HIS NAME IS MUDD

Jodie Mudd, that is, and he won The Players Championship at Sawgrass
March 26, 1990

Vince Lombardi was right. Winning isn't everything. Second place is everything. Look at Mark Calcavecchia. He's losing his way to millions. He's getting beat right into the rich house. On Sunday he finished second for the third straight week and had to settle for becoming the Tour's money leader with $551,040. Half a million for 2½ months' work will console you in a way you won't believe.

"It's real tough, isn't it?" said Calcavecchia, who brooded about his latest crushing defeat for almost 30 seconds. "I guess I'm the new Mr. Consistency on the PGA Tour."

Cutting his initials into Calcavecchia's tree this time was a human bunker rake named Jodie Mudd, all six feet and 145 pounds of him. Mudd won The Players Championship last week in Ponte Vedra, Fla., by giving away 55 pounds to Calcavecchia but not a damn thing else.

Mudd is short on pounds but long on guts. He kept Calcavecchia's famous molars out of his backside the entire day, matching Calcavecchia's final-round 69 with a 69 of his own. But it wasn't until Mudd finally pushed his luck, and his tee shot, at the 17th on Sunday that he won the tournament.

Come to think of it, he was lucky to get a tee time. The Marriott at Sawgrass has 85% of the allotted tee times on the Tournament Players Club course, and the Tour let the hotel send guests onto the course as late as March 9, the Friday before the tournament. On March 11, the pros got on, and by last Thursday the greens were as silky as a Tibetan thruway. "It was like putting over a three-day beard," said Tom Watson.

"It's the Marriott Muni," said former TPC champion John Mahaffey. J.C. Snead said tournament officials should draw a circle around the second green and call it "casual grass." Added Tim Simpson, "[PGA Tour commissioner] Deane Beman wants to make this a great championship, but he wants to run it on a publinks course."

Even the tournament leaders were roasting it. Calcavecchia said, "You couldn't look five guys in the eye and have them tell you this is their favorite course. If this were just the Greater Jacksonville Open, we'd have 10 out of the top 100 money-winners here." The PGA Tour's home course being savaged? By its own players? It was like the waiter not recommending the house special. On Saturday, in its daily newsletter, the Tour's public relations machinery attempted some "damage control." NBC commentator Charlie Jones, whose network happened to be televising the tournament, was quoted as saying that The Players Championship was "one of the truly great sporting events of our time." Yeah. This and American Gladiators. Beman blamed the bumpy greens on the worst winter in Florida "in 100 years" and admitted that the course should have closed earlier. "Next year will be different," he said. But Greg Norman wasn't biting. "This course is not ready for this [tournament] in March," said Norman. "We should play it in May. It's a sad thing we can't put on a better show."

Are you kidding? What could be a better show to a guy from Tallahassee with binoculars around his neck and a footlong in his mouth than watching some polyester who made $6 trillion last year put up 8s? Mark O'Meara made a 9 on the par-5 16th hole on Thursday and withdrew. Roger Maltbie made a 9 on the par-3 17th on Friday and withdrew. Phil Blackmar came to 17 on Friday at three over par for the tournament. By the time he walked off the 18th green, he was 14 over. He had fed three Titleists to the alligators at 17 for a 10. Then he put two more into Lake Pate on 18 for an 8. The 6'7", 240-pound Blackmar chose not to comment on his round, and reporters chose not to risk wedgectomies by pressing the issue.

The only sad thing for fans was that they didn't get to watch the best players in the world make 8s and 10s. With the exception of Sandy Lyle, not a single member of the three-time winning European Ryder Cup team showed up. Why should only Americans have to play pit-and-pendulum golf? Why can't we see Seve Ballesteros bounce a few off railroad ties? Or Nick Faldo? What would Bernhard Langer sound like cussing at Beman in German?

You don't think there was some kind of plot to take the air out of Beman's balloon, do you? You don't think it was a snub, do you? Does Faldo have an accent? Most of the Europeans passed up the "fifth major" in favor of the world-renowned Tenerife Open in the Canary Islands. Winner gets 40 oxen.

And Beman calls The Players Championship a major? A major disappointment, maybe. Without the best foreign players, this was Hartford with palm trees. "All it is now," says Hughes Norton, agent for Curtis Strange and Greg Norman, "is the U.S. Tour players championship." Or a union meeting at nine-minute intervals.

Golf and its fans are being cheated because the Tour players can't see over their stacks of tax-free bonds. Foreigners must play 15 Tour events a year to keep their U.S. cards. Without a card, they are allowed to play only five. In addition, they can play the three U.S.-based majors—the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA—because the majors are not controlled by the PGA Tour, plus the World Series of Golf, if they qualify. Beman tried to persuade the players to lower the minimum to 12, but the players were opposed to his proposal and voted it down. Basically the players on the bottom half of the money list don't want foreigners knocking them out of the last entry spots and onto the Ben Hogan minor league tour.

In 1949, Bobby Locke, the great South African golfer, was banned from the U.S. tour for not having complied with some rule or another. Gene Sarazen, for one, was outraged. He called it "the most disgraceful action by any golf organization in the past 30 years." Locke was reinstated.

What does your average American player think? "Look," says Leonard Thompson, the grinder's grinder. "We don't mind the foreigners coming to our Tour. We do want to play the best. But 'why shouldn't we all play by the same rules? It would have been like giving Roberto Clemente four strikes just because he was a foreigner."

If something doesn't happen soon, golf's Zeus, Mark McCormack, may actually do what people have been suggesting he would do someday—invent a "world" tour that stars the globe's 30 best players and enough money to redecorate South America. Then where would Joe Sansabelt be?

Watson has an idea. Give any foreign player who's not a member of the Tour one extra exemption per year for every major championship he has won. Faldo, for example, would get two additional exemptions—seven total. Ballesteros would get five—10 in all. Under Watson's plan you would have the best foreign players competing in the States, but you wouldn't have a mad rush of foreigners flooding the fields. And the sport would get what it deserves—the best against the best—more often.

The world has been knocking down walls lately, but golf keeps putting them up. Beman knows. He admitted last week that he had proposed allowing the foreign players a sixth exemption—to The Players Championship—but the tournament policy board, which represents the players, squashed the idea. So Beman remains a commissioner who's not in charge of his sport's premier events. "It would be like Paul Tagliabue having nothing to do with the Super Bowl," says Norton. "He's frustrated as hell."

Even Beman's money list doesn't reflect what's going on in golf. Paul Azinger was the leader; now Calcavecchia is. But Strange and Norman weren't around for much of the early season. They both skipped most of the West Coast swing, opting for huge appearance fees in Australia.

"How much does Azinger have?" Strange asked when he got back.

"Uh, $390,000," he was told.

"I've already got him drilled," said Strange.

So it was that life on the PGA Tour once again made no sense. Neither, for that matter did the leader board. Last Friday, for instance, Hale Irwin had a one-shot lead over Rocco Mediate and Jodie Mudd. Irwin? Shouldn't he be playing a senior tournament? The 44-year-old Irwin has always loved a course that gives away birdies about as often as home lots. Only three shots back was Watson, 40, who said, "We older players get sneaky in our old age." And they talk about the Senior Tour lowering its age limit to 45.

After three holes on Saturday, Irwin had given up the lead to Mudd, but then the rains came, and play was postponed until Sunday. It was a strange sight. Hale on the course, and Mudd on the leader board. But by the time the third round was completed early on Sunday morning, Irwin had melted away with a 74, and we were left with a feature threesome of Mudd, Calcavecchia and resident iconoclast and sartorial risk-taker Ken Green. Green wore a hot-pink, fuchsia and lime-green shirt that looked like an explosion at a Sherwin Williams store. Let's see, Calcavecchia had ripped the course, and Green is widely known for ripping everything else on the Tour. Wonder whom Beman was rooting for?

At the 1983 Masters, Mudd was two shots off the lead on the last morning and imploded to an 86. "Those scars lasted a long time," he says. But in 1988 he won his first tournament, and another in '89, and he had a doggedness to his step on Sunday. He told his brother and caddie, Tommy, 26, at lunch-time between the two rounds, "Today is the day we take it up one more level."

From the start he did just that. Mudd birdied the second and third holes to go three up on Calcavecchia. Green was flitting from waste bunker to alligator pond by then and was out of it, but Calcavecchia couldn't be shaken. This is a guy who not only won the British Open last summer but also is proving to be almost uncuttable. He has finished in the top 10 seven out of nine tries in 1990.

By the time Calcavecchia birdied the 16th with a seeing-eye 16-footer, the two were separated by a single shot. On 17, Calcavecchia swallowed his pride and aimed for dry land instead of the pin. He put the ball about 30 feet from the hole. Mudd, though, hit the shot of the week. It checked up five feet from the pin to the thunderous acclaim of fans, CEOs, players and the occasional osprey. For a moment Calcavecchia stared at the ground, beaten again. Then he stared at Mudd and laughed. He walked up to him, gave him a low five and said, "Tell me you pushed that." Later Calcavecchia said he was suspicious because "Jodie's a great player, but he ain't that great."

Mudd had. In fact, he had aimed for Calcavecchia's ball. But a guy can't be perfect, can he? He walked up and stroked his putt in for a birdie and a two-shot lead, which even a bogey on 18 couldn't screw up. The $270,000 was his, not to mention a 10-year Tour exemption and the shiniest day of his career.

For a guy who grew up picking up trash on the local municipal course in Louisville for greens fees, for a guy who never belonged to a country club, for a guy who won consecutive U.S. Public Links Championships in 1980 and '81, the TPC course and its greens were dandy, thanks. "It's something I'll always cherish," he said. "I took on those guys, and I fought them off."

Meanwhile, the destitute and downtrodden Calcavecchia was trying to find something to hold on to. His final rounds in those four second-place finishes were 69, 65, 69 and 69. "That'll usually take you where you want to go, won't it?" he said.

He has our condolences.

TWO PHOTOSJACQUELINE DUVOISINMudd (left) triumphed, but Calcavecchia (right) finished second, topped the money list and demonstrated that winning isn't everything. TWO PHOTOSJACQUELINE DUVOISINMediate (left) and Irwin starred on the second day with rounds of 67 and 68, respectively, but both slid back into the pack. PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINGreen, en route to a final-round 75, rolled up his pant legs at 5. PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINAt 11, after another errant shot, he tidied up. PHOTOJACQUELINE DUVOISINAt the 15th his drive landed in a sandy waste beside the fairway.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)