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Here's To Happy Days

April 13, 1987
April 13, 1987

Table of Contents
April 13, 1987

Derby Preps
Dwight Gooden
Steve Alford
Bob Tway
Swimming
Golf
Attacking The Amazon
Reminiscence
First Person
Point After
Departments

Here's To Happy Days

Bob Tway had a dicey time making the PGA Tour, but now he's on a roll

Now, for the 20-point toss-up question. Name the following colorful golfing personality without using the words Super-Mex, Fuzzy or Chi Chi:

This is an article from the April 13, 1987 issue Original Layout

He once broke the course record at Atlanta Country Club while nursing a doozy of a hangover. He has a weakness for craps, expert ski slopes and dirt bikes. He has agreed to strap himself into a race car and go 160 mph this summer at the Michigan International Speedway. Playing in a high school tournament, he once gave his putter a heave that Tommy Bolt would have admired, slamming it into a tree and breaking it in half. He played the rest of the way with an eight-iron, one-putted the final three holes and led his team to victory. He cried after his latest win, cried at his own wedding and can get choked up just talking about his college coach.

Time's up. Did you guess Bob Tway? The man who makes Edwin Meese seem thrilling? Tway to go.

Tway is 27 years old, a 6'4" one-iron and a lot of things you wouldn't figure, such as interesting. All right, so he has never made "They Said It." And it's true that once, under "dislikes" in a USA Today profile, he listed "reading books or magazines." But that's not true anymore. He reads a little now. For instance, he was reading his bankbook the other day, and under "1986 Golf Winnings" it read "1.15 million buckaroos," which is a real can't-put-downer. He won four tournaments last year, including the PGA Championship, and was voted the PGA Player of the Year. And though he has yet to win a tournament this year—currently he's 23rd on the money list with $102,089—he's the leading candidate for superstardom on the PGA Tour.

Of course, all of that is where Tway is now; the great American hope, sent weekly to defend the shorelines against sharks, Germans and Spanish armadas. But Tway is more about where he has been, which was treading sludge at the very bottom of the very deepest bunker in golf.

For three years.

You figured Brillo (so nicknamed for his ultracurly hair) was going to be pretty good when he won the men's championship at Redding (Conn.) Country Club. He was 13 years old. An IBM brat, Tway bounced around from Oklahoma City to St. Louis to Wilton, Conn., to Marietta, Ga. Anywhere they gave Brillo a bucket of balls, he called home. "He was at the course from dawn until dusk," recalls his mother, Kaye. "I used to have to get in a golf cart to go find him and drag him home to eat."

With practice paying off and all that, Tway became a three-time All-America at the University of Golf, Oklahoma State, where he played for coach Mike Holder. Tway was the linchpin on two NCAA championship teams and the collegiate player of the year in 1981. All of which meant zilch when he tried to get his PGA Tour card in 1981, his first year out of college. That fall, only 160 players among 800 hopefuls even made it to the final six-day hell-week tournament. Of that 160, just 50 received cards.

Tway didn't make it. Not in 1981. Not in 1982. Not in 1983. "It was a shock," he says. "I assumed I'd make it right through." So it was off to play in South Africa and Asia, where a man whose favorite meal is chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy is bound to be a very tall Okie out of water. "Once, he came back from Asia looking like a skeleton," remembers his father, Bob. After playing in 10 Asian countries in 11 weeks Tway weighed 160 pounds, the world's only breathing ball retriever.

"It's the kind of thing where the further you get away from it, the more fun you think you had," says Tway's wife, Tammie, who suffered through every moment of the Asian tour with him. There was much fun to be had. Like not wanting to go into the woods in India to get your ball—even when you could see it—because of the vipers and cobras.

Tway almost made the Tour in 1983. Going into the final qualifying tournament he was in a solid 12th place. On the final day he could have shot 80 and still would have made it. So he shot an 81, including a missed eight-foot putt on 18 for a double bogey.

When he came to the clubhouse, 6'4" Bob Tway looked about 4'6". His face was colorless. "You go look," he said to his wife. He cowered in the car. When she came back from checking the scoreboard, she just shook her head. He had gone from 12th place to no place. He had missed by one shot.

The Tways retired to their room, locked the door and turned off the lights at 7:30. "We just couldn't stand to be awake," Tammie remembers. Says Bob, "All I remember is that we cried a lot."

For two months he lifted weights, ran four miles a day but never even gave the mirror a taste of his swing. "I was punishing myself," Tway once said. "He never talked about quitting," says his father. "But how could you not think about it?"

Tway says he never did. When he was ready to mount the horse again, he had lifted so many weights that his clubs felt like Bic pens. Invited to play in the '84 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, he shot 79 and 85, and then was disqualified for petulantly refusing to replay an out-of-bounds tee shot. He returned to foreign soil and played "army" golf: left, right, left, right. "The worst three months in my life," he called it. Says Tammie, "He'd wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night and tell me he was afraid of missing the ball completely."

Tway went back to work obsessed with sharpening his touch to such a fine edge that he could come to the sixth day of tour school, shoot a 91 and still make it. Which is almost what happened in 1984 on Tway's fourth attempt to qualify for the Tour.

He had a new caddie, Mike Holder. Yes, his college coach. "Our plan was to start out my swing real slow and then, as the week progressed and the pressure built, to just get slower," Tway says. "Mike made me walk slow, eat slow, do everything slow."

And it worked—for a while. After five of six rounds, Tway stood three over par with scores of 69-73-70-76-75. But by the 16th hole on the final day, there was no holding him back from himself. He finished double bogey, double bogey, bogey—for a 71. And that put him 21st in the final standings. Good enough.

"I knew that once I got my card I'd be fine," he says. And he was, and is. In 1985, his first year on the Tour, Tour nearly won the Quad Cities Open, the Southern Open and the Tucson Match Play. He made $164,023 for the year, which wasn't much, considering he would beat that by a million the next year. As it turned out, cutting Tway down had only made him taller.

Last year he started by winning the Andy Williams Open at San Diego in a playoff with Bernhard Langer, who had been sitting in the locker room watching Tway finish on TV. "Has this guy ever won before?" Langer asked.

No, but he's about to.

Then in May, he won the Atlanta Classic and in June, the Westchester Classic, thus becoming the first second-year pro to win three tournaments since Jack Nicklaus in 1963. He had a quick run at the U.S. Open, leading by a stroke after the first round at Shinnecock Hills before eventually tying for eighth. And there was more.

In August, he came to the final hole of the PGA Championship at Inverness Country Club tied for the lead with Greg Norman, his playing partner. Tway missed the fairway with a poor tee shot into thick rough on the right side, then dropped his approach shot into a deep bunker in front of the green, 25 feet from the cup. Norman, meanwhile, hit a good drive and then spun his second shot back off the green, onto the fringe, also 25 feet from the pin. Norman seemed all but assured of his par, but from the bunker Tway would be lucky to make par, which he would need to force a playoff with Norman.

As Tway set up in the sand, he seemed to have no chance. His opponent was Norman, whom Johnny Miller calls "the greatest physical talent in the modern era." And who was Tway but just another stone-faced, target-golf cash register who had made a few no-brainers? Tway blasted out of the trap, then watched the ball barely land on the green a dozen feet in front of the pin and roll dead into the hole. He leaped up and down excitedly. Norman, defeated again by fate, could do nothing but try to hole out his chip. When he didn't—he bogeyed the hole—Tway had a major and "a lump in my throat the size of a softball." He looked at Tammie, who was crying, and began to cry, too.

People watching were moved by this emotional outburst, which was in such contrast to the control and composure he had just displayed under pressure. The remarkable thing about Tway's play all year was that he had no seconds, no thirds, no fourths, fifths or sixths. Every time he had a legitimate chance to win at the end, he did. And speaking of clutch shots, had golf ever seen such a shot in a major? Sarazen's double eagle in the '35 Masters gave him a tie. Lee Trevino's chip at the 1972 British Open at Muirfield and Watson's chip at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach were huge, but they occurred with a hole to play. Tway's unforgettable shot not only won him a major on the spot, but it also beat the game's dominant player.

Tway tools around on a motorcycle, sings too loud in the car ("we always turn the radio up," his mother says), tries in vain to gain weight ("everything from heavy beer to chocolate shakes," says ex-OSU teammate Willie Wood) and likes a good practical joke now and again (at the Atlanta Classic, he stood guard while Wood Super-Glued Gary McCord's bag shut). Some of his friends at OSU called him Richie Cunningham, but Tway's happy days are now.

And what about five years from now? Will Tway be the best player in the land, with a best-selling book (Golf My Tway)? Or will Brillo be long since used up? Remember, Hal Sutton won the PGA his second year on the Tour, too, and was anointed the next Nicklaus. He hasn't challenged in a major since. And Tway has yet to make a serious run at a victory this year. "Actually, I'm not hitting the ball too bad," Tway says, assessing his play over the last couple of months. "I'm just not scoring very well. I'm throwing away shots that I shouldn't be throwing away. And I don't think I'm putting as well as I was last year."

Many believe Richie Cunningham can stay with the Normans and the Ballesteroses. Raymond Floyd has said that Tway is the best putter he has ever seen. Trevino told writers he was thinking of quitting to become Tway's caddie. "I'd make more money," he said.

What really drives Tway is the fear of finding the sludge again. "In this game, you either get better or worse, but you never stay the same. I just want to get better," he says. "I don't know why."

Tammie knows why. One day at this year's L.A. Open, after Bob had started with a 75, Craig Stadler's wife, Sue, came up to Tammie on the course and said, "It's so tough on them after a great year. They get to thinking it's so easy." The two women chatted a bit, but afterward Tammie thought more about it.

"I mean, I know she meant well," says Tammie, "but I don't think she's right. Maybe they thought it was easy at one time, but I don't think we've ever thought it was easy. I don't think they've ever had to go to Asia and stay in crummy hotels and get stomach viruses. I don't think they've missed their card three times after coming so close. I don't think anybody's been through what we've been through. I don't think we'll ever say it's easy."

PHOTODOUG HOKEAn avid craps player, Tway threw lucky 7s to win four events in '86, including the PGA.PHOTOMICHAEL O'BRYONBob cheerily caddied for his wife when she played a charity tournament two weeks ago.PHOTOJOHN IACONOThe shot that won the big one: Tway holed out from here to take the PGA from Norman.THREE PHOTOSPlaying on the Asian tour, Bob and Tammie saw the Taj Mahal (top), Hong Kong (left) and the way the Japanese translate Tway.