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Notebook
Gary Van Sickle
October 08, 2001
Most Improved PlayerThinking Big
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October 08, 2001

Notebook

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Numbers

With four events to go, the race for Senior tour player of the year is the tightest since the tour's inception in 1983. Here are the contenders.

 

$RANK

MAJORS

WINS

Larry Nelson

4th

0

4

Bruce Fleishcr

2nd

1

3

Allen Doyle

1st

1

2

Hale Irwin

3rd

0

2

Bruce Lietzke

16th

0

2

M. McCullough

11th

0

2

Gil Morgan

5th

0

2

Jim Thorpe

6th

0

2

Most Improved Player
Thinking Big

Guys like Brian Gay are supposed to be obsolete on the chicks-dig-the-long-ball PGA Tour. In a world of home run hitters, Gay pops singles to the opposite field. Yet if the Tour gave an award for most improved player, Gay, a soft-spoken Alabamian, would win hands down.

It has gone largely unnoticed, but Gay, a seven-year pro in his third season on the big Tour, is 39th on the money list ($1.2 million). He is known mostly as the poor guy who waited three seconds too long for a hanging birdie putt to fall (10 seconds is the limit) on the 71st hole of last year's Honda Classic. Gay was assessed a one-stroke penalty, bogeyed the final hole and came in fourth—instead of tied for second—at the time the best finish of his career. He bounced back from that disappointment to go from 102nd in earnings at the end of the 2000 season to one good week from the top 30 and a spot in the Nov. 1-4 Tour Championship.

How has he done this while ranking 190th (266 yards) on Tour in driving distance? Like Tom Kite a generation ago, the 5'10", 155-pound Gay seldom misses a fairway (75%, 14th best on Tour) or a green (67%, 76th) and is deadly from 100 yards in (fifth in putting). Also like Kite, he's emerging as a top pro a little later than his peers. (Gay will turn 30 on Dec. 14.)

A two-time All-America at Florida, in 1992 and '93, Gay led Gators teams that won four SEC titles and an NCAA championship, while he won the SEC individual crown twice. "In terms of championships, his record at Florida is as good as anybody who has played here," says Gators coach Buddy Alexander. "Brian is a very underrated player. He's an unassuming guy with an unassuming game. His golf IQ is extremely high, and his short game was always Tour caliber."

Gay succeeds with consistency. Since the Genuity Championship in March he has made the cut in 19 of 22 starts and has had four top 10 finishes. He's also plays well on Sunday. A final-round 65 lifted him to second, behind Sergio Garcia, at the Colonial, and he closed with a 69 to come in fifth in New Orleans and with a 65 to end up sixth at the Buick Open.

Short is a relative term on Tour. Gay's normal drive is only 13 yards—about one club—below the Tour average but as many as 40 yards shorter than the long guys hit the ball. "I'd like to drive farther," Gay says. "So many weeks it seems as if I can't win even if I play really well because of the way courses are set up."

Says fellow pro Paul Goydos, "If you're 190th in driving distance, you've got to be a good putter, a pretty good middle-and long-iron player, and smart to compete. Brian is like Loren Roberts. Everybody talks about Loren's putting, but he's fabulous with his middle and long irons. Brian has brains. He knows what he's doing, and he's improving every year."

Although Gay enjoys his time at home in Orlando with his wife, Kimberly, and their two-year-old daughter, Makinley, he intends to play the final four tournaments of the season in an effort to crack the top 30. It won't be the end of the world if he doesn't. "It has been a successful year regardless of how I finish," he says. "There's been pressure, but it's been fun."

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