Quigley still pinching himself over rise out of golf's rough

Senior tour gave him new life

he's among stars at Hayfields

Golf

September 15, 2005|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Is there life after 50?

Dana Quigley wouldn't trade it for what came before.

In the late 1980s, Quigley was a club pro in Massachusetts, battling alcoholism. He cleaned up his act off the golf course and primed himself to take advantage of a second chance on the Champions Tour, where he is no longer just the "Ironman" who shows up every week.

The Constellation Energy Classic at Hayfields Country Club begins tomorrow, with Quigley enjoying a status he never envisioned in his wildest fantasy. Tom Watson and Curtis Strange are in town, but it is Quigley who is atop the 2005 Champions Tour in earnings and scoring average.

"I still can't believe the success I've had," said Quigley, who has won nearly $12 million over nine seasons on the Champions Tour. "I never quite grasp it that I'm one of the top guys. That still hasn't sunk in. I hope it never sinks in."

Quigley, 58, has recorded two victories and four runner-up finishes this season, and he's poised to become the oldest man ever to lead the Champions Tour in prize money (currently $1,783,436) and scoring (69.48).

In the process, he is shedding the identity that made him a natural to pose with honorary chairman Cal Ripken at last year's Constellation tournament.

Before he unexpectedly withdrew from the Senior British Open in July, Quigley had appeared in an outlandish 278 straight events for which he was eligible. He was making his way to Scotland when he got "a message from above," hip pain that worsened throughout a five-hour flight delay.

Bob Gilder, John Jacobs and Bruce Summerhays have actually played more events this season than Quigley, whose streak probably will never be approached.

"The guys coming up aren't going to want to do that," he said. "They weren't trapped in a pro shop for 15 years before they were set free."

Quigley knocked around the PGA Tour, where he earned $92,298, most of it from 1979 to 1982. He doubted he was good enough to play with the world's best, and his lifestyle didn't help.

On the course, Quigley found enough fairways to win 16 assorted state and regional titles in New England. On the road, he twice drove his car into trees in 1988, when he finally sought help for his drinking problem. He said he has been clean and sober since 1990.

The closer he got to 50, the more of a force Quigley became in New England golf and the more he thought of the Champions Tour. When he asked the president at Crestwood Country Club in Rehoboth, Mass., if his pro job there would be waiting in case seniors golf didn't pan out, Quigley was told no.

"I was really mad," Quigley said, "but it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me."

Quigley resigned and sought out Bob Rotella, the sports psychologist who had done wonders for his friend, Brad Faxon. In November 1996, Quigley spent a life-changing three days at Rotella's house in Virginia Beach, Va.

"I left him on a Tuesday," Quigley said. "Before the week was out, I had won a two-day event by five strokes. That was on the club pro series. I won five of the 12 tournaments in that series. Somehow, he got me to believe in my game."

Quigley turned 50 in April 1997. Four months later, he won a Senior Tour stop on New York's Long Island and a first-place check of $150,000. Last season was his least productive as a full-fledged member of the tour, and he never expected to make 2005 a career year.

Playoff losses in the Senior PGA Championship and JELD-WEN Tradition continued his run of frustration in the majors, but he went extra holes to win the MasterCard Championship in January and the Bayer Advantage Classic in June.

"He's had to learn how to win," said Watson, who was on the wrong end of both playoffs. "He's figured it out."

Quigley has bonded with Allen Doyle, Ed Dougherty and Jim Thorpe, and not because of their quirks, in his case an extremely short backswing. Doyle didn't even turn pro until he was in his late 40s, and all have had considerably more lucrative careers on the Champions Tour than the "kids" tour.

"There isn't a guy out here who's more grateful for this opportunity than Dana," Thorpe said. "The Champions Tour is the best mulligan we ever had, especially guys like Quigley and me. We realize that we didn't do everything the right way when we were younger, but we have no complaints. The one thing I've learned from him is to take it one day at a time."

When Thorpe took a tour stop in May, he donated his $250,000 winnings to the building fund of his church in Florida. Doyle won the Charles Schwab Cup in 2001 and donated the accompanying $1 million annuity to six charities. If Quigley finishes atop that season-long points competition, he's going to do the same.

"If I can duplicate what Allen did and win the Schwab Cup," Quigley said, "I've already got the charity picked out."

Tournament data

What: Champions Tour Constellation Energy Classic

When: Tomorrow-Sunday

Where: Hayfields Country Club

Course: Par 72, 7,031 yards

Purse: $1.7 million, with $255,000 to winner

TV: Golf Channel, 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. each day

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