Doyle takes `slap shot' to Senior bank

State Farm entry's swing homely, but game thing of beauty

July 01, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

He's the guy with the funny-looking swing and the funny-sounding accent, a player who draws stares and sets records wherever he plays.

Now, as a rookie on the PGA Senior Tour, Allen Doyle is doing what he did during a late-blooming amateur career -- winning.

With three victories and $1,062,831 in earnings, Doyle has gone from curiosity item to Player of the Year candidate.

"I always had to shoot a score to show people I could play," Doyle, 51, said Tuesday at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, where he was preparing for this week's $1.3 million State Farm Senior Classic.

The swing looks more like a slap shot, the byproduct of his years as a promising hockey player in Massachusetts who turned down an invitation to the 1972 Olympic trials.

It brought a lot of confidence -- from Doyle's opponents.

"There was never a guy I went to the [first] tee with who didn't think he could beat me," Doyle said. "I was always going to do anything I could to make sure they didn't."

The accent is a mixture of his New England upbringing and the nearly three decades he and his wife, Kate, have spent raising their two daughters in La Grange, Ga.

"Down in Georgia, they still call me a Yankee," Doyle said. "When I go home [to Massachusetts], they say I sound like a redneck."

A five-year stint in the Army, including a year spent in South Korea, got Doyle's golf career off to a late start. But the older guy with the goofy swing caught up quickly.

He wound up playing on two Walker Cup teams, three World Amateur teams and got as far as the semifinals of the 1992 U.S. Amateur, losing a close match to Justin Leonard.

"I've been the oldest to win everything at every level I've played," said Doyle. "But I was the first with a bad swing to win a lot."

Doyle finished out his amateur career in 1994 -- at age 47 -- winning five events, including the prestigious Porter Cup and Sunnehanna Amateur.

"I was doing well as an amateur," recalled Doyle, who ran a textile business. "I didn't think there was anything wrong with knowing your place, being successful at a certain level, even it wasn't the highest level."

At the urging of his close friend, Vinny Giles, an accomplished amateur player whose Richmond, Va., firm represents a number of pros, Doyle tried qualifying for the Nike Tour.

Doyle wound up winning three tournaments, including the Nike Tour Championship, and earned a promotion to the PGA Tour in 1996. At 47, he became the oldest rookie in tour history. It was the first time he struggled.

"I tried too hard out there," said Doyle, who played the tour for two seasons and earned a little over $200,000.

It helped get him ready for the Senior Tour. Doyle, who turned 50 in June of last year, played six events, beginning with a tie for 51st at the Coldwell Banker Burnet Classic in August. His best finish was a tie for fourth at the Rayley's Gold Rush Classic in October.

But an indication of his talent came at last year's Senior Tour Qualifying School. He set a Senior Tour record of 13 under par for four rounds and received full exempt status for this season. It was also there that he renewed a relationship with Bruce Fleisher.

It was 30 years ago that Doyle, who was about to fulfill his ROTC duty after graduating from Norwich University, caddied for Fleisher, then one of the hot amateur players in the country. Fleisher was trying to get financial backing to turn pro from members at the club at which Doyle caddied.

"I told him [the story] as we were going off the last day of tour school," Doyle said. "Coming up the 18th hole, we knew we were going to make it and he said, `There are going to be a couple of guys at tour school who are going to win $1 million, so why don't you and I do it?' "

Going into this week's tournament, which begins Friday, Doyle is ranked behind only Fleisher on the Senior Tour money list. Fleisher, who became a club pro in Florida after a sporadic PGA Tour career, has won won four tournaments and $1,260,592 in prize money.

Doyle credits much of his success to Fleisher.

"I'm not sure his start wasn't the whole thing for me," Doyle said, alluding to Fleisher's victories in the first two events this year. "He started out and I said, `I can play with this guy.' "

Of Doyle's three victories, two have come in playoffs, including in the Cadillac NFL Golf Classic earlier this month. He also lost in another playoff, one of five other top-10 finishes.

The startling, seemingly out-of-nowhere stardom Doyle has found has drawn comparisons with the hockey player-turned golfer character in the movie "Happy Gilmore."

"Unorthodox is great," Doyle said with a smile. "He took that to a new limit."

Not that Doyle can ever see himself with a textbook swing. Nor could he see being offered any help to change the swing he has.

"They'd probably think it was too much work," Doyle said.

Senior Classic

What: Senior PGA Tour's State Farm Senior Classic

When: Tomorrow-Sunday

Where: Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, Columbia

Course: 6,983 yards, par 72

Purse: $1.3 million, including $195,000 to winner

Defending champion: Bruce Summerhays

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