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Rookie ON TOUR
John Garrity
January 27, 2003
At the Sony Open, James McLean got his first taste of what life's like in the Show
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January 27, 2003

Rookie On Tour

At the Sony Open, James McLean got his first taste of what life's like in the Show

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So why has it taken McLean almost three years to get his Tour card? Last year, as a rookie on the Buy.com tour, he missed nine cuts in 19 tournaments and finished a disappointing 84th on the money list. The Sydney Morning Herald described him as "the forgotten man, with nil results on which to hang his hat."

Actually, McLean's struggles are easily explained. Shortly after he turned pro in 2000, he contracted a mysterious virus that nearly shut down his kidneys, leaving him weak and underweight. The virus also affected his vision, forcing him to undergo laser surgery and begin a daily regimen of eye exercises. On top of these physical problems McLean suffered a series of emotional losses. His maternal grandmother, Betty Lamb, died in Australia. His parents, Graeme and Robyn, who operate a motel in the tiny outback town of Wahgunyah (pop. 500), in Victoria, split up. The head golf coach at the Australian Institute of Sport, Ross Herbert, succumbed to cancer at 42.

The loss of Herbert was the last straw for McLean, who was at his coach's bedside the night before he died. "Ross was extremely kind, a great coach and passionate about the game and his players," McLean says. "I felt as if I had lost the guy who was going to get me there." McLean's spirits sunk so low that he took off most of last summer to work with a sports psychologist, to reexamine his spirituality and, as he puts it, "to find my head." Judging from his bounce back late in the year, which included a 15th-place finish at the Australian Open, McLean found it.

His athletic skills are obvious. McLean had a three-birdie streak at the Sony, and he made jaws drop on Friday when he bombed his tee shot on the 16th about 360 yards. But he drove through as many fairways as he hit and putted erratically. "I know what I'm doing wrong," he insisted, which is golfspeak for, This could take a while to fix.

Earlier in the week the amiable Aussie had gotten a couple of pointers at Paradise Cove. "If you turn your wrist," a young islander told him, "it spins off like that." McLean tried it and missed wildly, making the fellow laugh. "Like a dart," the islander said. McLean laughed, too. After all, how often is one called upon to throw a wooden spear at a luau?

Later, at a tattoo hut, McLean admired the gaudy biceps of a muscular tattooist. "You want this tattoo?" the islander asked. "No," McLean said, "I want the arm!"

The Kretchmer sisters, meanwhile, smiled and leaned together for a photograph, causing a half-dozen camera flashes to go off. It was a reminder to McLean, if he needed one, that no matter how badly he might play, he's really in hog heaven.

Read John Garrity's Mats Only column on golfonline.com.

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