Ted Purdy went to breakfast with his family Saturday morning at the Embassy Suites near the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, enjoying -- or trying to enjoy -- a rare weekend off on the PGA Tour. As one of the hottest players in golf since the Masters, Purdy was into a flow that started in Hilton Head and carried over to Houston and New Orleans before coming to an end with a missed cut at the Wachovia Championship.
"I've taken some criticism for how much I've been playing," Purdy said. "But I've got to ride this wave as long as I can."
The concept of wave running occurs on all levels of the PGA Tour, from the top players down to the ones whose careers could hinge upon it. It's not just Vijay Singh (four straight top-10s since the Masters with a T-10 at Wachovia) and Phil Mickelson (10 top-10s in 11 tournaments this year) who get on a roll. Purdy was 111th on the money list after missing the cut at the BellSouth Classic in early April.
He arrived at the Wachovia Championship last week ranked 29th thanks to a three-week run that grossed more than $650,000. That made the missed cut somewhat tolerable. Instead of dreading another trip to Q-school, Purdy is on pace to lock up a tour card -- for the first time in his career.
Because he has a 10-month-old son that's a big deal, so this week he will be in Irving, Texas, for his fifth-straight tournament, the EDS Byron Nelson Classic. "Right now there's no distractions and that's the key," Purdy said. "The only distraction is waking up a couple times a night to feed my son, which is kind of fun."
Stretches like Purdy's ultimately can open the door to grander possibilities and global opportunities. Last summer Sweden's Fredrik Jacobson transformed his entire career with one five-tournament stretch that included top-10 finishes in the U.S. and British Opens and earned him special-exempt status on the PGA Tour for 2004. Currently Stephen Ames is looking at a spot in the U.S. Open if he moves up two positions in the World Ranking by the end of May. He was 105th at the start of the year, but has advanced 53 places with five top-10s, including three in succession. Since missing the cut at the Honda Classic, he hasn't earned less than $150,000 per appearance.
Ames attributes his ascension from Trinidad journeyman to 17th on the money list to various factors, the first being Purdy's point about fewer distractions. In December he established Canadian citizenship, ending years of contention with U.S. Immigration authorities. But Ames also changed clubs (going from Callaway to Nike), caddies (enlisting his brother, Robert), added a sport psychologist (Alan Fine of Salt Lake City) and stepped up his conditioning program.
He also recently turned 40 and has learned when to back off. After a closing 65 in New Orleans, Ames is taking two weeks off to watch the Calgary Flames as they try to reach their first NHL final since 1989. "He has gotten a feel for himself and his energy levels," said strength and conditioning coach Chris Noss. "He knows he can come out for three tournaments, then take time off. He has to stay true to himself."
Being more like Purdy than Ames, Duke graduate Joe Ogilvie was not afforded the same respite. Ranked 147th in earnings through the MCI Heritage, Ogilvie cost himself a big check with a 76 Sunday at Houston, but bounced back at the HP Classic with a second-place tie worth $448,800. At the Wachovia, he shot 76 Saturday to drop from T-9 to T-46 and could never fully recover. Those two 76s cost him three-straight top-10 finishes.
"Guys like Vijay and Tiger, they're gifted at turning everything off except golf and the shot at hand," said Ogilvie. "A lot of us [who are] not so talented get on these streaks and it's harder to do that." A Sunday rally (69) at Wachovia helped Ogilvie's confidence level more than the payday ($38,920) and sent him to the Nelson in the right frame of mind.
"It's weird but I told somebody today that I'm just playing golf. I'm seeing where it's going," Ogilvie said, describing the same imagery that Purdy was experiencing until his closing bogey at Quail Hollow cost him a payday.
"You try to jot down the notes on what you're thinking about," Purdy said. "But the strange thing about getting on a run is you tend not to think about anything. You're allowing your talent to come through. The key is trusting what you have."
Sport psychologists call it "remaining in the present." Purdy had one simple swing thought at Hilton Head where he lost a playoff to Stewart Cink. But on the 18th tee Friday he stopped thinking "swing the club at the target," and focused on mechanics, which ultimately led to a bogey, the end of a streak and a Saturday breakfast with baby Samuel and wife Arlene. It's a lesson he took to Texas, where he hoped to get back up on the wave.
PGA Wachovia Championship
Solid start proves club pro is worthy
Visitors to Pinehurst, N.C., are already familiar with Kelly Mitchum -- maybe too familiar. Mitchum is the lead instructor at the Pinehurst Resort and CC and does a series of golf tips that run constantly on the local-access television channel. He's sort of Pinehurst's version of "Wayne's World." The difference is, while Wayne and Garth may not have been worthy enough to meet Aerosmith, Mitchum was downright comfortable with the tour pros at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte.
A 1993 graduate of North Carolina State, Mitchum got into the field of the Wachovia Championship by earning one of the two spots available in the Carolinas PGA Section qualifier. He also played in last year's inaugural tournament, missing the 36-hole cut by one shot after he double-bogeyed the par-3 17th the second day. This time, he made the cut easily at three under par. In fact, until Mitchum double-bogeyed the 18th hole Friday, his name was on the leader board with players such as Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods. Disaster eventually struck on the back nine of the third round with a 42, including a triple-bogey on that devilish 18th. He recovered with a one-under-par 71 Sunday and a T-56 finish, worth $12,544.
"I've driven the ball pretty decent and for me that has been the key," said Mitchum. "It's all where you hit it. If you're not driving it in the fairway, then it seems pretty hard no matter where they put the pins."
Mitchum's résumé suggests his place on Friday's leader board was no fluke. He was a member of the 1993 Walker Cup team, a four-time All-American at N.C. State (twice an Academic All-American, as well), the ACC individual champion in 1991, winner of the North & South Amateur in '93 and a semifinalist in the U.S. Amateur in '92. As a Carolinas Section professional, he won the 2003 South Carolina Open.
There was a time when he thought the tour might be in his future. "I tried for about four years," he said. "Played the Nike Tour, now the Nationwide Tour, for a year, the Canadian Tour for a couple of years, then gave it up. My last time [at Qualifying School] I shot eight under par in the second stage and that wasn't good enough to make it to the final stage. That started [me] thinking, I played pretty good here and I'm not even good enough to make it to the final stage. I'm very happy with what I've been doing. My priorities are not coming out here to try to get back out on tour. That's not my goal. It's to try to come out here and have fun."
That Mercedes courtesy car sure was nice, though.
Cook ends slide with first cut in 13 months
John Cook plays in a pretty fair pick-up league. As a member of the Isleworth Mafia -- Orlando family -- he can get a game anytime with his old pal, Mark O'Meara, or a couple of their running buddies, Tiger Woods and Stuart Appleby. Playing day-in and day-out with that bunch could make the USA Network television studio seem like a cozy place. But the reality is just the opposite.
"Playing at home with the guys I play with, I'm competitive. I play with Mark and Tiger. My son [Jason]. Stu. If you don't bring your game with these guys, you're in the wrong business," said Cook, who tied for 35th at two-under 286, making the cut for the first time since the 2003 Players Championship, a tournament he withdrew from after the third round.
The success of O'Meara, who won the Dubai Desert Classic early this year, may be the biggest motivator of all. "Mark's played great. He's pushing me," Cook said. "Tiger's pushing me big time. My son's pushing me big time. But if I'm not competitive, I won't play. I've seen that happen too much."
It has been a tough season for Cook, 46, an 11-time tour winner, who played collegiately with Wachovia champion Joey Sindelar at Ohio State in the late 1970s. Prior to the Charlotte event, Cook had only been healthy enough to play in six tournaments, missing five cuts and withdrawing from the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am when his back went out. He had surgery on his right shoulder last year to repair a torn labrum and another area where the joint had decompressed and his bones were rubbing against each other. "After the shoulder rehab I've gotten a lot stronger. I'm hitting the ball with a lot more authority," he said. "I drove it with K.J. [Choi] most of the day, so that's decent for me. I feel like my body's in shape enough to where I can go ahead and swing at it and use some speed."
The studio may have to wait if it's expecting to see Cook in that seat on a permanent basis. "USA has been great," said Cook. "I've cut down on those Thursday/Fridays a little bit because it's very difficult to be playing and doing that. It's hard to be prepared for both. I want to be down there playing. My gut wants to be down there hitting shots with these guys. It's tough. I enjoy [TV] a lot. It's something that I'd like to do, to continue doing."
Maybe not just yet, however. "Johnny knows his game well," said Appleby. "It wasn't that long ago he won. As you get older there are only two issues that stop you from playing -- the brain is just not sharp and you're not into it or the body gives up. I think Cookie still has both."
-- Jim Moriarty
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer at Golf World.