Not everybody passed on the Tour Championship to go trick-or-treating. Being at East Lake Golf Club meant more to some than it did to others, and it wasn’t something Billy Mayfair took for granted. A year ago, he finished 140th in PGA Tour earnings, losing his card for the first time in his 16-year career. It was nice to rub elbows once again with Tour aristocracy.
So last week, when Mayfair’s work was done and he retired to his car in the club’s parking lot each day, he didn’t really mind that he had to walk past a bunch of spots reserved for more recent Tour Championship winners before he arrived at his – the one saved for the “1995 Champion.” That was a long, long time ago.
“It’s funny. I was home the week of Disney (Oct. 20-23) and I watched the tape of it, and there were only four or five guys playing that year who are here this year,” said Mayfair, whose season-ending triumph at Southern Hills in 1995 propelled him to No. 2 on the money list. “It makes me feel a little old, but it also makes me feel good about being here. At the time, Tammy (his wife) and I had been married only a couple of years. We had two dogs and this tiny little house. That was before kids.”
He smiled. “It seems like life was a lot simpler then.”
Mayfair, 39, was back at the Tour Championship for only the second time since 1998, when it also was played at East Lake. That happens to be the last year in which Mayfair won on Tour (he won twice that season, including a playoff victory at Riviera over a fledgling pro named Tiger Woods). He is back near the top having survived putting purgatory. A year ago, he ranked 193rd in putting, which translated to 146th in scoring.
He was so blue on the greens that following a third-round 81 last fall in Greensboro he dispatched his caddie beyond the tourney gates with instructions to buy a belly putter from a vendor who shows up each year peddling clubs in a barrel. Luckily, there was one left. Mayfair liked the feel of his new longstick, and a week later, having consulted with Vijay Singh on the subject of bellying, he had MacGregor’s Bobby Grace build a putter for him. It hasn’t been out of the bag since. The hardest adjustment was retraining his eyes, since his old routine with the short putter was to line up right and cut his putts back onto his line.
Mayfair also turned to Rick Smith in August 2004 and the two have worked diligently to reshape Mayfair’s swing plane. “When I hit a few bad shots now, I can fix it a lot quicker than I used to,” he said.
This season, Mayfair posted six top 10s, including a runner-up finish at Colonial. His T-24 showing at East Lake was his 13th top 25 of the season and pushed his winnings to $2.2 million. The fact he finished 101st in putting may appear bleak to some, but to Mayfair, a fairways-and-greens machine, it was a needed spark.
“It’s really been a remarkable rebound,” said David Yates of Gaylord Sports, the firm that manages Mayfair. “It rewards all the time and effort Billy puts in, and he puts in a lot.”
Mayfair said his 5-year-old son, Max, never has seen him win, so he’d love to win once again – for him. “In the back of my mind, I feel I can (still win),” he said. “Physically, mentally, my game is there.”
But first Dad wants to help his son. On Nov. 12, Max Mayfair was set to make his competitive golf debut in a U.S. West Tour event at Papago Park in Phoenix – the same place Billy grew up playing. Dad was scheduled to be on Max’s bag.
The walk should bring back some great memories – just as visiting East Lake did.