Former Walker Cupper Griff Moody grew tired of saying the same thing every summer when the young golfers at his alma mater, the University of Georgia, would ask him whether he’d won his state amateur that year.
“No,” he had to say almost every year except 1980. “Allen Doyle did.”
“Who the hell is he?” the out-of-state kids reflexively replied before Moody had to explain to them that “this sumbitch can play!”
It reached a point in the late ’80s when Moody finally decided to address the root of this annual problem with the 1978, ’79, ’82, ’87, ’88 and ’90 Georgia Amateur champion (and runner-up on four occasions plus five Georgia Mid-Amateur titles in a six-year stretch in 1984-89 and five Southeastern Amateur titles from 1983 to ’92).
“You’ve got to start playing in bigger national events,” Moody implored Doyle.
Doyle, a transplanted hockey player from New England, was a whale in the relatively small golf pond of Georgia, where he landed in 1972 in the military service at Fort Gordon in Augusta and never went back north. The word “legend” is not an exaggeration in his case. He dominated the local scene to the point of demoralizing kids with glittering résumés who were half his age, and he was peerless among his peers.
“Probably a third to half of the stories about me aren’t true, but the one thing I do appreciate about the untrue ones is that they embellish on the good stories,” Doyle said.
With the 1989 Walker Cup scheduled for historic Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta, the already 40-year-old Doyle didn’t have the kind of national reputation needed to even be considered for a spot on the U.S. team. He decided Moody’s plea had merit.
“Certainly, I was a well-known regional player, but I wasn’t known nationally other than word of mouth,” Doyle said. “I got to thinking, ‘Geez, it’s going to be in Atlanta in 1989, and I’ve got no chance of making the team unless I start playing in all the big summer amateur tournaments.’ ”
“So, I’m a big boy and understand the way things work. That was going to be the same thing in the Walker Cup. I couldn’t go out and tread water with these guys. I had to go out and beat them.” – Allen Doyle
Of course, Doyle knew from experience that just playing wouldn’t be enough. Born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, and playing college hockey at Norwich College, he was invited to try out for the U.S. national hockey team before the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan.
“But I’m a Division II player – a helluva Division II player but still a Division II player,” Doyle said of competing for an Olympic spot against kids from blueblood American hockey programs such as Boston College, Boston University, Minnesota and North Dakota. “So, the chances of me making that team with a tryout weren’t particularly good, because if you weren’t an elite Division I player, odds are if everything is even, that guy gets picked ahead of you. And that’s what happened.
“So, I’m a big boy and understand the way things work. That was going to be the same thing in the Walker Cup. I couldn’t go out and tread water with these guys. I had to go out and beat them.”
Stepping up and beating people is what Doyle always has done – with his slap-shot swing that’s so flat he could practice in his living room without hitting the ceiling despite being 6 feet, 3 inches tall. “I never had any problem when I stepped up to the next level. It wasn’t life or death,” he said. “The only thing I could do was the best I could and prepare and play hard and see what the hell happened.”
What happened was he won the prestigious Rice Planters in 1988 and the Sunnehanna Amateur in 1989, impressing the golf establishment enough to be selected for the 1989 Walker Cup team. Unfortunately, he had to withdraw from playing at Peachtree because of an injury.
“Had a pretty good year and I was on the map and never would have been on the map because I was just a regional player that wouldn’t have been given the time of day,” he said. “If I hadn’t won some of those things, I wouldn’t have been given the time of day, either, because they’ll always go to the U.S. Mid-Amateur champs and the all-Americans.”
Doyle established himself as a national amateur power in the late 1980s to early ’90s, winning in his 40s against college kids to claim the Sunnehanna four times in six years, three Rice Planters, two Cardinal Amateurs, a Porter Cup and a Northeast Amateur. He was a medalist in the 1991 U.S. Amateur and a semifinalist in 1992. He became a fixture on U.S. national teams, playing on winning Walker Cup teams in 1991 and ’93 and on three consecutive World Amateur Team Championships (aka the Eisenhower Trophy), in 1990, ’92 and ’94. He was a 40-something teammate with future major champions such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Justin Leonard.
Why hadn’t he stepped up nationally sooner?
“Money, probably,” said Doyle, who was running the American Legion nine-hole golf course in LaGrange, Georgia, at the time. “I had two young kids and never made a ton of money.
“It wasn’t like I was being denied the knowledge of knowing that I could [compete], because I would say then versus now, Georgia had one of the best collections of juniors and early-college guys in the country, I thought. I was playing against them in the state ams and Southeastern and beating them. It was not a case of, ‘Geez, I wonder if I could compete and beat these guys?’ because I actually was.
“It was only when it came to wanting to accomplish something more in the frame of the Walker Cup or World Amateur [Eisenhower Trophy] – that was the absolute elite of the elite.”
“As I’m going down the fairway to 18 for the playoff, the old nice guy driving the cart said, ‘Good luck to you; you’ve had a good week’ I said, ‘Sir, I’ve been playing against this young man for five years now, and he’s never beaten me. So, I think I’ll do OK.’” – Allen Doyle
That taste of national success merely confirmed what Doyle was truly capable of in the game. He already was 46 in 1994 and a relative lock to make another Walker Cup team the next year when he started seeing the tuition costs at the schools to which his two daughters were applying. He contacted USGA officials David Fay and Judy Bell with a proposition: If he could be a playing captain in 1995 Walker Cup in Wales, he’d put off trying to turn professional.
“She said in no uncertain terms that that probably had no chance in hell of happening,” Doyle said of Bell’s response, which was consistent with the Walker Cup’s modern policy regarding playing captains. “She just felt it was too big a job for one guy. I told her I’m a small businessman and a parent and have a hobby I’m actively involved in. I can do a few things at once. She again told me it was too big a job and that would not happen … good luck.”
So, Doyle turned pro. With what was then called the Nike Tour (now Korn Ferry) coming to the South in the spring of 1995, he asked friend Bo Bowden, originally from Macon, Georgia, about getting a sponsor exemption into the event at Bowden’s club in Pensacola, Florida. He got it and finished 21st, earning a spot in the next week’s field in Gulfport, Mississippi. In his second pro start, he landed in a playoff with fellow Georgian Franklin Langham.
“As I’m going down the fairway to 18 for the playoff, the old nice guy driving the cart said, ‘Good luck to you; you’ve had a good week,’” Doyle recalled. “I said, ‘Sir, I’ve been playing against this young man for five years now, and he’s never beaten me. So, I think I’ll do OK.’”
Doyle won to earn a full Nike Tour exemption. By the end of the season, he had three victories and a full exemption in 1996 as the PGA Tour’s oldest rookie in history, at age 47. That made him no stranger in the media tent, but he was still surprised in September when he found a note in his locker asking him to appear in the interview room before the Greater Milwaukee Open.
“These people start pouring in, a couple hundred of them,” he said of the reporters. “What in the hell? I asked, ‘Just out of curiosity, why do you want me here?’ They said, ‘You’re the only person in the field that’s played with Tiger Woods.’ ”
He was part of the “Hello, World” moment.
“I was the only one that played amateur golf with all those guys: Tiger, Phil, Duval and Leonard,” Doyle said. “And then I was the only one that played professionally with them and also played with Palmer and Nicklaus and Trevino professionally [on the Champions Tour]. So, it’s been a good road and nice to have happen to you, really.”
That’s what the Walker Cup and Eisenhower Trophy did for Doyle. He became a mentor and friend to greats a generation behind him. He taught them all how to pour beer from a keg without it being too foamy, and he would team with peers Jay Sigel and John Harris to teach the kids lessons in practice rounds. At Le Golf National outside Paris in 1994 before the Eisenhower Trophy, he even gave Woods and his partner, Todd Demsey, nicknames after both sailed their drives way right over stadium course mounds on the last hole to lose the match and press bet.
“That’s when I named them ‘the Right Brothers,’” he said. “You got to tell us which one of you is Orville and Wilbur, and they started arguing who’s who.”
For all his professional success that eventually totaled nearly $14 million in earnings and four senior major titles, including consecutive U.S. Senior Opens in 2005-06, Doyle still says those experiences in the Walker Cup and World Amateur Teams were the pinnacle moments of his career.
When Doyle took his 8-year-old grandson, A.J., to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2019, the young boy wanted to meet all these players whom his grandpa said he knew. Doyle tried to temper his grandson’s hopes because the players were focused on preparing for a major. But near the seventh tee on Tuesday, Tiger Woods spotted Doyle from 100 yards away and started trotting over to him.
“He comes up and gives me a big hug and stayed for a few minutes talking to A.J.,” Doyle said. “I’d never have that if not for the amateur teams. All those guys, whether it’s Mickelson or Duval, whenever I see them it’s like a lost brother. I’d always zing them and try to keep them on their toes during the matches and out to eat. I was kind of young at heart like them.”
For all his professional success that eventually totaled nearly $14 million in earnings and four senior major titles, including consecutive U.S. Senior Opens in 2005-06, Doyle still says those experiences in the Walker Cup and World Amateur Teams were the pinnacle moments of his career. Poor timing regarding exemption changes kept him from converting any of those experiences into a Masters appearance – making him arguably the greatest player never to qualify to play at Augusta National – but at age 75 he has no regrets how his late-blooming life in golf played out.
“I had an unbelievable father [Joseph Doyle], and his famous mantra was, ‘If it’s supposed to happen, it’ll happen,’” Doyle said. “So that [the Masters] didn’t happen. You might say that’s a bum break, but look at everything else that happened to me. So, I would never take one example out of hundreds where I didn’t benefit. In many of those cases when it was happening to me, I think back to dad saying that and thought, ‘That sumbitch was right.’ I’m so much to the plus that I would never look back to that as a screw job.
“I’ve often said when people ask me, ‘Would you have done things differently, knowing what could have happened for you?’ I say, ‘I’m in the best spot in my life I could be right now. Why would I ever want to change anything?’”
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