The current stretch of dominance by Tiger Woods—six victories in his last six starts on the PGA Tour—invites the usual shock and awe, but it also begs the question: Where is that elfin, indefatigable Bob May when you need him?
As it turns out, May, whose playoff loss to Woods in the 2000 PGA Championship will go down as one of the greatest head-to-head duels in major championship history, is back in the fray after a long absence from the circuit. He tied for 56th in his hometown tournament in Las Vegas last weekend, and picked up a check for $8,880.
“I’m hitting it okay,” May said recently. “There’s room for improvement, there always is, but I’m not totally dissatisfied with the way things are going.”
That’s because two years ago at this time, May was incapable of swinging a club or even a broom. It all started when he blew out his back hitting his tee shot on the 72nd hole of the 2003 EDS Byron Nelson Classic.
“I felt pain down my legs and I thought, okay, I just kind of rotated my pelvis or something,” May said. “I could still walk fine. I got up to the next shot, and I went to swing again, and thank God it was just like a little 9-iron or 8-iron or something into that last hole. I pulled it just off the edge of the green and made the putt. I was planning on taking the next week off, anyway.”
A week turned into a month, and May still didn’t feel any better; any time he rotated his spine, he said, “I was done.” Finally, a year after the injury, he went to Santa Monica, California, for surgery in the spring of ’04. It went well, but recovery was no picnic. May couldn’t roll over in bed and had to wake his wife Brenda to help him. He watched so many infomercials he began to believe he’d been depriving himself of a world of electronic ephemera.
“We had weird stuff show up at our doorstep, like little, itty bitty cameras I bought,” he said. “I thought, that’s pretty neat, I have some friends that need these. I bought like six or seven of them. There’s nothing to watch at 2, 3 in the morning. You wake up in pain, take pain medicine and just lay there in bed. Oh, I’ll turn the TV on.”
With no golf to play, May, 38, watched it on the box. As he regained strength he turned his attention to his kids, Trenton, 9, and Madelyn, 6. That meant motorsports (“motorcycles, quads, go-carts, all kinds of stuff,” he said) and more sedentary activities, like playing chauffer.
All told, he went two and a half years without swinging a club. May wondered if he’d ever play again, to say nothing of whether he’d ever be the player he was at the 2000 PGA at Valhalla. Before Woods came along it was May who ruled Southern California junior golf. And although he has never won on the PGA Tour, May presented Woods with what the latter pro has called one the best fights of his life.
Although he’s had trouble getting all facets of his game going in the same positive direction at the same time, May has shown signs of his old self. He finished second at the B.C. Open in July, and shot an opening, 4-under-par 67 at the Deutsche Bank Championship in September.
It was at the Deutsche Bank outside Boston where a 72nd-hole double-bogey cost May some much-needed cash and left him simmering outside the locker room. Now more than anytime in his career, every dollar counts. Playing on a Major Medical Extension held over from 2003, May had to make $353,187 in 15 events this season to earn full eligibility for the remainder of 2006. He did that and has made 12 cuts in 19 starts, and $548,712, good for 136th place on the money list. Only the top 125 retain their playing privileges for 2007. The rest go to Q school, a fate that May would just as soon avoid like sciatica. He’s got the Funai Classic and the Chrysler Championship this week and next, respectively, in which to crack the top 125.
Cold weather still bothers his back, but May doesn’t do anything special for it besides stretching. For the most part, he says, it feels good, and he plays with a renewed appreciation for the game. As for Tiger, May recognizes the theatrics from oh, about six years ago.
“I hope I do get the chance to play him again,” May said, which naturally turns one’s thoughts to the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A May-Woods rematch would be a dream-come-true for the buzz-starved golf press, and Woods would relish it, but no one would savor the moment like May, his family, and six or seven of his best friends, all firing away with their itty, bitty little cameras