Dean Sessions does not think of himself as a rabbit, to use Tony
Lema's name for would-be Tour players, but he is. In fact
Sessions is the ultimate rabbit, a lifetime-achievement-award
rabbit. What Sessions and hundreds of other steerage-class
players typically do is appear at PGA Tour sites on Mondays,
three days before the first round, and compete over 18 holes for
four open spots in the main event. Four-spotters, they are
called. Congratulations to the low four players, see you next
time to the 100 or so others who fail.
So what makes Sessions special? Well, persistence for one. By
his own count the Monday qualifying round for last week's Nortel
Open in Tucson was his 125th, dating back to 1987. Although the
man is apparently sane, he is also 45, so he is competing
against a cadre of youngsters, many just out of the nation's
leading golfing colleges. And his futility is special, too.
Once, just once, Sessions has succeeded, gaining a place in the
1991 St. Jude Classic in Memphis. More about that later.
Sessions has also tried to earn his player's card at nine Q
schools. No luck. He has been unable to make it on the Nike
tour. He has picked up some minor change on the satellite tours,
but nothing to match all the $200 entry fees for Monday
qualifying. Sessions's golfing habit is keeping him a very poor
man, and he says he is fortunate to have a wife, Patsy, who is
more than willing to go along with this apparent madness. It is
she who has dictated a five-year plan of continued competition
that will take him to the Senior tour, on which, if he
qualifies, he will be a youngster.
In order to understand Dean Sessions, the golfer, it is
necessary to know something of Dean Sessions, the man. He has
lived in and around Boulder, Colo., for most of his life. He was
an outstanding second baseman for the University of Colorado,
rooming with future major leaguer John Stearns, who has remained
a close friend and occasional business partner. After
graduation, when no baseball offers came his way, Sessions
joined E.F. Hutton as a stockbroker. He was married, had a
daughter, and one would think the good life was at his doorstep:
growing income, family and a low-handicap golf game with which
to impress clients.
But the marriage lasted only eight years, and Sessions left the
job, the wife and the daughter and moved to Seattle, where, with
Alan Ameche, nephew of the football great, he invested in an
upscale hamburger restaurant called Round the Corner. When it
developed that it was costing more to produce a hamburger than a
customer was paying, Round the Corner went round the bend, and
Sessions returned to Boulder, bringing with him Patsy, whom he
had met on a golf course. But let him tell it: "I was standing
by the 18th green. She sank a long one. I said, 'Nice putt.' We
made a date to play the next day, and we've been together ever
since. I can't tell you how supportive she's been."
Sessions, it should be pointed out, has the makings of a super
salesman. He is the sort of man who might try to convince you
that the little diamond is more valuable than the big one and,
what's more, would probably succeed. He is about 5'11" and 190
pounds, and has thinning gray hair and a chubby, almost cherubic
face. He has a talent for remembering names on first meeting and
then personalizing conversations, to wit: "I'll tell you,
Johnny, that was the best shot of my career."
It is important to know this about the man because at the
moment, in addition to his golf, Sessions has many irons, so to
speak, in the fire. He still has a license to sell stocks, as
does Patsy, who is also a CPA. They are part owners of a small
company called Cumberland Capital, which helps small private
companies go public. Dean is working on an amateur golfing
competition called American Corporate Team Cup. Trouble is, the
aggregate income from these various sources is perilously close
to zero, which makes the time Sessions devotes to golf all the
more mystifying. Yet there it is. It came to full boil in 1986
with that first Q school. For the next four years he played in
assorted Mondays around the country, plus more Q schools and
U.S. Open qualifiers. Sorry, Dean. Then came Memphis, 1991.
"I made five birdies on the front side," he recalls, his face
taking on a dreamy look. "Then I began to get visions of playing
with Nicklaus, lost concentration and bogeyed two of the last
three holes. I wound up in a three-way sudden-death playoff for
two spots. We had to do it the next day, which meant a great
night's sleep." Sessions duck-hooked a three-wood off the 1st
tee while his rivals were down the middle. "I was sick," he
says. "I had to hit a five-iron under the branch of one tree and
over one of another. Somehow the ball stopped three feet from
the pin. I made the putt and was in."
Today, more than four years later, Sessions still speaks of the
days that followed like a child recalling his first trip to
Disneyland. "I phoned Patsy and told her to get there, no matter
what the cost," he says. "The tournament held a barbecue
Wednesday night, and we sat at the same table with the Crenshaws
and the Scott Simpsons. On the driving range I had my own space.
My locker had my name on it in gold plate right next to Lanny
Then pop went the dream. By Friday evening he was 81-81 and out.
But he had tasted the good life and longed for more, so two
years later he and Patsy decided to go at it full time. They
sold their house in Boulder, bought a motor home and hit the
road. From July 1993 to August of the next year, Sessions played
in about 40 Monday qualifiers. His goal was modest: to earn
$15,000. He fell short, $15,000 short.
So it was back to Boulder, sell the motor home, rent an
apartment. Last year Sessions played only nine Mondays. It's not
that he is losing the fire, just that it can cost up to $1,000 a
try, adding the entry fee to a plane flight, a rental car, motel
and food. Yet his confidence seems boundless. He says "when I
earn my exemption," not "if."
For rabbits such as Sessions, earning an exemption is far more
difficult than it once was. Years ago, when only the top 60
money winners from the preceding year were exempt, there were
often as many as 30 spots open on a Monday. Moreover, if a
rabbit did qualify, he just had to make the cut to qualify for
the next week's event. But in 1983 the Tour adopted a stringent
new policy that, in its own words, "virtually eliminated Monday
qualifying." The top 125 players on the money list are now
exempt the following year, and the number of open spots each
week is four. Worse, unless a qualifier finishes in the top 10
of that tournament, it's back to Rabbitsville. However, the
challenge, while difficult, is not impossible. In 1986 one Fred
Wadsworth qualified for the Southern Open and went on to win the
tournament. It is his only victory in an otherwise nondescript
career on Tour.
Monday, Jan. 8, in Tucson was the first qualifier of the new
season. Sessions flew in the previous Saturday and shot a
practice-round 75. "I'll do better Monday," he said, always the
optimist. Ever cost-conscious, he stayed at a Motel 6 and took
his meals at a family-style restaurant where a $10 entree is
considered pricey. On Sunday he hit a bucket of balls, then
retreated to his room to watch football and the Mercedes
Championships. If the latter made him envious, he didn't show
it. Asked which he would choose, Norman's driving, Pavin's short
game or Crenshaw's putting, he opted for Norman's. "I have the
short game," he said.
Next morning, facing an eight o'clock tee time, he was up before
dawn to stretch his 45-year-old body. Orange juice and a muffin
did it for breakfast--"I can never eat before playing"--and at
7:15 he arrived at Arthur Pack, a public course with fairways
dyed green to distinguish them from the rough, which is brown.
The sun had not yet cleared the mountaintops, and a brutal wind
promised to make the early holes miserable for the 111 starters.
On a golf course Sessions brings to mind Peter Jacobsen, plus
four a side. While his three playing companions, two of whom
could have been his sons, stood stony-faced on the 1st tee,
Sessions walked up to each and introduced not only
himself--"Chase? Dean Sessions. Good to meet you, Chase"--but also
a friend who was acting as his caddie. Through most of the
round, with the exception of a rare "nice shot," no one but
Sessions said anything. "My play, Tom?" he would ask. "Would you
like to go ahead, Chase?" When one player took a nine, Sessions
was quick to give him a pat on the back and say, "Hang in, Bobby."
As for Sessions himself, the first Monday of 1996 was no
different from all the others before it, save the one. Anyone
seeking a Sessions highlight film would do well to concentrate
on his second hole. An eight-iron stopped six feet from the pin,
and in went the putt for a birdie. The birdie, as in only
birdie. Cut and print. The rest of the round was an agonizing
portrait of a man slipping slowly down an icy slope, unable to
stop. There were no outright disasters, no balls in the man-made
ponds or the centuries-old cactus plants lining the fairways,
just barely missed greens, weak chips and missed putts. On this
day, at least, he definitely could have used Pavin's short game.
As late as the 13th, Sessions was still keeping up an optimistic
line of chatter. "Eagle hole coming up, and two fairly easy
birdie holes," he said, but by 16 it was apparent he had no
chance. His stride slowed, his shoulders slumped. A nice par at
18 got him home in 76. The scoreboard showed that Todd Demsey,
the 1993 NCAA champion, had shot a spectacular 64. There were a
number of 68s, requiring a playoff for the three other spots.
Sessions's flight back to Denver was not till seven, but he saw
no point in hanging around. "I'm going to get some Mexican food
and maybe a margarita," he said. "I'll be in Phoenix in two
weeks. Why? I love the challenge. Trying is what makes me the