If there is an art to golf, it lies somewhere within the phrase
getting it around. Like taking what the course gives, knowing
where to miss it or golfing your ball, the words are an earnest
but necessarily loose attempt to describe the ability to score
Mark Brooks, who is quick to assert that in terms of his sport,
"I'm not a great anything," is a cold-eyed Texan who knows how
to get it around. And Sunday, in winning the Shell Houston Open
by outputting Jeff Maggert on the first hole of sudden death,
the 35-year-old Brooks did it so well that--at least for a day--he
was definitely a great something.
With an old-fashioned, buggy-whip swing that includes a flat,
homemade follow-through, the 5'9", 150-pound native of Fort
Worth negotiated his way around a baked-out but
water-hazard-laden TPC at The Woodlands with significantly less
than his A-game. A few shots went left, others went right, and a
good many were short. In all Brooks hit only six of the 18
greens in regulation, an exceedingly low number even considering
the firm, shallow nature of the targets. But it was a tribute to
Brooks's management that he was never in an untenable position.
And to more than compensate for his less-than-stellar ball
striking, he made everything when it counted during the best
display of final-round putting seen in professional golf this
Officially Brooks needed only 21 putts in his closing 70,
although that number did not count the five times he used his
mallet-headed putter from off the green. And on the back nine,
which he started three strokes behind Maggert and two behind
David Duval, Brooks had the kind of run that, if repeated with
any frequency, will make him the stuff of putting legend.
Actually it started on the 9th hole, where Brooks missed a
five-foot putt for par. "I kind of said, That's it," he said
later. "I made my mind up: I was going to try to stay aggressive
with the putter." Employing a new preputting routine that
featured no practice strokes while over the ball, Brooks got
rolling by holing a three-footer for birdie on the 10th. On the
12th he saved par from 12 feet, and he followed with a
five-footer for a par on the par-5 13th. After a poor tee shot
on the par-3 14th, Brooks drained another long par putt, a
10-footer, and then lipped out a 60-foot eagle putt on the 15th.
After missing the 177-yard par-3 16th short and to the right,
Brooks failed to hit his first putt through 20 feet of fringe,
but he nailed his 15-footer for par. On the home hole Brooks
pulled a two-iron approach shot but trundled his first putt from
60 feet to within five feet and pipelined it from there.
Finally, on the same green in the first hole of the playoff,
Brooks stepped up to a 30-footer for birdie and rammed his ball
The clincher--statistically Brooks's eighth putt in eight
holes--brought a gasp from the gallery, most of whom were
pulling hard for Maggert, a Houston native who makes his home at
The Woodlands and has nearly won the tournament three times.
When Maggert couldn't make his 18-footer, Brooks almost
apologized. "We kept the trophy in the state, anyway," he told a
partisan group of tournament volunteers. "That was the best I
Despite his apparent modesty, Brooks's best is pretty good. He
won at the Bob Hope in January and joins Phil Mickelson and Mark
O'Meara as the PGA Tour's only multiple winners in 1996. A
closing 64 at Los Angeles brought him within one stroke of a
playoff. With $627,190 in prize money, he is on the verge of
surpassing his best year, 1991, when he also won twice. But when
asked where the sixth victory of his 12-year Tour career might
propel him, Brooks seemed indifferent.
"Let's see, I won't have to qualify for the U.S. Open," he said.
"And I get to go back to Augusta and try to putt those greens
again. What else? I'd say, if anything, it certainly helps
schedulewise for the rest of the year."
Zzzzzz. A spin doctor for a defeated political party would have
had a hard time taking more luster off a victory. Perhaps Brooks
prefers to remain in the large pool of unknown pros, but that
would be a shame because he's an interesting mix of word and deed.
For example Brooks is a member of Fort Worth's Colonial Country
Club, but not because he took the sort of cut-rate deal that
many private clubs extend to Tour pros. Brooks forked over the
full initiation fee and pays monthly charges so that there is
never any resentment from the other members. He is a top-notch
cook, with a specialty in sauces, and his 63-year-old
Tudor-style home in the leafy Park Hill section of Fort Worth
has a gourmet kitchen. A few years ago he stopped drinking
partly to set an example for his daughters, now 10 and six,
although he still can't stop smoking. Last July he traveled with
his family to Scotland in an attempt to qualify for the British
Open. He made it and then came within a stroke of the playoff
between John Daly and Costantino Rocca. At the postvictory party
on Sunday in Houston, he fronted the musical group Duck Soup in
a respectable rendition of Wild Thing.
Brooks is the product of diverse influences. His father, the
late W. Hal Brooks, was a Baptist minister who died of cancer at
53. Mark keeps tapes of his father's sermons and founded Brooks
House, a center for troubled teens, in memory of Hal. His
mother, Paula, is directing the congressional campaign of Fort
Worth mayor Kay Granger. As a drama and music teacher at
Richland High, Paula taught Mark's wife, Cynthia. In a school
production of South Pacific, Cynthia played Nellie Forbush,
while Mark, six years her junior, was cast as one of the
children. "I lost touch with him after I got out of high
school," says Cynthia of her husband of 12 years, "but my mom
would send me newspaper clippings of him with notes that said,
'That Mark Brooks boy is sure cute.'"
Don't expect to hear any of this from Brooks himself. Cynthia, a
former publicist for the country-music division of RCA records,
says her husband hates self-promotion. "I think it comes from
being a preacher's son and growing up in a fishbowl," she says.
"People were always watching Mark to see if he'd slip up."
However, you don't have to hang around the locker room long to
learn that Brooks is considered one of the toughest players on
the Tour. "He's just an animal of a competitor," says his
caddie, Mark Hensel. Brooks proved that again at Houston, but
the closest he comes to a personal conceit is to view himself as
a thinking man's golfer.
"I would say my brain is probably my biggest asset," he says,
"because I'm not walking around with a bundleful of raw talent.
I don't beat myself very often. A lot of guys are awesome from
tee to green. They can hit it nine miles, they can putt, they
can chip, they can do it all. And you ask, 'Why has he won only
twice, or why has he won only once, or why has he won only eight
times? He should have won 20.' There's something else. It's
right there," says Brooks, tapping his head with his forefinger.
"It's not all heart. Everybody tries to say somebody doesn't
have heart. That's not really true. It's just that the wheels
spin funny when you get into contention."
In the final round at Houston, Maggert and Duval each had his
inner gyro go off its axis. The talented Duval, who at 24 has
already had a half-dozen chances to win in the last two seasons,
made four bogeys to negate four birdies and missed a 10-footer
to tie on the final hole. "If I keep learning, I'll get a win in
here somewhere," he says.
Maggert--who, despite appearing on leader boards with monotonous
regularity over the last five years, still has only one
victory--played solidly for 17 holes of regulation but was
undone by one disastrous mistake. He led Brooks and Duval by two
going into the par-5 13th and had only 210 yards to the front of
the island green for his second shot, but he chose to lay up
because of the firmness of the green and the gusty winds. On his
third shot from 97 yards, Maggert pulled a sand wedge that the
wind took farther left, and he watched helplessly as it bounced
off a slope and into the water. It led to a double-bogey 7, and
the game was on.
Maggert gathered himself to make a birdie at the 15th and par
the remaining holes, including a touchy up and down from the
bunker at the last. Then in sudden death he hit a three-iron
from 190 yards to 18 feet. However, after Brooks drained his
birdie, Maggert hit his putt too softly and lost it on the low
"I'm not going to go sulk tonight," said Maggert, whose
performance was nevertheless an improvement over other occasions
when he has squandered fourth-round leads. "I feel like I know
how to handle it now, and I'll get a few wins somewhere. Mark
took it away."
Brooks, who had to make four trips to the Tour's Q school in the
mid-'80s, knows about rebounding from disappointment. Not
surprisingly, he likes to do it by himself. "I'm kind of
stubborn," he says. "I get a lot of satisfaction going through
that kind of thing alone, if you will. That's why the game is
intriguing. That's why wealthy, powerful people like the game so
much. They can do a lot of things, but they choose to go
frustrate the hell out of themselves on a tough golf course. You
wonder why, but it's because it's an interesting game. I enjoy
it because I'm kind of a perfectionist trying to do something
that can't be done. There's no such thing as perfect golf."
Instead, there's getting it around, and last week in Houston,
Brooks did that perfectly.