The most fascinating golfers on the pro tour often lurk at the fringes of the diabolical game, poking their heads out of the underbrush just long enough to cry, "Here I am," before disappearing again.
Little 150-pound Mark McCumber, a 5-foot-7, self-taught dynamo who lashes 340-yard downwind drives, was the gap-toothed, bushy-tailed PGA rabbit who bounded into view yesterday with a first-round 67 on Doral's Blue Monster.
McCumber, 27, who is considered the tour's longest driver, pound for pound. Seems to encapsulate all the pains and contradictions of golf in his prodigious yet poignant game.
A child phenomenon, McCumber was so "fed up with golf" by age 18 that he went four years without playing at all. Then, when the bug bit again at 22, it was with double virulence. McCumber was hooked, persevering despite bombing in the PGA qualifying school six times before finally getting his card in 1978.
All his trials inexplicably left McCumber bubbling with high spirits and candor, full of confidence and quips.
For awhile, before reality intervened, McCumber was a first-round coleader of this Doral Open and he basked in the glory of it.
"I hit it long and straight, didn't blow up and finished aggressively. Yeah... I think it totals to 67," he said, re-examining his scorecard. "If it doesn't, I'm disqualified."
McCumber had barely finished a postround lunch when word came he was a leader no longer. Alan Tapie, one of those lucky fellows with a top 60 exemption, had eagled the first hole, used just eight putts in a frontnine 32, and scalded the Monster for a 66.
That's always the way for the McCumbers of the tour. They must burrow so diligently to reach the light that often they slide back into their holes, blinded by the dazzle of contention. Yet, they can dream.
Every rabbit dreams of finding his perfect patch, the course that maximizes his strengths and hides all those faults that have kept him on the wrong side of the barbed wire. McCumber fantasizes that the 7,065-yard Blue Monster is his.
The long, wide open, some say monotonous Monster has made McCumber drool since he stepped onto it for the first time last Sunday afternoon and played until he had to walk in by moonlight. The next morning, in the brutal Monday qualifying round, he shot 33 on the front nine then "hung on for dear life" to shoot 70 and get into the tournament field.
In Wednesday's practice round, he shot 66 and could not wait for yesterday's first light to break.
Once on the course he preached moderation to his long-driving soul. "Remember Pensacola," he muttered.
In the highlight of his 20-tournament pro career, McCumber shot a 64 in the Pensacola Open last year and led going into the final round.
"If I'd just shot 69 on Sunday, I'd have won," he said, still thinking of the glorious one-year exemption a victory brings.
Instead, "I started thinking about Augusta," the word "Augusta" symbolizing the Masters invitation and all the other perks of a PGA tournament winner. Naturally, McCumber finished tied for seventh.
"That taught me to reduce the game to 'the next shot.' You must isolate your mind on what's at hand. Start thinking, and you're in trouble."
Six years ago, McCumber had forsaken golf forever until older brother Jim ordered him out from behind a desk in the family landscape architecture business, saying, "Stop wasting your time selling palm trees and get out on the tour. You're as good as those guys."
Now, McCumber can say, "It's been a long haul, but I think it's going to be worth it.
"At least, I can say, 'I was there.'"