Joey Sindelar leads the PGA Tour in earnings this year with $706,636, a fact that seemed to impress absolutely no one last week at the Suntory World Match Play Championship in Wentworth, England. Indeed, the '88 Match Play will be remembered as much for how Europe's best again sacked America's team as for Sandy Lyle's romps past Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo to win the title over Wentworth's sodden Burma Road course. The three Americans in the 12-player field were swept away in Friday's quarterfinals. Faldo ousted Sindelar 5 and 4, Ian Woosnam routed PGA champion Jeff Sluman 7 and 6, Ballesteros beat TPC winner Mark McCumber one up on the 37th hole—and when's the next Concorde?
True, U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and No. 2 money-winner Chip Beck weren't on hand, but the Friday shutout further underscored the now well-established notion that the Old World's very best will usually whip the New World's. "Right now," Sindelar admits, "we don't match up with them at the very top of the game."
Sindelar, 30, hopes that he can help lead a revival in America's golf fortunes. In five years, he has won five tournaments and nearly $1.7 million. He traces his recent success—three victories and more than $800,000 in earnings the last 14 months—to a new swing. The old Sindelar swing was overly upright and tended to let him down on tight layouts. The new Sindelar swing features a flatter plane. "This has been my best year, but that's all I'd like to label it," he says. "I'm not ready to do handstands, because I think I can do significantly better."
Those familiar with Sindelar's talent and modest manner know this is no idle boast. His 5'10" frame and 200 pounds anchor what may be the fastest, most powerful hand action on the Tour, and he has always been one of the top 10 in driving distance. This year Sindelar has averaged 274.4 yards off the tee.
He has great touch, too. Lyle, the Masters champion, says, "Joey's game really has no weakness. With him I think it's just a short matter of time." At Wentworth, when Sindelar holed his fourth straight chip across the practice green, his only comment was "I guess that's an easy shot."
Sindelar is hardly your typical Tour pro. He didn't grow up in the Sun Belt and play country club golf 12 hours a day. Instead he got his start at the age of six in that golfing hotbed of Horseheads, N.Y., a town of some 7,000 in the central part of the state, not far from Elmira, and home to snow five months of the year. Joey's father, Joe, a mailman in Horseheads, was a scratch golfer. His dream was to develop Joey, the oldest of his three children and his only son, into a player good enough to earn a college golf scholarship; he even took a second job to underwrite Joey's golf program.
"You don't start a golf career in Horseheads unless you're on a mission," says Sindelar fils And a mission it was.
By the time Joey was eight, he had shot his weight—86—at the local club. At 14, he won the 1972 New York State junior championship.
"My dad was always methodical in everything he taught me," says Joey. "Even when I wanted to learn to bowl, I couldn't just go to the alley and smash the pins down like the other kids. My dad would get a lane off to the side, remove all the pins and watch me shadow bowl, working strictly on form.
"I never minded the work, because I could see the rewards. But every now and then some of the relatives would say to my dad, 'Geez, Joe, let him be a kid.' "