Brad Faxon is a cool guy. Golf fans love him because his TV
commercials are funny, he genuinely likes to press flesh with
the people, and often after a round he will empty his bag and
pass out the goodies as souvenirs. Reporters love him because
he's quick with a quip and is fond of milling around the
pressroom, casually mingling and spreading cheer. And the other
players love him because he's a classy competitor and, for all
his talent, not much of a threat to take any money out of their
pockets by doing something rash like winning a tournament.
That's because the only time Faxon seems to lose his cool is
when the pressure builds up, like at last week's United Airlines
Hawaiian Open, where he lost a white-knuckles playoff to Jim
It was the third victory in four months for Furyk, a 25-year-old
third-year pro who earned his first Tour win last October in Las
Vegas and then beat a strong field three weeks later in the
unofficial Kapalua International. It's time to stop talking
about Furyk's funny swing and start celebrating him as one of
the best young players in golf. But on Sunday the only
reputation being cemented at Oahu's Waialae Country Club was
Faxon's as an overrated player. The Hawaiian was his latest lost
opportunity to win his first tournament since 1992. "It's a
tremendous disappointment," Faxon said after Sunday's round.
"Ultimately, you're measured by winning. That's the only thing
For years observers have considered Faxon one of the most
promising players in the game, which just goes to show how far
one good year and one outrageous round can take you. That one
good season was '92, his ninth on Tour, when Faxon won the New
England Classic and the International and finished eighth on the
money list. Faxon did display some titanium at last year's PGA
Championship, when he dropped a stunning 63 on venerable Riviera
during the final round to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team. But
the luster was dulled considerably at Oak Hill when he teamed
with Peter Jacobsen to lose one match and then dropped another,
in singles, to lightly regarded David Guilford.
It was more of the same in Hawaii. Faxon played beautifully on
his way to tying Steve Stricker for a share of the third-round
lead at nine under, a shot in front of Furyk. But he started to
lose it on the way in on Sunday and looked like a goner when his
rope-hooked drive on the cupcake par-5 18th headed straight
toward a bunker in the left rough. Somehow Faxon's ball skipped
through, and he was able to knock his second shot onto the
green. Then he made a 50-foot prayer for eagle to force the
playoff, inspiring him to uncork a primal scream. It was a great
moment and, naturally, short-lived.
February 26, 1996
Faxon duck-hooked his drive on the first playoff hole and had to
scramble for a par, but not before ABC had pulled the plug on
golf and switched to the news everywhere in the country but on
the West Coast. On the third playoff hole, the easy 18th, Faxon
twice found the rough and took a par. Furyk finished him off
with a two-foot tap-in for the winning bird. "There were so many
opportunities to win, but I just hit the ball terribly today,"
Faxon said. "I don't think I hit the middle of the club face all
day long." Furyk struggled at times as well but gutted it out
when it mattered the most. "I'm not proud of every shot I hit,
just the end result," he said.
The playoff was a dramatic end to what was an eventful week,
dominated by good Japanese golfers, bad weather and Paul Azinger.
The Hawaiian Open has always had a Japanese flavor, and not just
because the marshals' placards implore quiet in both English and
Japanese. In 1983 Isao Aoki became the first, and only, native
of Japan to win a Tour event when he holed a wedge shot for
eagle on the 72nd hole. Seven years later David Ishii, a
Japanese-American born and raised in Hawaii, became
Ichiban--numero uno--by coming out of nowhere to pull off a
stunning one-shot victory over Azinger. This year the tournament
was enlivened by seven Japanese pros, the most ever to play in a
Three squeaked through Monday qualifying, beating out 80 other
Japanese pros (plus some 50 gringos). Alas, the trio--Tomohiro
Maruyama, Kaname Yokoo and Shinichi Yokota--all missed the cut.
Four others got in on sponsor's exemptions, including Joe Ozaki,
one of Japan's keynote players, who finished 11th. But the
splashiest showing was by Nobuo Serizawa, a 36-year-old from
Gotemba City (in the shadow of Mount Fuji) who during Saturday's
third round dunked two approach shots on par-4 holes for eagles.
For all the buzz that the Japanese created, the big news in
Hawaii was a frosty wind that sent scores skying, especially
during the first two rounds, and pushed the cut to three-over
147. Gusts were reported at 45 mph, but, said Jeff Sluman, "it
felt more like 100 mph."
Creativity and adaptability were key. Azinger worked his ball
around Waialae with his arsenal of punch shots and bump and runs
on the way to a smooth 71-70-71-69--281 and 11th, his best finish
since a tie for fourth at last year's Hawaiian Open. Including
his solid showings at Phoenix and San Diego, Zinger has played
11 of his 12 rounds this season under par and finally appears
back to full strength a year and a half after his chemotherapy.
"I'm a lot better player than I was last year," he says. "I'm
physically stronger, my swing is more consistent, I'm hitting my
irons crisper, and my putting is better."
Still, Azinger was hardly buoyant at tournament's end, as he's
not one to play for moral victories. The Hawaiian Open's
all-time money leader, Azinger had come in expecting to win, and
it looked as if he might after he birdied two early holes on
Saturday to come within one shot of the leaders. "Seeing your
name at the top of the leader board, that's good, man," says
Azinger. "I'm not afraid of that feeling. That's what I want. I
just need to get in contention more, to get that edge back."
That edge is something Furyk apparently knows all about, and the
emotion of the victory and the effort he put into it left him
slumped in a chair, weeping, after he had completed play. By
contrast, after losing the playoff, Faxon was about to step in
front of the TV cameras to explain himself when he jerked to a
stop to ask the question that was apparently foremost in his
mind. "I've got to know one thing first," he said. "Who won the
Only a few minutes earlier, Faxon had been presented the crystal
pineapple that goes to the runner-up. "I think I'm going to eat
this thing I'm so hungry," he said with a goofy grin. It was a
good line, and it drew a big laugh, but what poor Brad Faxon
failed to appreciate was that the joke had been on him.