His wife, the former Judy Finegan of Whitesboro, is a lively woman who is knee-jerk candid. She was not impressed when she first met Levi in the mid-'70s, in a local establishment called The Sting. "I met him in a bar, a saloon, a dive," she says. She was with a girlfriend, he was with a buddy. He sidled up to her. "Want a drink?" he said.
"No," she said.
"He was such a nerd," she says. "He had his shirt unbuttoned."
Somehow a romance got under way, with periodic interruptions as he made forays onto Florida and New England mini-tours. These days she very occasionally may be found on the Tour, urging her husband on or berating him. It turns out she is every bit as competitive as he is, a bit of a card-thrower herself. "What'd you do that for, dummy?" she has been known to say. Frequently she reminds him that they have four children to put through college. Longtime friend Keith Fergus, a former Tour player and the current University of Houston golf coach, says, laughing, "She's the real force in the family. She's on him like a boot."
Levi doesn't play golf so much as he endures it. He makes his way through his rounds with the kind of frozen expression and bloodless smile you might expect from a bank teller. He doesn't deny that he's in it for the money. Nor does he deny that if he doesn't have a chance of winning or making a fair check, he quits.
"It's not a good way to be, but I don't like expending a lot of energy when I'm so far down the list," he says. "I'm not going to grind over three-or four-foot putts, or worry about the water on one hole. It's a waste of concentration. Whatever I'm going to shoot, just let me shoot it and get out of there."
This attitude has produced some odd gaps in his career. He broke his four-year victory drought by winning the Atlanta Golf Classic in May. Then he followed with wins at the Western Open in June, the Greater Hartford Open in July and the Canadian Open in September. But apart from those wins and one more top-10 finish, he was no higher than 28th in 23 appearances. His scoring average for the season was a miserable 71.91.
At the Buick Classic, in Rye, N.Y., in June, Levi barely made the cut. It was cold and raining, which aggravated a toe injury, he wasn't playing well, he had the family with him, and Hartford, where he usually plays very well, was coming up the next week. So on Sunday he withdrew. "It was crummy," he says. "I said, 'I'm not going to do diddly—I'm going to relax.' I drove up to Hartford and, bing, won the tournament."
Levi has a simple, rhythmic swing that almost never varies. It makes him one of the most accurate and most consistent players from tee to green. It also allows him to drop his clubs for long stretches and pick them up again without suffering a crisis in his game. In 1983, he won the Buick Open despite playing only one tournament in the six previous weeks. "It's as hard for him to swing bad as it is for somebody with a bad swing to swing good," says Christie.
Accuracy was not always his strong suit. In 1972, after leaving Oswego State and entering and leaving the University of South Florida, Levi spent four years struggling on mini-tours, a struggle he financed himself. His first year as a pro was not a happy experience; he had a persistent hook that drove him to fury. Finally one afternoon, while he was playing Quail Hollow near Tampa, he stormed off the course after nine holes and went looking for Christie, whom he had met at South Florida. "I'm going home," he said. "When I come back you won't see any hooks." By that summer the hook was cured, and he won five events on the New England mini-tour. In 1976 he finally got his PGA Tour card, but not before he had first dropped out of a qualifying event in Brownsville, Texas, because he didn't like the weather. "I don't need this aggravation," he told Christie, who was caddying for him. "I'll get the card this summer."