Mayfair set for Buick Defense
by Jack Saylor
Detroit Free Press Golf Writer
When a golfer has been in the professional game for a little over a decade and banked more than $5 million in that time, the word slump does not immediately come to mind.
That's the dossier of Billy Mayfair, who will defend his Buick Open championship at the Warwick Hills Country Club in Grand Blanc in August.
When the white-haired Arizona native won the Buick last summer, it was his second vistory of the 1998 season and fifth of his career.
It gave him a late-season jump start that threatened to bring Mayfair his first major of his career in the PGA championship, a week after he had celebrated his 32nd birthday by winning the Buick.
He was tied for third, only four shots off the lead after three rounds and his final-round 70 left him tied for seventh behind the winner, Vijay Singh.
"I really felt I had a chance to win if Vijay (who shot 68) had just slipped a little bit," Mayfair recalled. "That jolt of confidence was the biggest thing winning the Buick did for me."
So it seemed Billy was on target for bigger and better things with two victories and a 16th-place finish on the money list in '98 with nearly $1.2 million in his vault.
What a shocker it was, then, in early '99 to see Mayfair suddenly slide down the leader board to cut city ... six straight missed cuts. Hard to believe.
"I missed six in a row, starting at the Players Championship and running through the Byron Nelson in Dallas," the gregarious Mayfair said.
"I'd have to say 90 percent of it was mental. What killed me was I was in fourth placle after the first round of the Players and went out and shot 78 and mised the cut by one shot.
"Anyone out here on tour will say they'd rather miss the cut by five than miss by one. I figured it I could just be around on the weekend that would be great. Three of the misses were very close and that's tough on a guy. That's really not my game."
A player doesn't post the winnings Mayfair has over his career by missing cuts -- particularly six of them in a row.
"I had some putting problems," he admitted, "but I still say 90 percent of it was probably mental."
When something like this occurs, names like Corey Pavin, Chip Beck, even worse, Ian Baker-Finch, forced out of the game, creep into one's mind.
Did that happen to Mayfair?
No, because I was playing good," he said. "I watched Mark O'Meara three years ago and he couldn't hit the side of a barn before he turned it around. I saw Chip Beck when he was hitting it sideways. So was Scott Verplank.
"But I wasn't doing that. I wasn't hitting it like that, not hitting it bad. I just wasn't getting the ball in the hole. So I knew if I kept it up, it would turn around sooner or later.
Mayfair opened with 68 at Hilton Head, but skied to 77. At the Nelson, he again opened with 68, but even-par 72 wasn't good enough to make the cut.
"I decided to keep working on my short game because the rest of it was all right. Then after I finally made a cut (New Orleans) I got confidence as each day went on. I just looked forward to freewheeling it on weekends."
Although putting became a Mayfair problem during his dry spell, he didn't blame his stroke, a bizarre outside-in swing that appears to cut putts, but really doesn't.
"Usually I don't even think about it unless people mention it because they heard it on TV," Mayfair said. "The good thing is when TV guys are talking about it, it means I'm putting good. When they're not talking about it is when I got to be worried."
Mayfair says the unorthodox stroke is the one he started with while posting a fabulous junior record in Arizona. There was only one hitch.
"My assistant coach at Arizona State and I tried to change it in 1991 and that really messed me up," he said.
"If you look at films from my college days, I took the club outside, but it was nothing like now. I took it way outside and a little more loopy than it is today. It was like Lee Trevino's swing or Jim Furyk and Freddy Couples.
Still, like those players, the club of choice always seems to get back straight in line when striking the ball.
"To me, when I strike it, it's not outside and cutting it," Mayfair said "To me, my eyes have adjusted to it being straight back and straight through.
"We tried to fix it, it didn't work so I decided it wasn't broke. When we tried to change it, it kinda' gave me a little bit of the yips -- it took me almost two years to get back to where I was."
This lull in the early '90s dropped Mayfair's earnings under $200,000, but he bounced back in 1993, winning a half-million dollars, plus the Milwaukee Open.
"I feel if I hadn't tried to change in '91, my stroke would still be outside, but not as much as it is today. It's probably a little more than I wanted, but I don't want to try to change it at all anymore."
No reason. Mayfair seems back on target and the breaks are going his way on the greens and on the leaderboards.
He slipped in under the cut with a stroke to spare at the Memorial as he began his summer run to his Buick title defense.
Mayfair will have another birthday the week of the Buick and he'd love to have another victory to celebrate it.
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