Before Scott Parel, there was Larry Laoretti and Tom Wargo and Walt Zembriski among others, men who found a second golf life after turning 50, giving breath to the long-shot dream that tapping into the PGA Tour Champions isn’t solely the domain of the formerly famous.
Like the aforementioned journeymen who found a post-50 fortune playing in the sunshine against many of the game’s legends, Parel is living proof that self-belief, a timely nudge and a reliable putting stroke can be transformative.
Parel, 54, took the road less traveled on his way to Newport Beach, Calif., where he is playing in the Hoag Classic this week, sitting third on this season’s Charles Schwab Cup money list after winning the Chubb Classic last month.
He didn’t play the PGA Tour when he left the University of Georgia more than 30 years ago. Parel became a computer programmer and data administrator, a career path that doesn’t leave much time for golf except on weekends and summer afternoons. Parel lived the cubicle life.
Parel and his wife, Mary, moved from their home in Augusta, Ga., to Atlanta but didn’t like the traffic and fled as soon as it became practical. He played church-league basketball and softball with his buddies, buying a ranch house less than two miles from the gates of Augusta National, a house where the Parels still live after Scott’s three PGA Tour Champions victories.
“Golf did not dominate my life at all,” Parel said.
“We came to the decision this is something I should try to do. My wife said you don’t want to get to 50 and look back and think, ‘Wish I’d done this or that.’ ” –Scott Parel
He eventually joined a start-up company doing IT work before the internet fully took off and it allowed him a little more freedom to play golf.
That helped because Parel always felt that tug, that “what-if” idea banging around inside when it came to golf. In the mid-1990s, Parel was playing well enough that friends suggested he give professional golf a shot. It’s one thing to beat everyone at your home club. It’s something else to make a successful career out of playing tournament golf.
When Parel’s friends put up the money for him to play in the PGA Tour Qualifying School in 1996, Parel had his doubts.
“I told them, ‘Guys, I have a 5-year-old, a 1-year-old and a wife at home,’ ” Parel said.
Taking vacation from his job, Parel got through the first stage but not the second. The disappointment was temporary.
“When it was over and I looked at it, I thought I’m working 50 weeks a year in a cubicle and I kinda held my own,” Parel said.
“We came to the decision this is something I should try to do. My wife said you don’t want to get to 50 and look back and think, ‘Wish I’d done this or that.’ ”
Parel’s life was built around the tour qualifying school and he went every year through 2002, failing to gain his card. He won some mini-tour events but those couldn’t pay the bills.
Had he not earned status on what was then the Nationwide Tour in 2003, Parel said he was prepared to quit. He had no room on his credit cards to pay his entry fees.
For 12 years, he bounced around, keeping and then losing his status on what’s now the Korn Ferry Tour, playing every pro-am he could to make some more money.
Then he won the 2013 Air Capital Classic in Wichita, Kan. The $117,000 check allowed Parel to pay off his credit cards for the first time. It changed seemingly everything.
It’s easy to assume the PGA Tour Champions is a 54-hole, no-cut annuity for players once they turn 50. For a handful of familiar names, it is.
For Parel, a self-taught golfer who has never had a teacher, all it offered was a chance.
Five players advance to the Champions tour through qualifying school. Four players Monday qualify. Otherwise, it’s a closed shop.
“There’s always a spot if you’re good enough,” Parel said.
And he was.
In 2016, Parel Monday qualified nine times, played 15 events and realized he could succeed once he got past being starstruck on the practice tee. Two years later, he won twice with nine other top-10 finishes.
“I thought I could play out there, keep a job maybe but I don’t know if I saw winning three times in four years,” Parel said.
“Once I got playing and holding my own, I felt comfortable being able to compete. As far as thinking I could beat all those guys, that took a while.”
Parel has won more than $5 million since turning 50 and he wants more, intending to play the full 27-event schedule on the PGA Tour Champions this year. He didn’t come at it the way Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer and Steve Stricker did.
He took the long way, the back roads and even as he plays on the edge of the Pacific Ocean this week, Parel hasn’t forgotten how he got there.
“The majority of guys on our tour, no matter where they finish, they still have a place to play in five years,” Parel said. “For me, I’m still grinding every week. The only way I stay out there is to stay in the top 36 (money winners, which affords higher-priority exempt status for the following season than the status a player earns for winning a tournament). Every shot matters to me maybe more than to those guys.
“Part of the deal with my career was we had no retirement to speak of so we’re investing and saving as much as we can. We’re not splurging. We live like we did before except we don’t worry about the bills as much.”
Scott Parel went from working 50 weeks a year in a cubicle to winning $5 million on the PGA Tour Champions. Photo: Stan Badz, PGA Tour via Getty Images
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