Scott Parel is a throwback to the early charm of the senior circuit, when guys who had spent a career in golf’s obscure precincts – a Dana Quigley, a Mark Johnson – could author improbable Cinderella stories amid the seasoned winners collecting their reliable annuities.
That contrast in accomplishments will again be apparent this week when the PGA Tour Champions wraps its season with the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club. Parel goes to Arizona second in the season-long standings, trailing only a man with more than 100 professional wins and north of $40 million in career earnings.
Bernhard Langer’s two biggest victories came at Augusta National. Parel lives a couple of miles from the famed club, but his one-way road in professional golf ran out of town.
Parel didn’t even join the paid ranks until he was 31 years old, after a decade in the IT industry. He made just five career starts on the PGA Tour, and it wasn’t until 2003, when he was 38, that he secured Web.com Tour status. He made 18 starts that year and earned $3,344. His lone win came in 2013. By then he was 48 and turning his attention to the over-50s circuit.
With no playing privileges, Parel had to rely on Monday qualifiers, a system that offers odds only slightly better than a Mega Millions lottery drawing. He made it through eight times that first season but remained realistic.
“You’re showing you can beat guys in the same boat you’re in,” he said. “The qualifiers showed I was good enough to get on tour. But was I good enough to be successful on tour?”
Even when he had earned his spot, he wasn’t sure he belonged.
“I felt a little out of place playing with guys who are multiple PGA Tour winners, major winners, Hall of Fame members,” he said. “I was nowhere near their level.”
Lee Janzen has multiple victories and multiple majors. He remarked earlier this year that when Parel finally realized how good he was, he’d win often. On Aug. 26, Parel shot a final-round 63 to win the Boeing Classic. Two weeks earlier, he and his wife, Mary, had decided she would finally quit the nursing job that had supported the family for years.
“That was a big point in our life. She’d been toting this family around for a long time while I was out chasing my dream and she was raising the kids at home,” Parel said. “For her to finally be able to stop working and enjoy this ride that we’re on together, that was definitely a watershed moment.”
It also meant Mary no longer had to worry whether she had enough vacation time in the bank to travel with her husband to tournaments. I pointed out to Parel that this isn’t a common concern among couples on the PGA Tour Champions.
“Yeah,” he replied with a laugh. “There aren’t too many guys out there whose wives are worried about having vacation built up.”
The pint-sized Parel – he’s just 5-foot-5 but ranks second in driving distance at 296.8 yards – has started to deliver on Janzen’s prophecy.
Last month, he won again at the Invesco QQQ Championship. That took his haul for the year to $1.8 million and his senior earnings over $3 million, enough to put the tough times a little more distant in the rear-view mirror – the failures at PGA Tour Q School, the 118 missed cuts in 222 Web.com Tour starts, the painful doubts when he lost even his minor-league status and had to go back to the mini tours. That was just seven years ago.
“I was 15, 17 years into it, wondering if this has all been for naught,” Parel said. “By no means was my family in great financial straits. I mean, we were OK. But you know my wife and I really couldn’t see our future that great. And now it’s turned into a dream.”
“He’s the same guy that played the mini tours that he is now,” said Keith Nolan, a close friend who caddies for Janzen. “Success hasn’t changed him.”
Parel’s ambition is to win enough events to secure better status on the PGA Tour Champions, a telling commentary on the most closed shop in golf.
“I had 10 years of regular-guy work where I wasn’t in the grind so maybe I’m not as tired as some other guys out here. Maybe a little less wear and tear,” he said. “But the majority of guys on this Tour have had more success than failure. That’s why they’re on this tour.”
The majority, perhaps, but not all. Parel is a reminder that there’s still a place for battered dreamers.
Golfweek, November 4, 2018