guys are saying. You don't want to get a reputation as a guy who can't win. Right now I'd rather win one and miss every other damn cut."
Part of Flesch's wish came true at English Turn. He missed the cut, his fortunes souring on the 13th hole last Friday when he hit a drive that nose-dived into the deep grass less than 30 yards off the tee and led to a triple-bogey 7.
Last year Frazar, 29, left New Orleans a haunted man. That first win was within his grasp in the final round when he came to the par-3 17th hole with a one-shot lead, but he pulled his six-iron tee shot and watched it take a hard bounce left into pampas grass. He made a double bogey and dropped to third. "I've thought about that shot for a year," Frazar says.
During a practice round last week Frazar got a little nervous as he approached the dread 17th. On the 16th green his caddie, Bob Riefke, tried to lighten the mood by asking if Frazar wanted to skip 17, since the 18th fairway was only a few feet away and they could easily cut over, drop a ball and avoid any bad memories. Says Frazar, "He said, 'Are you going to be able to walk down 17 without getting sick?' I said, 'I'm a big boy. I can make it.' It wasn't so much that shot; it was not winning the tournament. That was very disappointing. To admit I screwed up something I'd worked so hard for was too much to handle at the time. I didn't miss the shot because of a gust of wind, somebody yelling during my backswing or a bad kick. I messed up. Once I could admit that, I was able to move on. But that took four or five months."
Frazar analyzed and reanalyzed the fateful shot. He was trying to put his ball 25 feet right of the pin but believes he succumbed to a player's instinct to shoot at the flag, which caused him to pull the shot. "If I would have stuck to my game plan," he says, "I would've been all right."