2005: Ogilvie bullish about his game

It may be a tad early to start talking about a new commissioner – although another PGA Tour event turned Wet ’n Wild ride last week near Atlanta and looming TV negotiations could expedite the process – but the inevitable march of time demands we start planning for a PGA Tour P.F. That’s Post Finchem.

At 57, Finchem still has the energy of a man half his age. But how many more Monday finishes is one man expected to weather?

In the spirit of an American political process that never sleeps, let’s cast the first vote for commish-in-waiting Joe Ogilvie.

Not that running golf’s premier pro circuit has much to do with a person’s ability to rope a 2-iron from a downhill lie. As a Tour official once observed, “Players sometimes don’t see the forest for the trees.” In Ogilvie, however, there’s substance and a swing.

During a recent rain delay – pick a rain delay, any one will do – Ogilvie sat in a quiet corner of a PGA Tour locker room and combed through the pages of The Wall Street Journal. While most pros study yardage books for a good tip, Ogilvie mines the financial pages. Blue chips, not chip shots, consume him when he’s not grinding away at his day job.

His interest in all things financial has made him something of a clubhouse stockbroker. Fellow pros, caddies, friends, even an occasional media type, will press the Duke grad for some portfolio advice.

“If you played professional golf I’d say, ‘Shoot four straight 65s,’ ” says Ogilvie, one of 14 Masters rookies at Augusta National this week. “The returns are going to be much better than anything you’ll have in the market.”

Ogilvie quickly turns serious and launches into an impromptu Wall Street analysis.

“The big caps have the economies of scale and everything else,” he says. “You really can’t go wrong with General Electric, Microsoft. I’m not real confident with the stock market right now. I think you want to preserve capital.”

All of which means, in laypeople’s terms, Ogilvie has a big brain.

Football had its swashbuckling “Broadway Joe,” complete with fur coat and bold predictions, and now golf has “Wall Street Joe” with an Oxford button down and profit projections. Ogilvie may not resonate with the public like Namath, but who would you rather handle your 401K?

In addition to his business savvy, he also has a clear vision of what the Tour should be. Ogilvie may play for the middle of the fairway on the course, but when it comes to the Tour’s hot-button issues there’s no ambiguity.

For example:

Appearance fees – “When I sign up for a tournament, I may bring 10 extra people out, probably 10 fraternity brothers. When (Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson) sign up, they bring thousands.”

Playing lift, clean and place at The Players Championship –

“We’re trying to make that a major championship. You don’t play a major championship where you have the ball in hand.”

That’s not to say the Ohio native with the boyish grin and home-styled swing isn’t as focused on fairways and greens as he is on quarterly forecasts and making green. When Ogilvie jumped out of the gate with a runner-up finish at the Bob Hope earlier this year he realized an elusive trip to the Masters was in the making.

He added events to his schedule, played the margins and, thanks to back-to-back top 10s at the Honda Classic and Bay Hill Invitational, earned his first drive down Magnolia Lane.

“My mom told my dad, ‘I knew he was good, but I never thought he would get there (Augusta),’ ” says Ogilvie, who estimates he received about 1,000 congratulatory e-mails after he finished in the top 10 on the money list through The Players to qualify for the Masters. “To her, this is the career achievement. Everything else is secondary.”

After losing his Tour card in 2002, Ogilvie finished second on the ’03 Nationwide Tour money list and earned a return trip.

Yet it was a chance encounter after a rather pedestrian start in ’04 (one top 30 in 11 events) that sent his stock rising.

Just before last year’s Houston Open, Ogilvie was introduced to David Cook. The San Antonio-based sports psychologist tapped Ogilvie’s analytical mind. After about five minutes on the metaphorical couch, his new student was rejuvenated.

“He’s a very practical guy but he hadn’t been taking the time to look at golf the way he would look at the stock market,” Cook says.

At Cook’s urging, Ogilvie turned golf into a Stratego game. The golf course became a giant chess board to be plotted and studied, each swing a move to be analyzed and evaluated.

The results: a tie for 19th in Houston followed by his closest brush with a Tour victory to date in New Orleans the next week. For the first time in his career, Ogilvie’s think-tank nature became as important as staying on plane and below the hole.

“Before, I thought I was a fairly smart guy but I played extremely dumb,” says Ogilvie, a member of the 16-person Player Advisory Council. “I didn’t use what little brain power I have on the course.

“I’m not as physically gifted as a lot of guys out there. Maybe, from an intelligence standpoint, I may be just a little bit more gifted than some.”

He’s used every bit of his Bill Gates-sized brain to prepare for this week’s Masters, and he’s embraced his first April among the Azaleas like he would any other part of his life – with a spreadsheet and a day planner.

Before arriving in Georgia, he spent time on Augusta National’s Web site plotting a hole-by-hole scheme. Then he scheduled practice rounds at Augusta with Ben Crenshaw and Phil Mickelson, hoping to catalog the former Masters champions’ acquired knowledge for future use.

If he hadn’t been so focused on finding answers to all of Augusta’s questions, he could have used his time with Mickelson and Crenshaw to do a little politicking for his possible future as the Tour’s top honcho. For now, however, he’s content with his status as a rising star.

Or, to put it in Ogilvie’s terms, if he were a stock, how would he rate?

“Right now, I’d be a ‘hold,’ ” he says.

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