The Kalua pig ceremony at the Paradise Cove luau is a discordant experience. Two brawny, bare-chested Hawaiian men lift the steaming pig out of its cooking pit and heave it onto a litter. Then, to the accompaniment of wooden drums, they carry the pig around a torchlit amphitheater. That's their way of showing respect for the pig—a.k.a. dinner—but it's a bit jarring if you grew up on Porky Pig cartoons. ¶ "Missy may not be able to eat that," James McLean said at the Jan. 14 pig ceremony, casting a concerned glance at his girlfriend, one of the three stunning blondes at his side. "She doesn't like to know the personal history of her meal."
Recalling some missed mutton from his own childhood in the Australian outback, McLean added, "We had a black sheep called Ebony. Same deal. Couldn't do it."
Ironically, McLean later suffered a similar fate at last week's Sony Open at Honolulu's Waialae Country Club: the ritual bloodying of a PGA Tour rookie. It started on Thursday when McLean, playing his first tournament round since winning his Tour card at December's Q school, reached the par-4 2nd hole in 3 after hitting a tree with his approach. He then took four putts to get down, including a hurried swipe from two feet that lipped out. Stunned, McLean took a few seconds to collect himself—was that drums or just his heart pounding?—before putting out for a 7.
Tour players, unlike pigs, are expected to comment on their own ill fate. "Obviously I showed some nerves there," McLean said after signing for a two-over-par 72. "But I was quite fine after that. I kept my head. I played pretty solidly." He smiled. "There's always tomorrow."
Unfortunately, some tomorrows only make us pine for yesterday. McLean shot 75 on Friday, including a tee shot on the 9th hole that hooked over a 30-foot-high fence onto the practice range. At seven over 147, he missed the 36-hole cut by seven strokes and, like the kalua pig, found himself with no plans for the weekend. "That was bloody awful," he said. "I was all over the golf course." And that concludes the doom and gloom portion of our program.
McLean, no matter how rusty and unprepared he looked last week, has reason to be optimistic. "He's an awesome ball striker" says Tour veteran Craig Parry, who faced down McLean in the final round of last year's New Zealand Open. "He's as long as Tiger, if not longer. I wouldn't be surprised if he won in his first year." Similar respect is shown by those who saw McLean tie for second at Q school or anyone who was at the NCAA championship in New Mexico five years ago when McLean capped his freshman year at Minnesota by winning with a record-tying 17-under 271.
Besides, you can't feel too bad for a guy who vacations in Honolulu with Melissa Kretchmer, 23, and her pulchritudinous sisters Nicki, 22, and Cassie, 19-The three girls stopped traffic in Waikiki—a Hawaiian musician, watching diem pass by his bandstand, yelled, "Charlie's Angels!"—and that made McLean the subject of whispered speculation. Was he a Hollywood actor? A recording artist? A day trader who shorted Enron when it was at 90?
Missy could relate. She met James four years ago at a keg party in Minneapolis. "James walked in off the street," she says, "and everyone said, 'Don't you realize who he is? He's going to be a famous golfer some day!' Well, I had a guy tell me he was going to be a rock star. I thought it was just another line." Now she's his domestic partner, pal and facilitator, handling things like tournament entries and luau reservations. She's also a part-time model, thanks to her fifth-place finish in the bikini competition at the 2002 Miss Fitness America pageant. "I like being in the public eye," she says. "I've always wanted to be famous myself."
McLean, on the other hand, sees the limelight as part of his business and not an end in itself. It doesn't bother him, he says, that fellow Aussie wunderkinds Aaron Baddeley, 21, and Adam Scott, 22, have surged ahead of him in the race to stardom. "I've always done things quietly, by myself," McLean says. "I get there slowly."
And by such curious routes. McLean lives in Minneapolis with Missy, her sisters, their dentist father, Bob Kretchmer, and Nicki's boyfriend in a big house on a lake—all because a Minnesota assistant coach spotted McLean on a 1997 recruiting trip to Australia. It was over 100° in Melbourne when James boarded his flight to the U.S. later that year, on Christmas Day. It was still Christmas when he landed in Minneapolis, thanks to the international date line, but it was snowing and the temperature was below zero. "It was a huge shock," McLean says. "I didn't even have a winter jacket." He didn't have a full set of clubs, either. McLean went to a shop called 2nd Swing and bought a used set of Mizuno irons, which he wore out within 18 months but not before drawing attention to himself with his stunning victory at the NCAAs.