That's not blurry vision, that's the leader board of the latest PGA golf tournament. It seems that every season on the PGA Tour, whole broods of new young things come hurtling out of obscurity to take possession of their first victories. If you can untangle the unfamiliar names, you have several of the top money winners on tour.
They are the new names to watch. They lurk in long-driving contests, crouch in the low scoring averages and tip-toe out of qualifying school. Then, some week when the wind isn't blowing and the greens are holding, they walk away with stardom and satchels of money. There were a record-tying 12 first-time winners on the PGA Tour last year, and there are four so far this season. Frequently, it can mean that someone like Paul Azinger, who got his first two wins in recent weeks and has shot to first on the money list, is here for the decade.
"You have to decide you belong here," said Corey Pavin, who spent three years playing abroad before taking the tour by force as a rookie in 1984. "You have to get comfortable with the idea that you can have a long career out here."
There are several to watch closely when the Kemper Open begins today at Avenel. It could be Mark Calcavecchia, who got his first victory last year, a second already this year, and is fourth in official winnings. Or Keith Clearwater, who got his first victory at the recent Colonial National Invitation.
Frequently, the new winners come from the Calcavecchia class of player, a struggler with talent who has yet to put it all together, and who has visited the PGA Qualifying School many times as a result. Calcavecchia made the trip three times between 1981 and 1983 after leaving the University of Florida and joining the tour at 21. In 1985, he won just $15,957 in official money, 162nd on the money list, lost his tour card and didn't make it through the next qualifying school tournament. Instead of playing on the tour, he ended up caddying for Ken Green for a few events.
"I've been in and out of everything imaginable," Calcavecchia said.
In 1986, Calcavecchia got his card back, got in the Doral Open, shot a 65 to take the first-day lead and tied for eighth to earn $13,500. Later in the year, he got his first tour victory (the Southwest Golf Classic) and had three other top 10 finishes to earn $155,012. What happened to finally make him successful was intangible.
"I just finally decided it was time I started playing golf the way I can," he said. "I was probably pressing a little. I got off to a good start, relaxed and got a little confidence."
Since then, Calcavecchia has played aggressively and has posted some of the lowest rounds on tour, such as the 63-63 he shot at the Byron Nelson, where he finished second in a playoff to Fred Couples. He leads the tour in birdies this season, with 220.
"The interesting thing about Mark," Pavin said, "is that when he makes the cut, he's usually on the leader board."
When that happens, he is to be reckoned with. His second victory came at the recent Honda Classic and pushed his earnings this year to $345,636.
"The year has been beyond anything I expected," he said. "My first goal was just to win $180,000."
Until this year, Clearwater's major golfing accomplishments were at the amateur level. He was an all-America on Brigham Young's 1981 national championship team and won the 1982 North-South Amateur. Now, at age 27, his earnings of $166,744 make him the fourth most successful rookie in tour history, not far behind Pavin, who set the record with $260,536 in 1984. Having struggled for so long to make it, he and players like Calcavecchia have much in common.
"I think we have sort of a bond," Clearwater said. "We struggled a little bit more than some, maybe, so we appreciate being out here a little more than some guys who came out right away and haven't known anything else."
Sometimes it is easy to mark a player who is ready to win: an example is Davis Love, one of the longest hitters on the tour, who earned $113,245 in his first season last year. He got his first victory at the Heritage Classic six weeks ago, ahead of another comer, Steve Jones. He is 13th on the money list with $250,883.
The case of Azinger is slightly different, although he, too, was easy to predict after winning $254,019 last year with seven top-10 finishes, including a second at the Hawaiian Open. But first he had to go through qualifying school three times between 1981 and 1984 before creeping up the money list with $81,179 in 1985.
There are clusters of players who have yet to win, but who seem prepared to at any moment. Two of the suspects this week are Jones, and David Frost of South Africa. Frost was in contention just last week at the Memorial, where he finished seventh. He seems due, after turning pro in 1981 and learning his craft overseas before joining the U.S. tour in 1984. He won $118,537, then increased his earnings by almost $70,000 last year with six top-10 finishes. He is currently 16th on the money list with $254,719.
Jones joined the tour in 1981 as a second-team all-America out of Colorado, but failed to make any significant money until 1985. He was first in the 1986 qualifying tournament and only a tie for sixth in the Tallahassee Open helped him make $51,543. But he has made a big move, already doubling his winnings with $116,616 this year, and finishing second to Love at the Heritage.