A golfer without a win can endure the grind of the PGA tour only so long before he begins to hallucinate. He sees himself a Trappist monk, a forest ranger, a short-order cook. Anything except a professional golfer.
Mike Morley, a tall soft-spoken 29-year-old from Minot (rhymes with why-not), N. Dak., used to think a lot about farming. It has been six long lean years since Morley joined the tour, "forever" he calls it, and until this year all the books show for his efforts are two wins on the satellite tour in 1973 and more Monday qualifying than he cares to think about.
Suddenly, though, Morley has begun to move. After warming up in Arizona with a 13th and a 21st, he earned $21,000 and national television exposure by coming in second to Ben Crenshaw in the Crosby. He tied for fourth in Hawaii and was 15th at the Hope. Through the Andy Williams last week, where he tied for third, Morley had earned $47,680 and stood third on the money list. In the first six tournaments of 1976, he picked up more money than he had earned in any year since he turned pro.
"I've been getting better, making a little more money every year," he said recently, "but at times it has seemed like it was happening awful slow. I saw guys breaking out all around me, winning tournaments and turning into good players. Sometimes I wondered what I was doing out here, whether I was ever going to be good." "Good" by Morley's definition is playing well enough tee to green to be frequently putting for birdies from inside 20 feet, often in contention and, once in a while, winning. "That's a good player," he says. "A great player is something else."
Morley joined the tour in 1970, a good college player from Arizona State who had been an All-America twice and who, in 1966, at the end of his sophomore year, had finished eighth in the U.S. Amateur. He was 6'2" and 145 pounds. "When I was a kid," he says, "I liked Tony Lema because he was a tall player with a big upright swing like mine."
Tall, skinny but inexperienced. To say that the North Dakota golf season is measured in hours is only a mild exaggeration. Until Morley was 17 and moved with his recently divorced mother from Minot to LaJolla, Calif., he had never played golf for more than a few months a year. He competed on the Minot High School golf team for a month or so in the spring, and he entered some tournaments around North Dakota and Minnesota in the summer, but he never experienced the big-time junior amateur circuit where young golfers of promise usually cut their competitive teeth.
"Partly it was because of the expense," he says, "but partly it was because I didn't care to play that much."
The trouble is that Minot is a nice place to be in the summer, something that cannot be said about most of the rest of the year. A kid has to cram a lot of living into a summer. He can hunt for a while in the fall, and he can play all the three-cushion billiards he wants through the long, long winter but for almost everything else, it is summer or never in Minot.
"There are kids now on the tour," says Morley, "who have played competitive golf year-round since they were 12, and who are so good they can make $50,000 at 22 or 23 without blinking an eye."
Gary Koch might disagree. Koch, a two-time Walker Cup player who is 23 and a rookie on the tour, described his first Monday qualifying experience in Golf World magazine. He was one of 66 players competing for 11 available spots in the Tucson Open. Playing early, Koch shot a 69, and feeling very good about it he stowed his clubs in his car and was having lunch when he learned he had to go back out on the course. "It turns out," he wrote, "there were six scores better than 69 and 10 players at 69, so 10 of us would have to play off for five spots."