The name Billy Mayfair is synonymous with golf in Arizona, to the point that the Arizona Golf Association presents the Mayfair Award annually to the golfer with the best weighted scoring average.
Mayfair grew up at Papago Golf Course, along with many other budding young stars, under the tutelage of the legendary Arch Watkins. After leaving Camelback High School, he became an All-American at ASU and won the Haskins Award as the top player in college golf.
He also captured the U.S. Public Links and U.S. Amateur championships and has accumulated five PGA Tour titles, including the only playoff victory on that tour over Tiger Woods.
For much of the past decade, his career has been hampered by physical issues, but perhaps even more by the distractions of a contentious, prolonged divorce and a five-year legal battle for custody of his son, Max. Along with various injuries, he also had to overcome testicular cancer, which required surgery. He is in remission.
Mayfair’s life and career took “a very positive turn” in 2013 when he married former ASU golfer Tami Proctor. He now has full custody of Max and has made lifestyle changes that improved his health, including the loss of 30 pounds.
He turned 50 in August and headed to the Champions Tour. In his first event, the U.S. Men’s Senior Open, he tied for second, one shot behind winner Gene Sauers.
Recently, the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame member answered nine questions about his experiences in golf, his “second career” and the joys of family life
What has your experience been like on the Champions Tour?
It has been wonderful. I am having the greatest time. It’s very competitive, don’t get me wrong, but it’s so much fun playing again with guys I have known for so long. It’s great getting caught up with everybody, but come Friday it gets serious because we’re all champions out here and we all want to win again. Guys tell me that on the Champions Tour you never have a bad day, and I think that’s true. To qualify for the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Desert Mountain, that would be a great way to end the year.
You’ve had a lot of success in USGA events. Why do they fit so well?
I think, first of all, I’m a very patient player. At USGA events, par is not a bad score and I have a tendency to make a lot of pars. I hit fairways and greens and try to stay away from the big numbers and at the end of the day if you’re around par, you’re in contention. It’s not a birdie-fest and I think that’s why I’ve had success in those events.
Does your playoff victory against Tiger Woods have special significance for you?
It sure does, absolutely. When it happened (1998), you didn’t know what Tiger was going to accomplish the rest of his career and he has done so many amazing things. So, to be able to say I’m the only guy who beat him in a (PGA Tour) playoff, that’s a feather in my cap. It makes me smile every time someone brings it up.
You have five playoff losses on the PGA Tour. Did the one against Vijay Singh in the 1995 Phoenix Open sting more than the others?
Yeah, it did. I had a putt on the 72nd hole to win and I thought I made it, and then made a bogey on the first playoff hole. When that happens, it hurts because you want to force the other guy to make a birdie to beat you. Out of all the second-place finishes, that was the hardest one to swallow because it’s my hometown event and I always wanted to have my name on that list of winners.
How difficult was it to focus on golf when you were going through the divorce and custody battles?
It was very difficult because it consumed so much of my time and energy. It was nice when I did get on the course and could turn my phone off and not talk to lawyers. For a few hours, that was my safe zone. But once I got off the course, it was very time consuming with messages and phone calls and worrying about my son. Because it took so much of my time, it was hard to stay focused on golf and this is a game that demands a lot of focus in order to play well.
On the flip side, that led to your current marriage to Tami. How has that impacted your quality of life?
Tami has been an absolute blessing. She’s my soulmate and I’m so happy to have her in my life, and to also have full custody of Max. For Tami and me to be able to be part of his life every day and watch him grow up and be parents … golf is great but to have a happy family unit is so much more important. For my 50th birthday, Tami asked me what I wanted to do and I said, “Let’s all go play Papago together.” To be able to do that with my family on the course where I grew up, you can’t have a better 50th birthday than that.
Did Max inherit your passion for golf?
He’s gotten into it a lot more in recent years. Baseball was his main sport early on, but he had an interest in golf and really enjoys playing now. He can move it out there pretty well, too. There are times when he out-drives me. He can’t match my irons or my putting so he’s not quite there yet, but the day he beats me will be the happiest day of my life, trust me.
You also have dealt with some physical issues in recent years but appear to be very fit right now. How are you feeling?
I feel really good. I dropped 30 pounds over the last couple years and have kept it off, which has helped my game. I’ve made lifestyle changes as far as diet and exercise. Three years ago, at the end of the season, I knew I was too heavy and really didn’t feel good, but I didn’t do it just for my golf game. I did it for my overall well-being, and I’m proud of the fact that, not only have I lost the excess weight, but I’ve kept it off and improved my life overall. I feel younger than 50 and better than I have in several years.
What does it mean to you to be such an important part of Arizona golf lore?
It’s an honor. When you look at all the great golfers and the history of golf in Arizona, I’m very proud to be associated with that. I love playing in Arizona and I love the people here. Arizona has given me a lot and it means the world to me. Because of that, I try to help out with junior golf and other areas of the game. Anytime I can give back a little bit, it makes me even happier to be a part of it.
– John Davis, The Entertainer! Magazine
This story was originally published by AZ Golf Insider, a partner of The Entertainer! Magazine.