Feast In the Desert

Andrew Magee fended off a hungry pack at the Northern Telecom Open in Tucson
January 31, 1994

The term hungry is much bandied about in golf these days. We are told Nick Faldo is hungry, and so are Greg Norman and Nick Price. But golf's elite now routinely make more money off the course than on and only get that hollow, desperate look at major championships.

There is another, mostly ignored, rung of players for whom hunger is not a conceit. These are people who don't travel by private jets, don't start the year with $1 million in guaranteed endorsement income and don't get invited to feast at the trough of made-for-TV events at the end of the season. And when lesser events—like the Northern Telecom Open, which awards $198,000 and a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour to the winner—roll around, they don't weigh playing against going on a fishing trip or a chance to oversee the addition of a new wing to the house. They show up.

So it was that a ravenous pack of no-names went after the top prize in Tucson last week, with a tight bunch of contenders scraping and grinding until the very end. Finally, Andrew Magee, a former fat cat who has been living through lean times lately, came away with a new lease on a promising career.

"I didn't recognize half the guys," said the 31-year-old Magee, who won his first tournament in more than two years with a 69-67-67-67-270 that gave him a two-stroke edge over four players who tied for second. "But I'll take it."

Meanwhile, most of golf's well-fed took a pass, as is becoming the custom on the Tour's opening swing. Last year, five of the Tour's top 10 money winners played in half or fewer of the West Coast's eight events, and the trend will probably worsen. Fred Couples won't make his first full-field appearance until the second week of February, in Los Angeles, and Norman and Price won't make theirs until the Tour hits Florida in March. Of the top 10 finishers on the 1993 money list, none showed up for the Hawaiian Open, the first full-field event of the year, and only Lee Janzen and Payne Stewart made it to Tucson.

"For the top guys, it's basically pay-for-play at the end of the year," says Stewart, who won $280,000 at the Skins Game in November but shot a rusty 281 and tied for 42nd in his season debut at Tucson. "You really can't pass those things up, but then you see guys taking their breaks at the start of the year. Of course, if you don't play in November and December, you are itching to play in January."

That was the palpable sensation in Tucson, where rookies and retreads couldn't wait to get their spikes into long (7,148 yards) Tucson National and the slightly shorter (7,010 yards) but more sharply angled Starr Pass, the two courses where the tournament was played. A big check early in the season can give such a player a boost up the money list, which at year's end plays a crucial role in his future. Because so many of the Tour's top players passed up the event, the 10 players who gained exemptions off their performance on last year's Nike Tour, as well as 35 of the 46 players who earned 1994 playing cards at the Tour's qualifying school, got into the field of 156. The preponderance of eager youth is why Tucson has become the Tour's Futurity Open, the place where Robert Gamez won in his first start as a pro in 1990, where Phil Mickelson won as an amateur in 1991, and where Janzen won his first tournament in 1992.

"When I won," said Mickelson, who with his ninth-place finish Sunday became the youngest player to reach $1 million in Tour earnings, "I knew that a lot of top players weren't playing, most of the ones who were hadn't been practicing, and that by practicing hard in December maybe I could sneak up and get them. Now the younger players are so excited just to get on Tour they are ready when the first tournament comes around."

You want hungry, just take a random sample of the lop 10 finishers at Tucson. There were three Tour rookies under the age of 27, Bob Burns, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk; two world-class foreigners trying to make their way in America, David Feherty of Northern Ireland and Vijay Singh of Fiji; and a 34-year-old qualifier from the Nike Tour in his second go-round on the PGA Tour, Olin Browne, who spoke for the group when he said. "Hungry? Man, I'm starving."

Magee, for sure, was not starving. Two years ago he was one of golf's young lions, along with Davis Love III the only player under the age of 30 to have achieved three PGA Tour victories. The son of a geologist for Mobil, Magee was born in Paris, then lived in Tripoli and London until he was 10, when the family moved to Dallas, and he took up golf at the age of 11. He made All-America three times at Oklahoma, turned pro in 1984 and won his first Tour event, the Pensacola Open, in 1988. In 1991, Magee won the Nestle Invitational at Bay Hill and the Las Vegas Invitational and finished fifth on the money list with $750,082. He was gaining an identity as a rakish figure who wore stylish Italian clothing and sported an even more stylish power game.

But Magee somehow lost his way in the last two seasons, finishing 53rd on the money list in '92 and 62nd in '93. While that has left him far from destitute, it has made him, well, hungry.

"I was feeling pretty good about myself coming off 1991, but I didn't have any goals in 1992," he explained in a laconic, offhand manner. "I don't know if I was too comfortable or what. I just tried to get a lot more focused this year."

Before the 1991 season, Magee had dedicated two months of competitive downtime to a strict regimen of weight-lifting with a Phoenix-area neighbor, baseball's Jim Lefebvre. So in preparation for his 1994 debut at Tucson, he worked even harder with personal trainer Angela Sundberg of Scottsdale, building more strength and leanness into his six-foot. 180-pound frame.

"I think Andrew's better attitude is all attributable to his physical fitness," said his wife, Susan, last week. "Just being real diligent every day has carried over to his golf."

Magee also decided to keep the goatee that he grew last year. Among his mostly clean-shaven colleagues, it gives him an even more distinctive appearance. Feherty, for one, dubbed him "Fu Man Drew" at Tucson. But as one who prefers to keep off balance those who would study him, Magee was flip when asked about it. Of the beard, he said, "The truth is, I just hate my chin." As for the weight-lifting: "I just wanted to have some breasts. Golfers don't have breasts like other athletes."

But there is a serious side to Magee. It has undoubtedly bothered him that he was no longer hearing his name mentioned among golf's up-and-coming stars. He knew he was better than he had shown, but he also knew that he had to work harder.

"I'm lax a lot of the time—I'm not a driven guy," he admitted. "But I'm driven sometimes."

Even the field's biggest underdogs recognized the opportunity in Tucson. Gary McCord, who said he had prepared for his 1994 debut by getting regularly drubbed by Mickelson in money games around their homes in Scottsdale, posted a first-round 65 that left him only a stroke behind leader Dillard Pruitt.

"I'm dying to get out there, it's so much fun," said the 45-year-old McCord—who will play only four tournaments this year as an adjunct to his duties as a commentator on CBS golf telecasts—after his opening round. "When I was out here regularly, I used to say, I'll get them next week. Now I realize that I have to do it right now, today. I was an idiot. I look at my earlier career as 15 years of R&D."

Still, McCord, who is also sporting a goatee to go with his handlebar mustache, had no illusions. "It's the first round of the year, there are no demons," he said. "They'll be back." On cue, they arrived, bringing with them rounds of 74-76-71 that dropped McCord to 68th, 16 strokes back.

The demons eventually got to Pruitt, who would have at least a share of the lead for each of the first three rounds. A modest 32-year-old South Carolinian who won in Chattanooga in 1991, Pruitt made his stated objective for the week four straight under-par rounds. "It's just a little, bitty, dumb, small goal," he said, "but I never did it last year." Unfortunately, he couldn't do it at Tucson, fading to a fourth-round 73 that dropped him into an 11-way tie for ninth place, six strokes back.

Magee began the final day tied with Pruitt and the 23-ycar-old Furyk, who had played Tucson National a couple of hundred times while he was a student at the University of Arizona. Furyk has a loopy swing evocative of Miller Barber, but he approached the final round with an underwhelmed attitude that gave him a shot to succeed Gamez and Mickelson as the latest Tucson tyke titlist. Indeed, he stayed around the lead all day on Sunday until some late mistakes on approach shots dropped him into a tie for seventh.

Magee got off to a heartening start at the 1st hole when he saved par from a plugged lie in a greenside bunker. He birdied the par-5 2nd, pitched in for a birdie from behind the 3rd green and made three more birdies through the 14th hole. He was following the counsel of his friend Jim Vickers, a former Sooner who won the 1952 NCAA title and is now an accomplished Senior amateur player. Vickers had repeated the same prescription for staying relaxed that he had given Magee before his victorious final round at Las Vegas in 1991: "Don't play to win."

Displaying matter-of-fact calm, Magee weathered some strong challenges. Browne had a double eagle on the 2nd hole to move within one of the lead but eventually finished three back at 273. Playing with chicken pox, Loren Roberts had an early 64 that held up for a piece of second place. The strongest moves came late in the day from veteran Jay Don Blake and Stricker, who shot a closing 67 with the help of his wife and caddie, Nicki. But when Blake bogeyed the par-3 17th after he pushed a four-iron and missed a six-footer, and Stricker bogeyed the par-4 18th when his thin four-iron approach failed to carry a bunker, Magee teed off on 18 with a two-stroke lead.

There was one last group of demons to deal with. As a freshman at Oklahoma in his first college tournament, Magee had come to this same hole leading, then hit his drive into the water on the right, dropped and hit into the water on the left, and made triple bogey 7 to lose by one.

"I've had that memory forever," said Magee, who actually thought his lead was only one going into the last hole. "It flashes to me in my sleep."

Not wanting it to flash on his downswing, Magee pulled out his one-iron on the 465-yard hole and hit it smoothly down the middle. The worst over, he then striped a three-iron from 209 yards onto the elevated green to within 20 feet. "That's the shot I will remember the most," he said.

Two putts later, and Magee had a victory that this time should just whet his appetite, not satisfy his hunger.

PHOTO PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHMagee showed new resolve after devoting his downtime to a new fitness regimen. PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHLocal knowledge was important to Furyk. who flirted with the lead on Sunday before finishing seventh. PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHJay Delsing opened with two 68s, but veered off-line with a final-round 73 and fell nine shots back. PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGHSingh was a runner-up in Tucson, a tempting oasis for a foreigner making his way on the Tour.

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)