Larry Mize's lone major moment a pretty good one to have
Several months after winning the 1987 Masters, Larry Mize woke up and got ready for the second round of the NEC World Series of Golf. For the first time since that fateful Sunday in Georgia, Mize put on the same clothes -- Aureus black slacks and a black, purple and lavender striped shirt -- that were forever frozen into golf history when he holed that stunning pitch-and-run to defeat Greg Norman in sudden-death.
"I actually put the outfit on," Mize remembers, but my wife, Bonnie, said, 'No, no, no. You can't do that. You'll regret it. That was wonderful advice. I would have caught all kinds of grief. I never wore it again."
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Despite having been the hometown boy who prevailed in a playoff over Norman and Seve Ballesteros and, at 28, being one of the brightest young talents on tour, Mize never won another major championship either.
He had a silky swing, one of the easiest ever on the eyes. He possessed a Grade-A short game. He displayed the pluck to birdie the 72nd hole at Augusta National then outplay two golf icons of their era.
Nothing that hasn't happened, in one iteration or another to dozens of golfers who couldn't reproduce the right stuff at the right time again. They toil and they tinker too much, chasing something that they already had caught.
"I made the mistake of putting added pressure on myself to kind of live up to it," Mize says. "I thought, 'OK, you win this major and you're thinking you have to take it to the next step.' But what's the next step? You just won a major You don't need to make any changes."
Mize is one of 16 Masters champions with only one major title, but to be fair, four of them (Mike Weir, Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman and Charl Schwartzel) won their green jackets within the last decade. In a broader landscape going back to the 19th century, far more men have won only one of the current Grand Slam events (129) than have claimed two or more (76).
"Especially if the first, or one of the early wins is a major, you think you're supposed to be a different player afterward," says two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange. "But you're not a different player the Monday after than you were the Monday before. I tried to always remember that, but it's so hard to do. It's just hard not to think that you're supposed to play perfect every day. You have to remember you're the same player. Sure, you're more confident, but you're not a better player."
Mize had four top-10 finishes in majors after he won his green jacket, one of them at T-4 coming only two months later in the 1987 U.S. Open at Olympic Club won by his good friend Scott Simpson -- another golfer with one major to this credit.
"Overall we played kind of similar, very consistent but nothing too flashy," says Simpson now a peer of Mize's on the Champions Tour. "Consistency makes for a great career but maybe we didn't make quite enough birdies to win more often. Neither of us were big hitters."
In the wake of winning the Masters, Mize says, "I got impatient. My temper got worse. Sometimes I would get asked [by a reporter] if I 'earned' it or 'deserved' it. Sure, I did but it can mess with your head a little bit. I started trying to maybe not play my game. I enjoyed the victory but I should have let it sink in more. I was like, 'Let's go forward, let's keep pushing, let's put something with this.' "
"Larry's always working hard on his game -- he's very conscientous," Simpson says. "In some ways, maybe sometimes a little too hard-working, changing things or not trusting it enough."
At the end of the 1989 season Mize deepened his religious conviction with the help of tour bible-study leader Larry Moody, which Mize says was a turning point that allowed him to have fun on the job again. "I was just getting too caught up in being a Masters champion and didn't realize that I was significant because of what God's done for me," Mize says. "It put things in perspective. I could have more patience, enjoy the game. I realized that was a great win, but that's not what makes me significant."
Regardless of his inner peace, the wins never accumulated. Mize won a couple of times in Japan and added victories in the Northern Telecom Open and Buick Open in 1993, giving him four career PGA Tour titles. He has won once as a senior.
"Larry still had the world in front of him when he won at Augusta," says Strange, who was in a final-round grouping with Mize in 1987. "You never know how winning the Masters will affect someone. He had a wonderful game and a terrific short game. I think he probably didn't fulfill what a lot of us thought he might be, but you never know. He's a better man than he is a player."
Concurs Simpson: "Larry's just a really nice guy. He lives his Christian faith. You can see him live it -- he's not a phony in any sense. He always does everything the right way, not only in golf but in life."
As he has for so many springs, Mize will be back at the Masters this week soaking it all up the way only someone with a green jacket for life can. In his gallery will be his father, Charles, 84, and mother, Elizabeth, 82, eyewitnesses to the joy of '87.
"When that ball went in, for his mother and me, oh lord, there was no way to express the feelings we had," Charles says. "Walking up that 10th fairway after it was over, I didn't even know there was a hill."
For many reasons, it sure beats none.
-- Bill Fields