For a dozen years, Allen Miller and George Cadle have, by a hare, hung onto their dreams of playing the PGA Tour.
Now, thanks to the new all-exempt PGA Tour, Miller and more than 100 other pros have been freed from the indignities, the personal traumas and the career warping handicaps of golf's infamous "rabbit" existence. "This year," says Commissioner Deane Beman, beaming, "we've vastly expanded the number of players who finally have an opportunity to compete under essentially equal conditions."
On the other hand, also because of the new all-exempt concept, Cadle, and more than 100 other pros like him, have been, in Cadle's words, "turned into bums . . . Xed out of a place on the tour that we've held for years . . . The tour has closed its shop and locked us out." Cadle and others like him have gone from the hardships of rabbithood to a new kind of golf netherworld--call it the legion in limbo--which watches itself dematerialize toward oblivion.
When fans glance at the leader board here at the Doral Open this week and see both Miller and Cadle near the top, they will hardly be able to guess how radically these men's golf lives have been turned on their heads this season by a simple rule change.
Both are 34, both are established middle-of-the-pack tour veterans who have won more than a quarter-million very hard earned dollars over the years; two players whose golf histories could hardly be more identical--they're the prototypical hardy rabbit survivors, earning a decent, unspectacular living under harrowing competitive pressure.
Yet, because of the dramatic and controversial nonexempt decree, Miller has been given an enormous leg up in his career while Cadle has been dealt what he fears may be a career-ending blow.
On the glittering surface, in a game where a couple of dozen big names like Watson, Nicklaus and Floyd define the sport, the golf world seems unchanged.
However, for this vast middle-class majority of pro golfers, 1983 is the first season of a revolution. The tour is in the midst of its most fundamental and hotly argued transformation in decades.
First, let's glace backward.
For years, Miller and Cadle bounced around the PGA circuit at their own expense, playing in Monday qualifying in hopes of gnawing their way into the rich lettuce patch of the main draw. Between them, they've teed it up more than 500 times in these Monday crap shoots.
Their common badge of honor is that they could, week after week and year after year, stand up to this land-rush pressure as 90 or more rabbits gunned for perhaps 30 open spots.
Their common bond of indignity was that, once they got into tournaments, they couldn't win enough money to reach the top 60 on the money list and become exempt for the following season. Miller and Cadle each managed only one season in the exempt from qualifying hierarchy; every other year, back to Blue Monday.
The plight of the rabbits has been a pet project of Beman for the last six years. His pushing, plus the impact of an unhealthy economy and increased travel costs, induced the tour's 10-man policy board to inaugurate the all-exempt notion.
It's a simple concept.
First, rabbits are now extinct. Monday qualifying, at least as it was known, is defunct.
This is how tournament fields are now determined.
First priority goes to players with "special exemptions;" basically, these are the rich and famous guys.
Next priority goes to the top 125 money winners from the previous season. They have the same status that the top 60 used to have. The players between No. 60 and No. 125 on the money list last year are the big winners in the brave new all-exempt world.
After the money list's top 125, the field is filled out with the top 50 finishers from the previous year's qualifying tournament. This is a once a year, six-round event that starts with about 500 hopeful players. Who's entered? Just about anybody with a matched set of irons.
Finally, if for some reason the field still is not full, then the 125th through 150th players from the money list have a chance to luck into a tournament.
If you are not in one of these categories--and a couple of hundred rabbits from 1983 are not--then the tour wishes you the best of luck in finding a nice pigeon in a $5 nassau back at your home club, because you are not hitting ball one on the tour this year. Work on your game and try your luck in the Q School stampede in the fall.
Last season, the PGA Tour was one long battle to make it into the top 125. Gavin Levenson finished 126th; he missed his last six consecutive cuts, failed to make even a single dollar in that time, and missed the 125th spot by $185.
"I'll never forget a triple bogey on the 12th hole in the Kemper Open," says Levenson. "That cost me the exemption."
Cadle is 127th; he missed an exemption by $546.
Cadle has managed to get into four tournaments when the fields were sufficiently small for his number to come up. "I've played 13 rounds this year and only one has been over par. And I've won $1,488 . . .
"This new system is unfair. It locks the 125 guys in who are already there. You've really got to mess up to fall out of the 125. On the other hand, a guy like me needs a miracle to crack the 125 because I'll only get into maybe a third as many events as the exempt players will. Once you're in that top 125, you have a huge advantage, and once you're out, you're at a huge disadvantage. They've closed their shop . . ."
Beman responds that, "The top 175 (money list, plus qualifying tournament) have a great advantage over everybody else. But it used to be the top 60 who had the same edge. We've vastly expanded the opportunity for essentially equal competition. And we've made life on tour liveable for a lot more players."
Of course, Miller, who finished 93rd on the money list last year, loves the new ground rules.
"No," he says, "I've always been against the idea of the all-exempt tour, even though I know it's designed to help people like me. I'll accept it as a blessing in disguise, but I still don't think it's fair to people like Levenson and Cadle. The old way was tough, but fair to everybody.
"Sometimes," said Miller, "your principles aren't the same as what's good for you."
Said like one the last of the true golf rabbits.