Two decades later, PLAYERS win still big for McCumber

May 07, 2008
Lauren Deason, PGATOUR.COM Editorial Coordinator

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Twenty years ago Mark McCumber strolled up to the green on the 18th hole at TPC Sawgrass, confident that he was about to win THE PLAYERS Championship.


For McCumber, born and raised in Jacksonville, Fla., this was it -- the moment he'd always wanted. With a five-shot cushion, even the intimidating lake to the left of the final hole couldn't put a damper on his elation.

As he walked to the green, however, McCumber glanced over his left shoulder, looking over that ball-guzzling lake and toward the green on the ninth hole.

"Someone had taken the time -- I still don't know who it was and I wish I could find out somehow -- they had taken the time to make a very professional banner of quite some size," McCumber recollects. "They unrolled it and it said 'Jacksonville's Winner.' Of course, that made me start bawling."

With the big lead, he had the luxury to lose himself in the moment. Because of that emotion, exhaustion or perhaps a little of both, though, McCumber made bogey on the 72nd hole, his first bogey since No. 16 in the second round.

McCumber still beat Mike Reid by four strokes. His final score of 15-under-par 273 was then the record for 72 holes at THE PLAYERS Championship. Greg Norman later set the mark that still stands when he blistered the TPC Sawgrass in 24 under in 1994.

"(My PLAYERS win) made my golfing professional life a little more special," McCumber said. "I think it was an exclamation point on an already decent career. I went on to end up winning 10 times. That was my sixth win and, at that time and to this day, my most important win.

"Anytime you beat the best field of the year on a very hard golf course with a record score it's very special."

McCumber's family had lived in the city for nearly 90 years and most of the extended clan came out to watch. His mom, dad, wife, children, brothers, cousins, nephews and even his grandmother witnessed the victory.

"My grandmother, who was in her 80s at the time, couldn't follow me physically but she was waiting for me at No. 9 and gave me a kiss and a hug," McCumber said. "She was waiting for me at No. 18, too, so that was pretty special."

McCumber and his family still live just a few miles from TPC Sawgrass. He's seen it change a lot over the last two decades. His family's landscaping business assisted architect Pete Dye in building the Stadium Course almost 30 years ago. The company dug the original moats around the property and did other construction work.

It's been two decades since his win and McCumber, now 56, is still playing a few tournaments each year on the Champions Tour. Mostly, though, he enjoys spending time with his young grandchildren. He also has a 17-year-old son who plays high school golf, so father and son enjoy yearly outings to THE PLAYERS Championship.

"In some ways (my win) seems like yesterday, in some ways it seems like 40 years but the memory is very clear," said McCumber, who went on to win nine times on TOUR. "I still have some friends out there, a few of the guys who were young when I left the TOUR are still there and my son enjoys going to watch the great players."

At one point, he was one of them. McCumber led THE PLAYERS Championship in 1988 nearly all week. An opening day 7-under 65 gave him a one-stroke advantage over Greg Norman and Curt Byrum. Payne Stewart then shot 65 while McCumber had a 72 in the second round and trailed by a stroke.

In the two-day-long third round, McCumber recaptured the top spot with a solid 67 to lead David Frost by one. Hovering at the top all week naturally gave him confidence heading into the final round. Regardless, McCumber had known this would be a special week even before the first tee shot on Thursday.

On Wednesday afternoon before THE PLAYERS began, McCumber played nine holes with 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby and six-time major winner Lee Trevino. The two were working for NBC television that week and wanted a first-hand look at the course. Unbeknownst to them, they also got a first-hand look at the future champion.

"I shot 31 and they both looked at me and kind of winked," McCumber said. "(At that point), I said to myself, 'Man, if I just don't get in my own way it's going to be a good week. I probably have never played better than that week."