Norman may be the most telling study. He cashed in his chips from 1986 by signing endorsement contracts worth about $12 million. He insisted that his contractual obligations "had nothing to do with my poor play. I was making a lot of money before this. Basically I was trying too hard to top last year."
Beman thinks the competition on the Tour is better than ever before. "To win two or three tournaments in a year today is a greater accomplishment than winning five or six 15 or 20 years ago," he says. "It doesn't mean that because people don't win five or six tournaments they are lazy or no good. If you look at the practice tees of every golf course on tour, you will see more divots than you did 20 years ago."
Others say golf is in a cycle similar to one in the mid-1950s when the game was without a dominant player. Tom Kite, the only golfer to have won at least one tournament every year since 1981, thinks a true champion's desire to win is unaffected by the economic climate, but that a player with the proper outlook and talent is rare. "Guys like Snead and Palmer and Nicklaus keep their motivation," says Kite. "They always have and they always will."
Watson, 38, is the last player who earned his way into that galaxy. He was Player of the Year six times from 1977 to 1984. His slump dated back to his '84 British Open loss to Ballesteros. But this year he played with the same elemental spirit that had characterized his prime years. He makes a point of keeping the front of his visor free from endorsements, half joking that "it keeps the brain clear."
Watson is not ruling out a return to his former level. "If I come out next year and win five or six times, then I will be all the way back," he said. "People who say that's impossible to do now don't know what they're talking about."
None of Watson's future victories is likely to require as much inner conquest as Nabisco. He came to San Antonio after spending three weeks at his home in Mission Hills, Kans., where he had put in as much as three hours a day on his short game. "All of a sudden the putter started feeling good again," he said.
"I guess the money will make up for some of my losses in the stock market, but I honestly never thought about it," said Watson, who lifted his earnings for the year to a career-best $616,351. "The victory is so much more important. That's what I'm out here to do—win."
It's an attitude some players on the Tour can stand to be reminded of.