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A Surprise Round With Fran Quinn

One of the beauties of golf is its infinite capacity to offer up surprises.

I received a pleasant one Tuesday when I was paired with Fran Quinn during the Massachusetts Open media day at historic Worcester Country Club.

Quinn, a Worcester native and consummate golf journeyman, surprised followers of the game two years ago when, as a 49-year-old qualifier, he shot an opening 68 at Pinehurst No. 2 and was among the early leaders at the U.S. Open. With his teenage son on the bag, Quinn made the cut and played the weekend, enjoying a Father’s Day he’ll never forget.

Although he never quite stuck on the PGA Tour, Quinn has carved out a living as a touring pro for nearly three decades. The second oldest of seven siblings whose father, Fran Quinn Sr., won the 1966 New England Amateur, Quinn grew up playing Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton, Mass., and watching the pros at the longtime PGA Tour stop there. He won the 1986 Massachusetts Amateur and turned pro two years later after graduating from Northwestern University.

Quinn earned a PGA Tour card in 1992 but lost it after making only six cuts. Two years later, he got into contention at the Tour’s New England Classic at Pleasant Valley and finished T9, his lone top-10 finish at the big-league level.

Quinn eventually became a mainstay in golf’s version of Triple-A ball, spending more than a decade as a regular on what’s now the Tour. He won four times on that circuit and twice on the Asian Tour.

Now 51, Quinn plies his trade as a conditional PGA Tour Champions member. In five starts last year he earned $132,676, with most of that coming thanks to a T3 finish at the Boeing Classic in August. Although he has yet to play any Champions events this season, he is slated to play three in a row – the Senior PGA Championship, the Principal Charity Classic and the Constellation Senior Players Championship – starting next week.

After the Senior Players at Philadelphia Cricket Club, Quinn plans to fly home to compete in the Massachusetts Open, a tournament he won in 1990 and whose other past champions include the likes of Walter Hagen, Francis Ouimet, Byron Nelson and Julius Boros. The tournament returns to Worcester – host of the 1925 U.S. Open and the inaugural Ryder Cup in 1927 – for the first time in 40 years.

On Tuesday, Quinn came to Worcester from his home in the city’s suburbs to speak to reporters on behalf of the tournament. After the press conference, I emerged from the clubhouse to learn that instead of playing with a few other ink-stained wretches in the subsequent golf outing, I’d be paired with Quinn in a marquee group that also included Worcester’s head pro, Allan Belden, and longtime Boston sportscaster Mike Dowling.

With only a round and a half under my belt this spring heading into the outing, I felt ill-equipped for the task. But Quinn made me feel at ease as we rode together on a course where he once shot 62.

Over the ensuing four hours, we talked about golf and our families while engaging in a friendly Nassau against Belden and Dowling. The previous day, Quinn had failed to advance out of a windswept U.S. Open local qualifier in Longmeadow, Mass.; nursing a groin injury, he seemed slightly off his game at Worcester.

Still, with an attitude befitting a man who has survived the tour grind longer than most, he waxed optimistic about the possibility of winning a Champions event or finishing in the top 30 on the money list to earn exempt status.

As for our Nassau, Quinn and I both missed relatively short putts on the last green and lost $5 to our opponents. But what I’ll never forget is draining a 30-footer for bogey on one par-3 shortly after Quinn missed for birdie from similar distance along the same line.

“You’ve got a great stroke,” Quinn complimented me afterward.

Imagine my surprise.


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