Haven, Wis. – It’s the final round of the 2006 U.S. Senior Open and Allen Doyle is right where he wants to be. Two strokes down. Virtually everyone at Prairie Dunes Country Club and around the state of Kansas is rooting for native son and championship leader Tom Watson.
Never mind that Doyle is the defending Senior Open champion, a player who shot a record 63 on the final day at NCR C.C. to overcome a nine-shot deficit. He still takes the underdog role into this Sunday.
"Everybody puts me in that role anyway," said Doyle at media day for the 2007 Senior Open at Whistling Straits. "That’s the beauty of sports. How dumb would I sound if I’m getting interviewed and I am trying to convince people I shouldn’t be in that role."
|Whistling Straits owner and Kohler Company CEO Herb Kohler (left) told reporters at 2007 U.S. Senior Open Media Day that he became a big fan of Allen Doyle's grit and performance at last year's Senior Open. (Photo courtesy of Whistling Straits)
With a swing that looks more suited for shooting at a net than flagsticks, most golf neophytes view Doyle as an oddity.
No problem. Call him senior golf’s version of Clark Kent.
It’s been that way ever since he started playing sports. At tiny Norwich (Vt.) University, nobody gave his Division II ice hockey team much of a chance when it faced bigger, stronger and more-talented Division I programs in the northeast. Yet Doyle’s gritty teams could compete with the big boys, sometimes pulling off victories when the opponents gave Norwich no respect.
It was the same when Doyle started competing in Georgia amateur tournaments. Opponents would see the unorthodox swing and mentally assume victory. He won the Georgia State Amateur four times from 1978-90 and the Georgia State Mid-Amateur four times from 1982-90. When he took his game to the national level, opponents gave Doyle the same incredulous look. Then he captured the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur four times as well as the 1994 Porter Cup among other victories. A 1992 U.S. Amateur semifinalist, Doyle was twice selected to represent the USA in the Walker Cup (1991-93) and he was a three-time participant in the World Amateur Team Championship (1990, ’92 and ’94), all coming after he turned 40.
When he turned pro at the age of 47, some people laughed. A 47-year-old competing with all the young hotshots on the Nike Tour? It was just another chance to prove the critics wrong. Doyle won three times, including the ’95 Nationwide Tour Championship at Settindown Creek in suburban Atlanta.
"I had the capability [to compete at that level] at 49, so I’ve got to believe at 39, 32 or whatever … I could have turned pro and been successful," said Doyle. "People ask me if you regret not doing it [earlier], and I say if you are in the best place that you can be now, why would you ever want to change any decision that got you where you are. I was very happy where I was at."
By the time he turned 50 and joined the senior circuit, the internal chuckling had died down among his fellow pros. Nevertheless, Doyle still has those who watch him for the first time wondering how he does it.
A swing that looks like a slap shot, no swing coach to break down every technical aspect of his mechanics and no mental advisors telling him how to think his way through every situation. He doesn’t even wear a glove.
Doyle doesn’t need it. With a heart bigger than Texas and competitive fire that could melt the North Pole, Doyle perseveres through an unabashed work ethic and inner-drive to succeed. He’s not afraid to fail or win. He won’t be intimidated and he certainly won’t back down from a challenge.
So when the huge galleries in Hutchinson, Kan., last summer were cheering wildly for Watson, Doyle accepted the situation. When Watson faltered early with back-to-back bogeys in the final round, Doyle saw his opportunity and seized it. He birdied three of the last seven holes, including a clutch 14-footer at the 71st hole that all but sealed his two-stroke win. His 1-under-par 69 gave him four sub-70 rounds and five straight dating back to 2005 at NCR.
And just to add a little flavor to his second Senior Open title, Doyle raised his index finger to his lips as a playful gesture to the boisterous gallery on the 72nd green. Doyle had again quieted the doubters, becoming just the third player in Senior Open history to successfully defend his title. At 58, he also became the oldest Senior Open champion.
Not bad for a guy who grew up playing a $2-a-round state-owned golf course in Canton, Mass., and later worked 80 hours a week at his small driving range in LaGrange, Ga. Now he flies to media days in leased jets.
"I don’t think [the odds] were [against me] because for whatever the reason, it’s upbringing," said Doyle at media day for the 2007 Senior Open at Whistling Straits. "Parents always want something better for their kids than they had. You teach an honest work ethic. I never knew where I would fall out here. All I wanted to do was give myself the best chance. Thank goodness you don’t have to be the smartest guy in the world to be successful. But if you just put in a decent honest day’s work and apply yourself the best you can, then stuff like this happens."