Mike (Fluff) Cowan is changing his autograph policy. "I'm trying
to time it better," the world's most famous bag-toter said at
the Masters, where, six weeks after he was dumped by Tiger
Woods, he began caddying for Jim Furyk. "I'm only signing when
I'm on my own, when Jim's not expecting me to be somewhere. I
tried to do that with Tiger, but, I don't know, maybe I didn't
Cowan, the Wilford Brimley look-alike who popped out of a
suitcase for Choice Hotels, appeared in an instructional video
and generally was as ubiquitous as Tiger, was still brandishing
a Sharpie at Augusta. "Plenty of people still seem to want [my
autograph]," he said. Other than that, though, he seemed a
different fellow--unburdened, if slightly humbled--in the wake
of his recent job change.
"Everybody has been very supportive," Cowan said. "That's the
first time I've ever been fired from a full-time bag. I got
fired earlier in my career [by Bob Zender at the '76 Texas
Open], but I had whiffed a tee time--I deserved it."
April 18, 1999
Players often change caddies (Jeff Sluman went through six last
year), but the Tiger-Fluff split was the equivalent of the Royal
divorce. Woods had simply had 'nuff Fluff, and Cowan went home
to Rockville, Md., where he watched TV and caddied for himself.
"My game is almost nonexistent," says Cowan, who once played to
a two handicap.
Furyk, who had first gotten to know Cowan while playing on the
'97 Ryder Cup team, was the first to call. After finishing third
on the money list in '98, the 28-year-old with the loopy swing
had dropped to 34th by the time he fired caddie Steve Duplantis
after a 4 1/2-year run. Furyk rang Cowan at home the day after
the Players Championship, knowing full well that Fluff, whom
John Cook once called "the second-biggest celebrity out here,"
might outautograph him.
"That's fine," Furyk says. "When I get out there he quits doing
it, and we go work on the range. It'll all die down."
While losing Woods hurt financially, it was not without its
upside for Cowan. It fell to the caddie to handle not only the
bag but also the many fans who got in Woods's way--a bad-guy
role he probably won't miss.
Cowan won't be on the bag at Furyk's next start, next week's
Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic, because he'll be
vacationing in Scotland. Furyk instead will use his college
roommate from Arizona, Jeff Manson. Fluff will return for the
May 13-16 GTE Byron Nelson Classic.
At Augusta, Cowan wore the standard-issue white coveralls with a
green number 32 on the breast. As he waited for Furyk outside
the locker room last Wednesday, two other caddies and Sluman
stood chatting nearby. Jimmy Walker, wearing number 30, works
for Steve Stricker but used to loop for Sluman. Mark Chaney,
number 31, is Sluman's current caddie. "Hey, Fluff," Walker
said, looking at Cowan's number 32 and then at Sluman. "You're
Slu's next caddie!" Cowan glanced at his peers and back at his
coveralls, and under his bushy white mustache, a smile appeared.
SOMETHING BRUIN AT THE NATIONAL
Before the Masters began, Ladbrokes of London priced 27 players
at 100 to 1 to win--the longest odds listed. Among them: Scott
McCarron and Steve Pate, a couple of UCLA grads whose chances of
winning even a Bruins alumni tournament were pretty remote not
long ago, but who nonetheless led the Masters during the third
and fourth rounds, respectively.
Upon leaving UCLA, McCarron ('88, history) was so inept with a
putter that he gave up golf for nearly four years to work at his
dad's clothing business in Sacramento. At the '91 Raley's Senior
Gold Rush in his hometown of Rancho Murieta, Calif., McCarron
saw a bunch of fiftysomethings with broom-handle-style putters
and promptly built a replica with an old Ping Anser in his
garage. Going from short to long putter--and from a left-handed
to a right-handed stroke--freed McCarron of the yips, and he
took up the game again. He made the quarterfinals of the '91
U.S. Mid-Amateur before turning pro the next year. After
middling success on the Canadian and Hooters tours, he broke
through with a win at the '96 Freeport-McDermott Classic.
Although McCarron's putter drew most of the attention in Augusta
last week, his prodigious pokes--he was fifth in driving
distance, 18th in putting--were more instrumental in his opening
rounds of 69-68. On the par-4 5th hole on Thursday he uncorked a
315-yard screamer that went 40 yards past the drives of playing
partners Fred Couples and Steve Elkington. He then hit a wedge
to within a foot and made the putt for birdie. On Friday at the
405-yard 18th he hit it 345 yards, and again hit a wedge close
and made birdie. "I've always hit the ball far," he said. "It's
only recently that I've been able to find it afterward."
Alas, on Saturday, McCarron couldn't find it. He was five under
as he stood on the tee at the par-3 12th, but he lost his ball,
made a triple-bogey 6 and was never seen again. He finished
18th--one stroke behind the best man at his wedding, a former
UCLA teammate named Brandt Jobe for whom odds weren't even listed.
Pate, another once-ruined Bruin, was a quick study on Tour after
graduating in '84 with a degree in psychology. He won three
times in his first four years but soon began to find as many
ways to make scars as pars. He got into a car crash on the way
to a '91 Ryder Cup banquet, bruised his hip and could play in
only one match. In January '96 he was driving back from the
Phoenix Open when he ran his car into a truck and broke his
right wrist and right hand. In August of that year he was on a
family vacation at Lake Powell, Utah, when he tripped on a dock
and broke his left wrist. Then there was the deer incident.
"I got hit by a deer on my bike," Pate said after Saturday's
third round, in which he'd just broken a Masters record with
seven straight birdies.
"Where was that?" a reporter asked.
"In my driveway. My dog was chasing it, and it broadsided me."
There were reasons to take the odds on McCarron and Pate.
McCarron had finished 10th and 16th in two of his three Masters
starts. Pate had a tie for third and a tie for sixth among his
five tries. But there were more reasons not to believe. McCarron
had missed two straight cuts coming into Augusta. Pate hadn't
made the Masters field since '93, and that year he missed the
cut. Perhaps Pate, who tied for fourth, said it best when, on
Saturday, he admitted, "I have no explanation for what happened
CLASSIC OLLIE BALL
Jose Maria Olazabal went without a three-putt at Augusta, no
rarity among recent Masters winners. Tiger Woods ('97), Ben
Crenshaw ('95) and Olazabal ('94) didn't three-putt, while Mark
O'Meara ('98) and Nick Faldo ('96) had one each.... Olazabal's
eight-under 280 was just lower than the average winning score of
280.17 (26 have been lower, 26 higher and 11 at exactly 280)....
Olazabal was the second straight winner, and the 11th overall,
to go under par on the par-3s, 4s and 5s.... By finishing
second, Davis Love III moved to within .17 points of Tiger
Woods's No. 2 spot in the World Ranking. Woods, who finished
18th, lost all the remaining Ranking points from his '97 Masters
UP and Down
Jose Maria Olazabal Seve Ballesteros
Eisenhower tree Jeff (Tree) Cable
Greg Norman Nick Faldo
Par-3 jinx Joe Durant
Rough at Augusta Birdies at Augusta
What do these players have in common?
--Davis Love III
They were the only three to shoot par or better in all four
rounds at last week's Masters. Love finished second, Estes tied
for fourth, and Price tied for sixth.
The players say that course conditions on the Tour are too
tough. Would you prefer to see pros struggle to save par or make
a barrel of birdies?
--Based on 85 responses to our informal survey.
Next question: Will Greg Norman ever win the Masters? To vote, go
Who says you have to be a big hitter to win at Augusta? At 239.8
yards per poke, Jose Maria Olazabal finished second- to-last in
driving distance, ahead of only amateur Tom McKnight. Here are
the top 10 in driving distance last week, and how they finished.
PLAYER AVERAGE FINISH
John Daly 299.9 52
Tiger Woods 297.6 18
Fred Couples 285.0 27
David Duval 283.2 T6
Scott McCarron 282.5 18
Davis Love III 280.8 2
Tim Herron 280.0 44
Phil Mickelson 278.8 T6
Trevor Immelman 277.1 56
Sergio Garcia 277.0 38
Kelly Anders, Springfield, Ill.
Kelly, a 17-year-old senior at Sacred Heart-Griffin High, was
player of the year for the Nike Junior Winternational Series, a
10-tournament tour in the Carolinas. Kelly had three victories,
a second and a third in five starts. A two-time Nike
All-America, she has accepted a scholarship to Kentucky.
Steve Spinrad, Goleta, Calif.
Spinrad, 62, a retired accountant, has made 14 holes in one in
27 years. On tee shots of more than 140 yards, he puts his ball
on a rubber tee that sits atop an empty soft-drink can, with the
result that the ball is a full eight inches off the ground. He
has aced all four of the par-3 holes at Sandpiper Golf Course.
Tevis Upton, Atlanta
Upton, 23, a senior at Valdosta State, won medalist honors in
the 16-team Florida A&M Springtime tournament in Tallahassee,
Fla. He shot one-over-par 145 at the Seminole golf course to
lead the Blazers, the nation's top-ranked team in Division II,
to a 14-shot victory.