The Coleman Invitational is one of David Abell’s favorite golf tournaments. It is held at Seminole, his home club, and many of the contestants are good friends and among the top mid- and senior amateur players in the country. Which means the camaraderie is as good as the competition.
Then, there is the fact that Abell won this prestigious event in 2008 – and secured a place for his name on the tournament boards in the hallowed Seminole locker room that boast some of the biggest names in professional and amateur golf, from Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer to Vinny Giles and Buddy Marucci.
But that triumph was a lot more than another notch in Abell’s competitive belt. It also represented a major victory over anxiety issues that first surfaced when he was a teenager and nearly caused him on several occasions to give up the game.
“We all have snakes in our heads, and I certainly had them in mine,” says Abell, now 52 and the longtime business manager for Nick Price. “They made playing competitive golf very tough at times. So, it was an amazing feeling when I won the Coleman. I never thought I’d find the confidence and wherewithal to do it.”
Initially, golf was not so hard for Abell, who grew up in Fort Pierce, Fla., and was introduced to the game by his dentist father. “I won the Florida State Junior Amateur Championship when I was 14, and then the Orange Bowl International Junior event when I was a high school sophomore,” he says. That last one was a particularly impressive triumph, as his eight-stroke margin of victory was a tournament record and came against a field that included Price and Hal Sutton.
“I played in an event almost every week in those days,” Abell recalls. “I worked harder than anybody else my age, which is one reason why I did so well. But golf back then wasn’t so much a sport as it was something to be taken very seriously. Of course, I enjoyed winning. But people started expecting me to win, and when I didn’t, they wanted to know why. Winning became relief, not joy, and I started to lose that internal passion for the game as well as my confidence.”
By his own admission, Abell had a mediocre playing career at Wake Forest, which he attended on an Arnold Palmer scholarship. He did try his luck as a professional on the international tours after graduating with a degree in communications, but that only lasted about a year. “I was just going through the motions,” Abell says. “Guys who were my friends in junior golf were going on to be great players. But I had no chance.”
Fortunately, Abell had a chance to make a living at golf in another way. One of the benefits of winning the Orange Bowl was all-expenses paid trip to South Africa as a guest of Gary Player. “That was in early 1975, the year after he had won both The Masters and the British Open, and Gary was an honorary patron of the Orange Bowl Invitational,” Abell recalls. “I ended up staying with him for about two months, and becoming good friends with him as well as his sons Wayne and Marc. I also got to know Nick.”
Fast-forward to Abell’s international travels as a tour professional. He spent some of his time then competing in South Africa, and when he determined he was not going to make it as a player, he took a job at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City. The year was 1983, and Abell began a five-year stint of employment in South Africa, running Player’s club as director of golf and general manager for a spell and also operating a Carvel ice cream franchise in Cape Town. Abell left in 1989, as South Africa and its longstanding policy of apartheid were falling apart, and moved to Southeast Asia, where he joined a resort development company.
“Overall, I enjoyed working overseas, and the jobs were like going to business school,” says Abell, who rarely picked up a golf club the six years he toiled in Asia. “But I knew that if I stayed abroad much longer, I’d never come back.”
So, Abell returned to the States in 1996, going to work for Price. Around that time, Abell started to play golf again. But then his anxiety kicked in again. “If someone other than Nick and the couple other guys I usually played with asked me to play, I’d get so worked up I couldn’t sleep for days,” he recalls.
In time, Abell found relief from his issue through medication. And soon he began to compete again, mostly in local events in Palm Beach County, where he had bought a home. In addition, he began teeing it up in events at the golf clubs he had joined, among them Pine Valley and Seminole, both of which offered admission on the very same day in the fall of 2002. Abell won the Pine Valley club championship the next year, and began playing events like the Crump Cup and the Coleman Invitational on the so-called cocktail party circuit. Golf was starting to be fun again.
But that did not necessarily mean it was always easy, and Abell leaked oil on his way in the final day of the 2008 Coleman, bogeying the last three holes to end up tied with Roger Hoit. There were worries among those in the gallery who knew of Abell’s past travails about how he would do in the three-hole playoff. But he hung tough, draining a 15-foot birdie putt on the last hole for the win, with many golfing friends and members of the club staff in attendance.
It was his best triumph since that Orange Bowl Invitational Junior all those many years ago – and a revelation that there could indeed be joy in winning.