While the PGA Tour is taking a sabbatical this week, let's stop salivating over the Tiger Woods comeback story and shine a light on one of the best stories in golf that nobody is talking about.
Perhaps no man ever has counted the days until his 50th birthday like golf pro Scott Parel, who won the Boeing Classic last month for his first official victory on the Champions Tour.
"I couldn't get to 50 fast enough," he said.
In almost any game played today, the half-century man is long gone. Years ago, he had to step aside to make room for the young – except in golf, the only place where a player 50 or older holds a special fascination with fans who won't let the geezers go. Billy Casper, the late World Golf Hall of Fame member, once described the senior circuit as "walking through a field, kicking over stones and finding thousands of dollar bills."
Parel, 53, isn't one of those stars of yesteryear. He is an outlier in that he played neither college golf nor the PGA Tour. He was a software engineer who didn't turn professional until he was 31, but he chased his dream, maxing out credit cards and moonlighting as a computer-software consultant to make ends meet. Now, he is beating the likes of hall-of-famers Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples and Vijay Singh. Parel enters this week’s Ally Challenge (tee times) at No. 6 on the tour’s money list, with $1,197,278.
The Champions Tour often is accused of being a closed shop because most of the eligibility requirements favor the stars of yesterday on the PGA Tour. There are only five fully-exempt cards available each year at Champions Tour Q-School, and four open qualifying spots each Monday for the 78-man fields.
“They did leave a little window in for guys like me to crawl through,” Parel said. “It’s a small window.”
Parel made it into six tournaments in a row through Monday qualifying in 2016 after his 50th birthday a year earlier – “Who had more experience playing for your life than me? I'd been doing Mondays for 20 years,” he said – and earned full status for 2017 as co-medalist of Q-School. With a resume that includes just five starts and one made cut on the PGA Tour, Parel is playing his best golf. He is one of the longest hitters on the Champions Tour, averaging 298.4 off the tee (second overall), despite standing just 5 feet 5 inches and weighing 170 pounds.
Brad Faxon, an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour and a Fox TV announcer, called Parel “pound for pound, one of the best drivers of the ball I've ever seen.”
In January, Parel won the Diamond Resorts Invitational, an unofficial event pitting 28 seniors against four LPGA pros along with a field of celebrities. Unofficial money spends the same as official money, but it doesn't come with the security of exempt status. He nearly broke through in April, matching the TPC Sugarloaf course record with an 8-under 64 in the final round, before losing to Steve Flesch on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic.
But Parel has made the most of his opportunity, earning $876,841 last season, more than his combined winnings in 222 career starts on the Web.com Tour ($705,350) and five starts on the PGA Tour ($11,660). By finishing 21st on the season-long money list, he retained his status for this season.
“To keep going for as many years as I did in futility was difficult,” he said. “Every time I would feel as low as I could possibly get, some buddy of mine would call me and tell me that they’re proud of me and admire that I’ve stuck it out and most people would’ve quit by now, and it would motivate me and it makes you feel like maybe I’m doing the right thing and it’s just taken longer to make it happen.”
Too many of us accept failure too easily. Not Parel. He is an example of perseverance. It took him more than 15 years to win his first tournament on the Web.com Tour, the 2013 Air Capital Classic, at age 48. He credits his wife, Mary, for lifting his spirits whenever he was down.
“People used to ask me who my sponsor was, and I would say my wife,” Parel said after his victory.
Parel already had two kids to think about when he decided to turn pro in 1996 and give up a steady job a year later to pursue his dream. It meant that his wife had to go back to work as a nurse to help pay the bills.
“I was the sole bread winner,” Parel said. “My wife pushed me. She said, ‘If you never try, you’ll regret it your whole life. You have to give it a shot. We'll do whatever it takes.’ Without her push, I never would have done it.”
There were so many times he could’ve called it quits. In 2002, he even gave himself an ultimatum.
“I said, In five years, if I don't acquire status somewhere, I'm done,” Parel said. "That year, I qualified for the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. Didn't play well, but that experience of hitting balls next to Phil Mickelson made me realize I'm a long way from being one of the best, but I'm not as far away as I think I am. It showed me I have to work really hard and improve. I made it to the final stage of Q-School and got status on the Nationwide Tour.”
In the surest sign that Parel had made it and the family was on solid financial footing, Mary gave her two-week notice shortly before her husband's victory. To no surprise, his initial reaction after shooting 63 in the final round of the Boeing Classic to rally from five shots back and taste victory was to think about Mary and finally qualifying for the winners-only Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.
“It means I get to take my wife to Hawaii," Parel said. "I know that she’s been wanting to do that.”
Here's to the dreamers and here's to never giving up on your dream.
Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf.com and The New York Times. He is the winner of the National Sports Media Association's "Golf Article of 2017," and the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adamschupak