Originally created 07/09/98

Mize balances parenting with profession



His sand wedge 11 years ago made his golfing career indelible, his putter made his last weekend in Hartford forgettable.

Larry Mize flies to Great Britain today without remorse, without the disappointment usually associated when the cloud of failure hovers over you as you're standing with one foot on the winner's podium.

Don't cry for Mize for losing a four-stroke lead Sunday with four holes to play. He did not win in Hartford, instead ending up on the wrong end of a playoff chip-in (sound familiar) by journeyman Olin Browne.

The former Masters champion, the Francisco Cabrera of golf, has no assurances that next week's British Open will include him. He'll go through the qualifying process of two 18-hole rounds Sunday and Monday at Royal Birkdale for an undetermined number of spots.

What he can assure himself of is an ability to compete again, that at 39 and spending more time as Mr. Mom than year-round PGA touring pro, he can still excel at his profession.

Since the berth of his first son, David, in 1986 to the birth of his third son, Robert, in 1993 and beyond, fatherhood is more important than excelling at flogging golf balls.

"Sure it was disappointing, but I can't help but take positive things out of it," Mize said Wednesday from his Columbus, Ga., home. "I take with me how well I hung in there and how well I hit the ball. I can still play this game, and every now and then, everything comes together like it did last week."

Mize cannot remember, and neither can many followers of the game, the last time this Augusta native held a four-shot lead in anything. The last time he's been a factor on Sunday, Cabrera actually played in America.

He was Miracle Mize, the benefactor of a 140-foot chip that somehow rolled in at the National's 11th hole. Mize won that Masters playoff with The Shot, snatching the green jacket from Greg Norman's shoulders.

"It took me several years to recover from that chip-in," Mize said. "I let it be an albatross for me.

"Faith and family are No. 1 with me. I tried to move golf back up to No. 3. The older you get, the more distractions you let slip in. It's tough to get your confidence back once you lose it."

Since 1993, when his family matters surpassed his golf, Mize's performance has seen the understandable decline. From two wins and 13th on the money list, to 99th a year ago and one top 10.

That's what made Sunday so enjoyable and so aggravating in the same breath. There Mize stood, the title and the $360,000 winner's check firmly in his pocket. Then he struck a 5-iron on 15 that clipped a tree and caromed into a Hartford forest, causing a lost ball and a disastrous double bogey.

As if that wasn't enough, his normally reliable putter got quick with an 18-inch, inside-the-leather gimme that lipped out. And on 18, needing a par to win for the first time in five years, he overclubbed an approach and instead bogeyed.

In a three-man playoff, Mize sprayed his drive and never threatened. Browne, off the green, chipped in but not with the same theatrics as Mize displayed 11 years earlier.

The first one to applaud was Mize, who understood more than anyone what exactly had transpired before him.

So, as he boards his transcontinental flight he sits 44th on the money list, balancing his choice between parenting and his profession with aplomb.

"I'm not a mechanical player, and I tried to get back more to being a feel player. I'm happy with my career, but not content. Last year was a wakeup call. My wife encouraged me, kicked me out of the house in a good way, and made me go work on my game. It's been a better balancing act this year."