When golf fans first see Allen Doyle swipe at the ball, they
have a tendency to dismiss him as a weekend duffer. What's
disconcerting is his short and choppy swing. It resembles a slap
shot, and he learned it during his high school and college
hockey days and during all those winter nights when he practiced
swinging his clubs in a basement. Doyle ranks as one of the
winningest U.S. amateurs in the past decade. He has played on
three World Amateur teams, finishing as the medalist in
Versailles, France, last October to help lead the U.S. to its
first championship in 12 years; has been a member of three
Walker Cup teams; and has amassed dozens of national and Georgia
state championships. Yet galleries and golf writers all over the
world have never given him the respect he deserves because he
looks so unorthodox on the golf course.
In 1978, for example, Doyle hit a tee shot in the Georgia
Amateur that prompted a man in the gallery to shout, ''Who's
this chop?'' The next day a writer covering the event for the
Macon Telegraph said it was a shame that ''a nobody'' like Doyle
had won the tournament because it detracted from the strong
field. In the third round of the 1986 U.S. Amateur, with Doyle
even in his match, he whacked the ball off the 10th tee, causing
a woman in the gallery to crack, ''How'd this guy get into the
tournament? He can't even swing the club!'' Unfortunately she
happened to be standing near Doyle's father, Joseph, who whipped
around and hollered, ''What do you mean? He had to beat out
Typical of the criticism that exasperates Doyle was an
observation made during the 1991 Walker Cup at Portmarnock, in
Dublin. After he had easily beaten one of the best Irish
players, an Irish sportswriter wrote that the victory was
amazing, pointing out that Doyle ought to be sickling grass
rather than playing golf.
''Some guys want to look good,'' Doyle explains. ''But my goal
is the score after 18 holes. The 'lookers' hit a big drive off
the 1st tee, and everybody says, 'What a player!' Well, my swing
isn't long, and I only drive the ball about 250 yards. On top of
that, I wear bland slacks and plain white shirts. People take
one look at me and say, 'Where'd this guy come from? He's not a
player.' I'm the underdog. I try to maximize every shot. I keep
scrapping and fighting. I'm your ordinary Joe.''
This spring, Doyle's slap-shot swing has caused a stir on the
Nike Tour, but for a change, he's receiving rave reviews for his
talent instead of bad notices for his technique. In April, in
only his second Nike Tour event, Doyle won the Gulfport (Miss.)
Classic, defeating Franklin Langham on the second hole of a
playoff and pocketing the $36,000 winner's check. It takes Doyle
almost two years to make that much money at Doyle's Golf Center,
the driving range and miniature golf course he owns in LaGrange,
Ga., 70 miles southwest of Atlanta. At 46, Doyle is the oldest
rookie on the Nike Tour-with the Gulfport Classic victory he
became the oldest player ever to win a Nike Tour event-and he's
more than holding his own against kids half his age. In fact,
he's already fifth on the money list, with $49,105.
''I'm sure there are kids on the Nike Tour who've looked at my
swing and said, 'Hey, this ain't amateur golf, buddy. We're not
playing for crystal, silver or merchandise certificates. This is
the big leagues,' '' Doyle says. ''I realize I have to prove
myself. All I ask is the opportunity to play.''
Doyle has felt the need to prove himself during his entire
golfing career because he didn't break into the game as a rich,
country-club kid. The third of Joseph and Mabel Doyle's seven
children, Allen grew up a rabid Boston Bruin fan in Norwood,
Mass. His father worked in the investment division of John
Hancock, but any extra resources were gobbled up in feeding and
clothing the large Irish Catholic brood. A country-club
membership was out of the question. ''We'd go through three
gallons of milk at the supper table,'' Doyle remembers. ''In
those circumstances there was never anything left over.''
When he was 14, Doyle overheard one of his pals bragging about
having made eight dollars carrying bags for 36 holes at nearby
Spring Valley Country Club. Although he had never even seen
anyone play golf, on television or in person, Doyle jumped at
the chance to make some cash. The following summer he started
playing golf with his fellow caddies at Ponkapoag, a local
public course with dirt tees and brick-hard greens. Paying only
a two-dollar greens fee, the motley crew would race through 72
holes from dawn to dusk. ''We'd scream at the people in front of
us: 'Look out, we're playing through!' '' Doyle says. ''If you
approached the ball and were ready to hit, you hit it. There was
no fooling around.''
By the time he was 17, Doyle had developed into a respectable
player without having taken a formal lesson. He was promoted to
the bag room at Spring Valley, and he supplemented his income by
betting with the other employees when they played. Because Doyle
was consistently raking in cash, nobody tinkered with his swing.
Hap Malia, the head pro at Spring Valley, gave Doyle an
important piece of advice, which he took to heart: ''If you can
drive it straight and if you have a great short game, you'll
take care of yourself.''
''Some days I made $30, and I felt like I'd hit the lottery,''
Doyle says. ''One night my mother jumped me about betting, and I
explained that I knew what I could and couldn't do. But the
truth is, there were times I'd be playing for $10, and I had
less than that in my pocket. That's how I learned to play under
Doyle earned a partial hockey scholarship to Norwich University
in Northfield, Vt., and he became a Division II honorable
mention All-America defenseman. He also made the golf team but
didn't get much chance to test himself because Norwich played a
weak and limited schedule against other Vermont schools. After
graduating in 1971, Doyle had little opportunity to play golf
for the next 15 years. Saddled with a ROTC commitment, he served
as an Army Signal Corps officer in South Korea and at Fort
Gordon in Augusta, Ga. After that, there were too many demands
in his job as a production manager for Milliken textiles in Alma
and LaGrange, Ga.
But deep down Doyle still loved golf, and he often caught
himself wondering just how good he could be. To pursue his
dream, Doyle in 1984, at age 36, became the manager of the
American Legion's public golf course in LaGrange. He also bought
a vacant mobile home lot on the south side of town, threw down
some grass seed and opened up a driving range dubbed Doyle's
Golf Center. ''I fished balls out of the lake at the American
Legion and striped 'em,'' Doyle says.
Every day after work and on weekends he would play a scramble
with his buddies--he always played his own ball--and he worked on
his short game at the golf center. He would walk along the
fences and hit balls back into the middle of the range. ''Why
should I hit 200 more balls out into the range?'' Doyle asks.
''I'm the guy who has to pick them up.'' He earned a reputation
for being a gritty and, at 6'3" and 210 pounds, formidable
competitor. Doyle despised losing, and after bad shots he would
erupt into temper tantrums, swearing at himself under his breath.
Doyle became so enraged after blowing the lead in the third
round of the 1988 Southeastern Amateur that he was almost
inconsolable. When he returned home that evening, he stormed
into the backyard and, illuminating the area with the headlights
of his pickup truck, began working on his pool house. The next
day Doyle birdied the first three holes and won the tournament
in a playoff.
''Allen never, ever gives up,'' says his wife, Kate. ''It
doesn't matter where he stands in a tournament, he's never out
of it until it's over. He's a perfectionist. The first thing in
the morning and the last thing at night, he's strengthening his
hands, squeezing his hand grippers. He'll do anything to be the
Doyle was selected for his first Walker Cup team in 1989 but
couldn't play because of a herniated disc in his back. After
recovering from surgery, he became a force to be reckoned with
on the national amateur scene. In the five years from 1990 to
'94 he never finished out of the top 10 in any of the 20 or so
tournaments he played each year. Doyle says the only time he has
come close to choking was in the World Amateur in
Versailles-''The tournament was riding on every shot; it was
oppressive''-and it was his ability to withstand that pressure
that convinced him he was ready to turn professional. He had
already won every major amateur championship except the U.S.
Amateur, and chasing that title wasn't worth forgoing the chance
to earn the money to send his two daughters to college. Erin,
16, plays No. 2 on the Troup High boys' varsity golf team in
LaGrange, and she's ranked fourth in her class. Michelle, 15, is
No. 4 on the Troup team and an A-minus student.
There was also another motive behind Doyle's decision to turn
pro at age 46. He wanted to gain a competitive edge for the
Senior PGA Tour, which he'll be eligible for when he turns 50 in
July 1998. In February, Doyle took out a $25,000 loan to
bankroll this rookie season, estimating that it will cost about
$40,000 to play in 18 Nike Tour events as well as the five PGA
Tour events he can enter using sponsor exemptions, including
this week's BellSouth Classic in Atlanta. His goal for the year
is to finish in the top 10 on the Nike Tour, which would qualify
him for the 1996 PGA Tour.
After his impressive start, is Doyle kicking himself for not
turning pro years ago?
''I look at my wife, my daughters, the friends I've made, and I
wouldn't change a thing,'' says Doyle. ''Too many marriages
aren't together, and too many kids are screwed up because of the
PGA Tour. Those golfers have more assets than I have, but
they're only monetary.
''I've come a long way from racing around Ponkapoag. It hasn't
been an easy journey, and it's been a twisting, turning road.
I'm going to enjoy my success while it's here, but the only way
to ensure I stay successful is to keep my feet on the ground."