Fungus is growing in Wayne Levi's golf shoes. Rust is beginning to creep across his clubs, which have been tossed carelessly into the cellar of his five-bedroom tract house on a snowy, muddy lot in upstate New York. As for Levi himself, he's probably at Edna's down the street for the weekly fish fry.
They won't be playing golf in New Hartford, a suburban finger of Utica, until next spring, when the course at the Yahnundasis Golf Club finally thaws. Levi doesn't know what monstrosities, what strange breathing organisms or warm fuzzy growths, will have invaded his golf bag by then, and he doesn't much care. "Whatever's in that bag is still going to be in there wherever I'm going next time," he says.
It's definitely not a golfing landscape, this dreary place where brown rivers pour alongside gray railroad tracks and the names of the mill towns are straight out of James Fenimore Cooper. Levi (rhymes with heavy) learned to play the game in the bare spots between the ice and slush. He was born in Little Falls, just up the thruway from New Hartford, the son of a rifle assembler for a Remington plant in Ilion. He went to high school in Herkimer and did two years of college nearby at that famed golf factory, Oswego State. Except for some time in Florida playing mini-tours, he has never lived anywhere else. "You want to talk about desire?" he says, pointing out his window. "Look at that mess. When it melted I played from patch to patch."
After 13 years of adroit patch-to-patch and steady if utterly forgettable play on the PGA Tour, Levi suddenly won four tournaments this season. He finished the year second on the money list, with $1.02 million, behind Greg Norman, and he is a candidate for the PGA Tour's new Player of the Year award. A nondescript, pallid blond of average height (5'9") and average weight (165), he can no more explain how he manages to commute successfully between the Tour and remote, frost-beaten New Hartford than he can explain why he should break a four-year winless streak in this spectacular way. If there's a simple answer to the latter, it might be his new putter, a custom-fitted, high-tech design that his longtime teacher, Rick Christie of Tampa, snortingly calls "a work of art. I wouldn't be caught dead with it."
Maybe Levi's strange, halfway-brilliant career—eight previous victories, ranging from the mildly prestigious to the wholly obscure, and $2,878,207 in earnings—was best summarized a couple of years ago when his agent, Richard Madigan, tried to put together a deal for him to represent a club in South Carolina. The deal fell through when the money man looked Madigan in the eye and said, "I could hire a second cook and two fish cutters for that kind of money. What do I want with Wayne Levi?"
Remarks like that and a season like 1990 occasionally cause Levi to ponder what he might accomplish if he didn't live in a sun-forsaken land, if he worked on his game 12 months of the year and if he weren't quite so dedicated to his four children and his wife, Judy. "I feel like I could do some incredible things if I forsook my family," he says. "Or maybe not. Maybe I wouldn't even be on Tour."
Perhaps the visible turmoil created by preserving a balance between his distant home and the Tour results in an inwardly satisfying concert. Regardless, the subject is not open to debate. Levi would not raise his children anywhere else. They are four blond creatures between the ages of two and 11 who can produce the most astonishing crashes and shrieks.
Maybe Levi's life is sort of like Levi's socks. There's this company that wants him to endorse its socks now that he's so successful. Levi doesn't want to. "They aren't the socks I want," he said. "I've got the ones I want. They're cheap. They're perfect. I get them at K. Mart. Some others are too thick. Some are too thin. These are just right."
On a somber November afternoon, Levi's three daughters—Michelle, Lauren and Chris—decided to do the hair of his only son, two-year-old Brian, and turned his corn silk into a frazzled, streaked mess. "Look at that," Levi mourned. "A human sacrifice." Meanwhile the girls darted off searching for more candy than they already had clenched in their little fists—sugar-coated orange slices, baby Milky Ways, and a bag of M&M's, which suddenly sprayed all over the kitchen floor. "And this is my life," Judy said. Later they will go bowling, which could be dangerous. The last time they went, Michelle got her hand stuck in the bowling ball and it carried her, wailing, halfway down the alley.
Levi has an unwritten rule that he docs not practice at home, even if the weather permits. The only golf equipment in sight is Brian's perfect miniature replica of his father's bag, plus a set of replica clubs. "Brian hits it a ton," Judy says, rolling her eyes. Levi is more concerned at this time of year with his beloved New York Giants or the Syracuse Orangemen, about whom he is so fanatical that he bought a huge arced-screen television, one of his few real luxuries. It obscures much of the living room, and right in front of it is the largest, easiest chair in the house, so he can settle in and scream and groan. His love for the Giants used to cause wrestling matches with his brother, Dale, but then, mere card games did that too. If Wayne lost he threw the cards. Even when he is talking about a pastime as sedate as playing the stock market, his language becomes a blunt instrument. "I gave them a severe beating," Levi says of his triumphant year, in which he rode the ups and downs of the Japanese stock market. "Then I gave them a double beating. I could have given them a triple beating, but that's when I started winning tournaments and my interest went on another track. I could still take a severe hammer to them if this war thing materializes."