By CHRIS RATTUE
If you want a feeling for the fine line between success and mind-numbing frustration in professional sport, ask golfer Grant Waite.
Waite wants to relaunch his career at the New Zealand Open, which begins at Middlemore on Thursday, as he sets about regaining his US PGA Tour card.
Statistics tell one part of Waite's story last year when the 38-year-old from Palmerston North finished 152nd on the money list (the top 125 keep their cards, while the next 25 get some exemptions).
So Waite - who won the 1993 Kemper Open and has best money-list finishes of 35 and 38 - is fighting to save his career in the United States.
He still carries enough clout as a "lifetime player" (achieved through making 150 halfway cuts or winning a title - Waite has done both) to be invited into 10 to 15 tournaments this year.
It's far from a hopeless position. But it's not ideal either, sometimes wondering where the next tournament is.
Beyond the statistics, images still swirl in Waite's head of golf balls swirling around the lips of cups. This happened three times on the last five holes of the Canadian Open in September.
"If I had made two more putts on the final day I could have won," says Waite, who lives in Orlando with wife Lea and their two children.
"If a couple of those putts had fallen in, I would be exempt for two years. The putts I hit on 14 and 15 were spectacular.
"Three putts in a row lipped around the hole. There was no way they could miss. I still think about them.
"Justin Leonard said to me, 'You played well enough to win - it just wasn't your day.' I said to him, 'It just wasn't my year'."
Waite is a master from tee to green, but now works harder on and around the greens. He carried just three wedges and the putter on to Middlemore yesterday.
In the past, he may have over-experimented and analysed. Now, as the urgency of his situation sets in, Waite is a man of regular routine. The driving force - he still loves playing the PGA Tour.
What he didn't love, however, was the treatment from the entrepreneurs behind last year's New Zealand Open at Paraparaumu, where Tiger Woods competed and Waite did not.
Greg Turner has criticised the organisers for falling all over Woods and letting everyone else fall over. Waite, who won the Open at Paraparaumu in 1992, agrees.
Six months before the tournament, he requested quick and convenient travel in and out of the States, to help him prepare for the Open and the following Bob Hope Classic.
Three times when he checked, arrangements had not been made. Two months out, he was given lengthy flight times to New Zealand, and a Monday night rather than Sunday departure.
Three times he was told that could not be altered. When 11th-hour changes were made, Waite already had other plans, including hosting his brother from Ireland.
"It was no consequence to them whether I played or not," says Waite, who does not believe Woods' appearance had lasting benefits. "I didn't expect special treatment. But it was our Open, not Tiger's Open. They were entrepreneurs in it for one year and didn't care about any fallout.
"Top local players should not be forgotten. We were treated offhand. It was a great disappointment because I really wanted to play."
Middlemore, though, is another story.
"In professional sports, few people are immune to the ups and downs. I can say my game is gone, or I can work hard to try to come back. I want to get some momentum. This week is a new start."
By CHRIS RATTUE