Billy Mayfair didn’t win the PGA Tour’s Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2005, although he certainly had the season that would qualify for such a distinction.
Instead, another veteran who had a terrible year in 2004, Olin Browne, got the nod from his peers. Browne beat out Mayfair chiefly because he was the winner of the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston.
Apparently, winning counts more than how far you’ve come back.
In 2004, Browne ranked No. 127 on the money list to Mayfair’s No. 140. Browne ended this past season ranked No. 26, an improvement of 101 spots, while Mayfair jumped 118 spots to No. 22. Mayfair sneaked past Browne on the money list because he had six top-10s compared with Browne’s two top-10s.
Only in the world rankings did Browne actually make his biggest move, as he rose to No. 71 from No. 294, while Mayfair jumped from No. 252 to No. 73. The reason was simple: Mayfair played better in 2003, as the world rankings take into account the past two seasons.
Despite the slight, Mayfair said he understands perfectly why Browne beat him out.
"I was a little disappointed, because I know I had a great year . . . but so did Olin,’’ said the Scottsdale pro, who grew up in Phoenix, was an All-American at Arizona State, and captured two national titles as an amateur (1986 U.S. Public Links, ’87 U.S. Amateur).
"The guys (other players) look at wins, and he won last year while I didn’t. And if I was voting, I’d pick the guy with the win over the guy who didn’t.’’
Always the compassionate one, Mayfair said there was yet another reason.
"I felt for him, because he was in a tougher position than I was.’’
Mayfair played the 2005 season by gaining a one-time exemption off the all-time money list. It was "a natural’’ for him, as his position at No. 48 ($10.5 million in career earnings at the time) was in danger of expiring (the exemption is offered only if you’re in the top 50). Browne had not finished among the top 125 the past two seasons and was not among the top 100 on the all-time money list.
Needless to say, winning a golf tournament is Mayfair’s No. 1 goal for 2006, something he hasn’t done since winning the last of his five PGA Tour titles at the 1998 Buick Open. That, and making the Ryder Cup, something he has yet to accomplish in 17 years on tour.
"I’d love to make the Ryder Cup team, what with Tom Lehman being the (U.S.) Ryder Cup captain,’’ Mayfair said. "Playing for Tom, who is a great friend, would be the best.’’
At the moment, Mayfair is in 35th position on the Ryder Cup points list, so he has his work cut out for him. But a win and another six top-10s might be enough, as points double for the matches that will be played in Ireland come mid-September.
The scenario might seem a little bit too coincidental to imagine, but if there is another win out there for Mayfair, he hopes it comes at the FBR Open in Scottsdale. Ten years ago Mayfair lost a one-hole playoff to Vijay Singh.
"Yeah, I guess this is kind of an anniversary year of sorts when it comes to Phoenix,’’ he said. "That’s one that still haunts me a little bit, because I let it slip through my fingers with a bogey on the playoff hole. I still kick myself even 10 years later.
"But the funny thing about that is, Vijay’s caddie back then (Paul Fusco) is now my caddie. So, yeah, that would be pretty cool if I could get back into that position (to win the FBR).’’
In the meantime, Mayfair will keep doing what he does best, grinding to become a better player even though his 40th birthday is on the horizon.
"It feels kind of weird, getting ready to turn 40,’’ said Mayfair, who will reach the milestone on Aug. 6. "I know I’m 10 years away from the senior tour, and I know this is strange, but I look at myself as a very young player out there, even though I’ve been there for 17 years.’’
Mayfair’s season starts this week, even though it’s the "unofficial’’ start and not the one at the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii, which is only for the winners from 2005.
"Yeah, I’ll be out at the Tommy Bahama Desert Marlin at Grayhawk, which is always a good time,’’ said Mayfair, who will play in the pro-scratch amateur event that takes place today through Saturday.
"I wish it was the Mercedes, because that would have meant I would have won.’’
A feat that, no doubt, would also have earned him the PGA Tour’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.