Mike McCullough: A hit at 56
Time of His Life
This is an article from the May 14, 2001 issue
Ever feel as if your best days are behind you? Mike McCullough
did, but the opposite turned out to be true. McCullough had gone
his entire pro career--23 years on the regular Tour and five more
on the Senior tour, for a total of 612 tournaments--without a win.
This year, though, at an age (56) when most Seniors hit the wall,
he has won twice and is fourth in earnings.
"Golfwise, I'm a new person," says McCullough, who on Feb. 25 won
his first tournament, the Mexico Senior Classic. "I feel as if
I'm three years old. My swing is so different, it's as if I have
a new body, and I'm getting better."
McCullough barely made it onto the Senior tour, surviving a
seven-man playoff for the 16th and final spot at the 1995 Senior
Q school. Since the Maui Kaanapali Classic in October 1996, he
has played in every tournament for which he has been eligible--159
straight events--but has never finished a season better than 16th
on the money list.
McCullough's transformation began on Halloween in 1997. He was
having dinner with his best friend, Gil Morgan, during a
tournament in Los Angeles. "I was at the end of my rope,"
McCullough says. "I told Gil I didn't know how to get better, and
my time was numbered. Gil saw the tears coming down my face and
said he would help."
Morgan, who has one of the best swings in the game, asked his
longtime coach, Ernie Vossler, to work with McCullough. After
watching McCullough hit a few balls, Vossler was amazed that his
new pupil had made a living with a such a flawed swing.
"Basically, Mike swung backwards," says Vossler. "He shifted the
wrong way on his backswing, which forced him to slow down and
open the club up on the downswing. The only shot he could hit was
a dinky fade."
To get him to hit the ball with more authority and to play a
draw, Vossler strengthened McCullough's grip and had him hit
shots standing as far away from the ball as possible with his
feet spread four feet apart. At first the results weren't pretty.
"I would play a practice round and literally shoot in the 90s,"
McCullough says. "I stayed awake a lot of nights wondering about
my future. Gil and Ernie kept encouraging me, though. Finally,
this year, I began to trust the changes."
When the payoff came in Mexico, McCullough says, "the other
players were great about it, but I was still in a daze until I
got home to Scottsdale. It was 5 a.m. when I went into the
bedroom of my 11-year-old son, Mark. All he said was, 'It's
done.' I realized then that my winning had been so important to
that little fellow and to other people close to me. That's when
it hit me." A month later McCullough beat Andy North in a playoff
to win the Emerald Coast Classic.
"Mike should be a good player into his 60s," says Vossler. "He's
got a tiny waist [33 inches], and he can bend over and put his
head through his legs. He's a young 56, and he's really learning
golf for the first time."
One thing hasn't changed: McCullough won't skip a tournament. On
the Senior tour the top 70 career money leaders in combined
regular and Senior tour earnings are exempt. McCullough is 48th
on that list, but before this year he had never been better than
57th. "Just because I'm finally enjoying some success doesn't
mean I'm dumb enough to forget what it was like not to have any,"
says McCullough. "I've fought all my career; that's all I know. I
have a number on the alltime money list that I'd like to reach,
and when I do, I'll take a week off."
He'll have earned the rest.
Stress Reducer To the Stars
Other than an extra 10 yards, the tour's most sought-after
commodity is serenity. To fight stress, Bobby Jones used to soak
in a hot tub nursing a cocktail. Today pros are more holistic and
swear by all manner of magnets and bracelets, the latest being a
key-chain-sized pendant called a QLink.
Three PGA Tour players have won this year while wearing a QLink:
Mark Calcavecchia (Phoenix), Jesper Parnevik (Honda) and Scott
McCarron (BellSouth). On the Senior tour, QLink wearer Mike
McCullough has come out on top twice after three winless decades.
Made by Clarus Products International of San Rafael, Calif., the
QLink comes in three styles--a plastic model for $129 and two
silver versions that are $299 each. QLink has been on the market
since 1995, and more than 120,000 have been sold. Clarus says the
QLink balances electromagnetic fields found in the body, thereby
increasing resistance to everything from anxiety to jet lag, and
has been worn by such people as Madonna and Rupert Murdoch.
Clarus hasn't paid any golfers, but the LPGA's Rosie Jones, who
won in Austin two weeks ago while wearing one of the pendants,
offers this testimonial: "Normally I have a hard time controlling
my emotions, but after wearing the QLink, I've been extremely
McCullough agrees. "I don't know what it does, but it doesn't
hurt, so I keep it," says McCullough, who carries his QLink in
his pocket. "I can't wear it around my neck. It would interfere
with my magnets."
Sometime between now and the Sept. 28-30 Ryder Cup, either Curtis
Strange or Sam Torrance will revert to form and blow a gasket. So
far the opposing captains have done a credible job of acting
diplomatically, but the bad blood from Brookline remains just
below the surface. Much of Strange's composure will be worn away
this week when he's sure to be baited by Britain's tabloid press
during a playing visit to the Belfry.
What do these players have in common?
They set course records at Tour events this year. Gogel shot a 62
at Poppy Hills during the AT&T, Magee had a 66 at the Gallery
during the Tucson Open, and Stankowski fired a 61 at English Turn
during the Compaq Classic.
Should Tour players be required to play at least once every four
--Based on 4,211 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Does Tiger Woods get too much airtime during
tournament telecasts? Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
Of the 16 Tour events Woods has entered at least four times, he
has failed to win only one, the Nissan Open. Here are the
tournaments in which he has had the most, and least, success
based on average finish.
Starts Wins Avg. Finish
NEC 4 2 2.5
Buick Invitational 4 1 2.5
Mercedes 5 2 3.4
Nelson 4 1 6.0
Masters 5 2 6.6
Starts Wins Avg. Finish
Memorial 4 2 30.0
Pebble Beach 5 1 17.3
Bay Hill 5 2 16.0
Players 5 1 15.8
Tour Championship 5 1 11.2
Tim Donovan, Cincinnati
Donovan, a senior at Xavier, won the Atlantic 10 championship by
nine strokes over runner-up Michael Sims of Rhode Island.
Donovan's conference-record 19-under 197 at Penn National Golf
Club in Fayetteville, Pa., highlighted by a 64 in the second
round, helped the Musketeers gain a berth in the NCAA
Championships for the first time.
Maria Boden, Harnosand, Sweden
Boden, a senior at Oklahoma State, sank a 20-foot putt for birdie
on the first playoff hole to beat Amelia Moses of Missouri and
Oklahoma's Lisa Meldrum and take the Big 12 championship. Boden,
who was also the tournament's medalist as a sophomore, led the
Cowgirls to their second conference title in three years.
Steve Wright, Lauringburg, N.C.
Wright, 52, a controller for a box company, shot a
three-under-par 213 at River Landing Golf Course in Wallace to
win his second North Carolina Mid-Amateur title, by a stroke over
Mitch Adams, the defending champion. Wright teamed with Bill
Boles to take the state Four-Ball in 1998, and he won the Amateur
Submit Faces candidates to golfplus.cnnsi.com/faces.
Annika versus Tiger
Annika Sorenstam, 30, and Tiger Woods, 25, are the No. 1-ranked
players in women's and men's golf, respectively. Sorenstam has 28
career victories, Woods has 27. Each has been named her or his
tour's player of the year three times. Beyond that, they don't
have much in common. Here are a few of their favorite things.
Car Volvo station wagon Porsche 911 Carrera
Outdoor Skiing Scuba diving
Hobbies Chess, crunching Table tennis, pool,
stats computer games
Pets Cats, Nelson Dog, Joey
(Russian blue) (golden retriever)
and Molly short-
Color Blue Red
Agent Mark Steinberg (IMG) Mark Steinberg (IMG)
Workout Kick-boxing Weightlifting, running
High school Tennis Cross-country
TV show The Sopranos SportsCenter
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld George Carlin
Recording Goo Goo Dolls Third Eye Blind
Cereal Rice Krispies Wheaties
Entree Pasta Deep-fried ribs and rice
Nickname Nicky Sam
Dessert Vanilla ice cream Thai sticky rice