Two-Time U.S. Senior Open Champion Doyle Relishes Being Underdog
Former Walker Cupper Going For Record 3 Straight Titles At Whistling Straits
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."
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."
Doyle grew up more blue collar than blue blood. Summers were spent either caddieing at Spring Valley Country Club in Sharon, Mass. – he once carried for 1968 U.S. Amateur champion and future Senior Open winner Bruce Fleisher – not far from his Norwood home or at the Ponkapoag Golf Course, where his mom would drop him off in the morning with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and he’d play all day on a scruffy layout with his caddie buddies. It wasn’t all too uncommon to find the fairways and greens and uncut. It didn’t matter to Doyle and company. They just wanted to play and compete to see who was the best player among the caddies.
In the winter, Doyle played hockey and was good enough to earn a scholarship to Norwich – his younger brother, Jim, was the phenom, playing at Boston College and getting drafted by the NHL’s Boston Bruins before an Achilles injury ended his career. The scholarship paid $2,000 of the $4,000-a-year tuition. Another $1,000 came from a Francis Ouimet Scholarship that a Spring Valley member helped him receive. Doyle didn’t think he had the grades, but the gentleman insisted he apply and a month later the acceptance letter arrived. A grateful Doyle then paid the remaining $1,000 of the tuition through money he earned as a caddie.
At Norwich, Doyle also played golf and showed up for the 1970 ECAC Championship at Bethpage State Park as a huge underdog. Back then, the smaller schools also competed against the major universities in golf and nobody thought tiny Norwich had anyone good enough. Doyle found himself facing players from other Division I programs in the northeast. True to form, he won the tournament.
"It didn’t bother me getting pitted against those people," said Doyle. "After awhile, it’s part of a mindset. They won’t see me coming. But when I hit them, they’re going to say, ‘Who the hell was that?’ They’ll know me the next time."
After college, Doyle was going to try out for the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League, but that summer (1971) his papers arrived for the armed services. He was in ROTC at Norwich and faced a two-year commitment that turned into five with some extra schooling. He fortunately wasn’t sent to Vietnam, where the war was beginning to wind down. Doyle, who advanced as high as First Lieutenant, instead went to South Korea near the De-Militarized Zone. Near the end of his deployment, he noticed something on the bulletin board about a golf tournament for the Second Division.
Wearing sneakers and playing with rented clubs, Doyle won the tournament by 30 strokes. The Second Division then sent a team down to Seoul for the Eighth Army tournament. Again wearing sneakers and using a rental set, Doyle won by double digits. Off he went to Taiwan (now Chinese Taipei) for the Pacific Championships. Same scenario and the same results: a 10-shot victory.
He came back to the U.S. for the All-Army Championships at Fort Ord in Monterey, Calif. By this time, Doyle had retrieved his own set of clubs and he won by eight strokes.
Doyle then had to report to basic training school, but because of all his travels, he didn’t have time for a haircut. When his commanding officer first saw him, he said, "Well here’s the traveling golfer," said Doyle. "Then he points to me and says, ‘You go get that [bleeping] hair cut and be back in my office, and then you report to me.’ "
Life After the Army
Doyle was 30 when he left the service and he thought he was too old to give professional golf a try. He was starting a family and had landed a job as a production manager in the textile industry. He also bought a driving range and settled down for a comfortable life as a father and husband. Doyle kept his game in shape by playing in amateur tournaments throughout Georgia. It was when he started to drum the state’s best players that people told him he should take his game to the national level.
"I would go to the state open and Gene Sauers and Tim Simpson were playing, and they were good tour players in the 1980s, and I was beating them," said Doyle. "People would ask me why haven’t you turned pro? I am 37 years old for [God’s] sake. It was a little late to be driving off in the car [and touring]. My responsibility was more to my family. You did what you thought was the right thing at the time for yourself and your family."
With his two daughters, Michelle and Erin (both played in the 2006 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur), finally in college, Doyle thought the time was right at 47 to give professional golf a shot. He achieved a lot on the amateur level, including the semifinal appearance at the 1992 U.S. Amateur, where he lost to eventual winner Justin Leonard, giving the Texas his toughest match of the championship. He also helped the USA win the 1994 World Amateur Team Championship with a young up-and-comer named Tiger Woods (Todd Demsey and John Harris were also on the team).
He was three years away from being eligible for the Senior Tour (now Champions Tour), but he wanted to compete against better players to prepare.
Doyle joined the Nike Tour (now the Nationwide Tour) in 1995 and amazingly won three events, earning his PGA Tour card for the 1996, where he was the oldest rookie ever.
"It isn’t a big deal to you," said Doyle of his mindset. "I know on the first hole on Thursday or Friday [for Champions Tour events], the only thing that matters is who has the lower score on Sunday. You don’t have form charts. You don’t get a seven and another guy gets a nine for having a nice swing. But you are rated that way in people’s minds. I’ve learned through the years of competing that that’s not what determines who wins."
Since joining the Champions Tour, Doyle has enjoyed unqualified success, winning 11 times, including the four majors. Besides the two Senior Open victories, he won the 1999 PGA Seniors’ Championship and the 2001 Ford Senior Players Championship. But he holds the Senior Open titles extremely high.
"I’ve been involved with the USGA a lot … and everybody kind of assumed I had won a USGA event," said Doyle. "And I hadn’t [before 2005]. I always considered myself a champion within the USGA because I think if you help win a Walker Cup or World Amateur you’ve got up into that status. But I didn’t have a trophy."
Until that remarkable 63 on Sunday two years ago at NCR. Doyle needed a little help from Craig Stadler, Greg Norman, Loren Roberts and D.A. Weibring, but the 63 matched the lowest final-round ever shot in a USGA championship (Johnny Miller had a 63 to win the 1973 U.S. Open).
"Everywhere you went the next year, you were introduced as the Senior Open champion," said Doyle. "I thought that was great. Everywhere I went I was a USGA champion."
A Champion’s Spirit
Even without a USGA trophy Doyle would be considered a champion back home in LaGrange, especially to the area’s youth. In 2003, Doyle started a chapter of The First Tee, where he has received $75,000 from the USGA Foundation in grant monies to develop the facility. Daughter Michelle serves as the executive director, but it’s not uncommon to find Allen Doyle cutting the grass or topdressing the greens in the mornings while he’s home. Most millionaire tour pros would never do such blue-collar labor, but Doyle isn’t your normal tour pro.
For Doyle, it’s a labor of love. He gets up early in the morning, buys his newspaper and begins his work by 8:30 a.m. He’ll do whatever needs to be done to have the facility ready for the 400 or so youths who annually partake in its programs.
"It’s not like it’s a chore," said Doyle. "I see The First Tee as a replacement for caddies … in terms of teaching core values.
"I sold the driving range. I owned it 22 years. I kind of think I’m retired now. But it won’t change any [when I do retire]. I’ll still do the same thing. It’s a simple extension of being an active individual."
As the 2007 U.S. Senior Open approaches, Doyle is now being asked if he can become the first player to win three consecutive titles. Willie Anderson is the only golfer to capture three straight USGA Open championships. Whistling Straits owner Herb Kohler hinted at media day that he’ll be rooting for Doyle because of his candor and competitive spirit.
Doyle likely won’t be the chic pick from the experts. Then again, he’s never the trendy pick.
In fact, he’ll take it as a compliment.
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.