Search

Near-great Scott journeyman Scott Dunlap went toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods for three rounds. Then his putter betrayed him

Aug. 28, 2000
Aug. 28, 2000

Table of Contents
Aug. 28, 2000

NFL Preview 2000

Near-great Scott journeyman Scott Dunlap went toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods for three rounds. Then his putter betrayed him

The odd thing about Scott Dunlap is that people mistake his joys
for ordeals. When he was kicking around on the South American
and Asian tours a few years ago, people gave him that look that
said, "How brave," as if he weren't blessed to be waking up to a
view of the mountains above Rio de Janeiro or slurping Singapore
noodles in Singapore. When he gave lessons at a sleepy golf club
in South Africa in the early '90s, his friends back home in
Sarasota, Fla., shook their heads--while he cackled over his
Krugerrands and used the free time to work on his game. When he
crossed the ocean at great expense to play quaint British
courses in pursuit of a dream, folks dismissed him as imprudent,
if not delusional, until they saw him on TV walking the fairways
of Royal Birkdale, Carnoustie or St. Andrews.

This is an article from the Aug. 28, 2000 issue

So it came as no surprise to Dunlap that people kept offering him
sympathy last week when he got yoked to Tiger Woods in the third
round of the PGA Championship. Damn, Scott, it must make you
sweat just to stand next to Tiger.... Don't the crowds make you
crazy?... Keep your head up, fella. Don't listen to those TV guys
who call you a "journeyman pro" and a "nobody."

Even on Saturday evening, after Dunlap had matched Woods shot for
shot over 18 pressure-filled holes to remain a stroke out of the
lead, writers repeatedly asked the 37-year-old journeyman nobody
if he had had a sleepless night. "It was nothing to dread," said
Dunlap of his duel with Tiger. "This was the carrot that's been
dangling for me all these years. I was just anxious to see how
I'd do."

Twenty-four hours later the carrot was gone and Dunlap was
driving home to Duluth, Ga., in his green Lexus, a Pat Metheny CD
providing the soundtrack for his thoughts. He was no longer the
flavor of the day; another journeyman nobody, Bob May, was. What
Dunlap had was a piece of ninth place and a check for $112,500.
Good stuff if, like Dunlap, you've never won on the PGA Tour. But
you don't beat Tiger Woods if you can't putt on Sunday.

As he drove, staring past the beams of his headlights, listening
to the jazz and to his wheels going throp, throp, throp on the
pavement, Dunlap was probably coming to grips with a cold, hard
fact. He was probably thinking, I hit it good enough to win. Tee
to green, I was as good as Tiger and Bob, but my putting still
won't stand the heat.

God's joke on Dunlap was to make him a dead ringer for Mr.
Carlin, the morose, cynical psychotherapy patient on the old Bob
Newhart Show. To punch up the joke, God planted Dunlap in the
world of professional golf, where the Carlins are as common as
courtesy cars. But while other pros complain about the food, the
travel or the wallpaper at the Ritz, Dunlap absorbs
inconveniences with a seasoned equanimity. "Scott is the
consummate professional," says Notah Begay. "He has played
everywhere, he has paid his dues, and he really enjoys the pro
golf lifestyle."

Certainly no Tour player this side of Vijay Singh has wandered
down more foreign streets. Since graduating from Florida in 1985
with a degree in finance, Dunlap has bargained with taxi drivers
in Ecuador, ridden chartered buses in Kuala Lumpur, won the
national opens of Peru and Argentina, played $5 Nassaus in
Zimbabwe--and grinned all along the way. A bachelor, he says, "I'm
probably the only guy who went to Asia, played like a dog and had
a great time."

But if Dunlap treasures his detours, he has never forgotten where
he wanted to wind up: at golf's major championships. As a high
schooler in Sarasota he memorized the names of all the U.S. Open
champions, plus where they won and what they scored. ("The
running joke was, 'Quiz me!'" he says.) From 17 on he tried to
get into the U.S. Open through local and sectional qualifying. He
failed two or three times by a stroke and several more times in
playoffs before cracking the field in 1992. (His best finish in
three Opens has been a 24th at Congressional in '97.) He has
entered the final stage of British Open qualifying four times,
played his way into the field twice and played two other times on
exemptions. Last year at Carnoustie he tied for 10th.

So enthralled is Dunlap with the historic venues that he can't
fathom why some players see them as interchangeable tracks.
Watching TV in the locker room at a U.S. Tour stop a few years
ago, he saw Scott Hoch explaining in a taped interview why he
wouldn't play in the British Open, even though he was exempt from
having to qualify. Dunlap rolled his eyes and barked at the
screen, "It's the birthplace of golf!" Turning to see if anyone
shared his opinion, Dunlap was mortified to find Hoch, in the
flesh, sitting behind him on a couch.

"I was really embarrassed," Dunlap says, "but I didn't take back
what I had said. If you're a professional golfer, that week is
holy. How can you not want to be there?"

Which brings us back to Valhalla, where Dunlap was not merely
present but also very well accounted for. A first-round 66 gave
him a share of the lead with Woods and gave newspapers their
usual first-round-wonder story. ("In golf, you never know who
might be coming out of the pack," veteran CBS announcer Verne
Lundquist told a reporter after the round. "I can tell you that
right before I turned out the light last night, I was not reading
about Scott Dunlap.") When Dunlap fashioned a second-round 68 to
trail Woods by only one stroke, a Louisville Courier-Journal
headline bawled, THESE TIGER HUNTERS AREN'T EXACTLY BIG GUNS.

The skepticism may have been warranted--Dunlap himself said,
"Tiger has won majors more times than I've made cuts"--but the
doubters were overlooking Dunlap's steady improvement of late.
Last year he made waves on three tours, finishing second to David
Frost on the South African money list, finishing tied for third
at the Doral-Ryder Open and 78th in the U.S. in earnings, and
winning twice in South America at year's end. This year has been
even better for Dunlap, who came to Louisville with four top 10s,
a third-place finish at the Players Championship and a
career-high $795,028 in official earnings. "I'm 37, and I'm still
getting better," he said. "That's the great thing about golf. If
I were a tennis player, I'd be teaching old ladies how to hit
backhands."

Instead of the ladies, Valhalla offered Dunlap the Tiger. He had
played with Woods once before in the third round of a major--the
'98 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club--but this was Tiger at the top
of his game, with fans lined eight deep on every hole. A
wonderful thing, however, happened to Dunlap at Valhalla. As he
marched along, seemingly oblivious to the roiling human traffic
around Woods, fans began peppering the air with shouts of
"Scotty!" and "Go, Scott!" When Woods three-putted the 12th hole
for a double bogey and Dunlap followed by making a sidehill
five-footer for birdie and a share of the lead, the grandstands
erupted for the underdog. At the end of the day Woods wobbled off
at 13 under, only a stroke better than Dunlap and that other
impertinent nobody, May. Dunlap was suddenly a TV star. "I was
thrilled," said his younger sister, Page Halpin, a former LPGA
player and college coach. "Scott showed he had what it takes to
play in that arena."

Afterward, Dunlap politely corrected those who assumed that his
round with Tiger had been an ordeal. "I've never bought the
argument that it's so hard to play with Tiger," he said. "No one
shouted on my backswing. No one put me off my game."

Dunlap had to smile when he was asked if he was disappointed that
he had missed a couple of short birdie putts. "That was by no
means a miserable effort for me," he said. "I've got some bad
history with the putter."

Sure, all the Tour players say they can't putt. But when you saw
Dunlap smack that tight draw of his off the tee and watched him
thread iron shots between flagsticks and trouble, you figured his
flaw had to be elsewhere. "He has always been a great ball
striker," confirmed his sister, who watched the tournament on TV
in Sarasota, "but when he played the Nike tour a few years ago,
it was not uncommon to see him hit 16 greens and be inside 10
feet 10 times--and shoot one under."

That, unfortunately, was how it went for Dunlap on Sunday.
Playing with J.P. Hayes in the pairing just ahead of Woods and
May, Dunlap bogeyed the first two holes and was out of contention
by the turn. If he was looking for omens, they came in a
paradoxical package at the 16th tee: A rooster crowed nearby
while yellow leaves floated down from the trees. Dunlap finished
with a 75 and walked off the 18th green to an ovation that must
have sounded hollow.

In the locker room he showed no anger, but neither did he hide
his disappointment. "If you're one of those psychobabblers who
think only positive thoughts, then this is a step forward," he
said with a faint smile. "But I'm a hard realist, and I have to
face facts." If he momentarily sounded like Newhart's Mr. Carlin,
he recovered quickly: "Tee to green, I can play with anyone, and
I'm getting closer with the putter."

A few minutes later, Dunlap was in his car with the CD going,
cruising down Shelbyville Road to the Interstate. The ordeal, not
to mention the joy, was over, and the odd thing was, they were
still whoopin' and hollerin' back at Valhalla.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECKCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Azinger's performance in the majors helped him land a spot on the 2000 Presidents Cup team.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Gripping In the third round Dunlap matched Woods shot for shot--and had a good time playing in Tiger's pressure cooker.

Major Players of the Year

Only 19 players made the cut in all four majors this season.
Here are their average finishes and how they fared in four key
statistical categories in the Grand Slam events.

Driving Driving Greens in Putts per Average
Distance Accuracy Regulation Round Finish

Tiger Woods 301.4 76.3% 79.2% 29.56 2
Ernie Els 286.2 72.4% 72.9% 30.19 10
Phil Mickelson 283.2 69.0% 68.1% 29.69 11
Paul Azinger 279.7 64.7% 63.9% 29.13 18
Loren Roberts 258.0 79.3% 66.3% 29.00 19
Thomas Bjorn 276.4 68.1% 66.3% 29.50 20
Notah Begay 276.5 69.8% 71.9% 30.94 22
Stewart Cink 281.2 65.5% 70.1% 30.50 23
Padraig Harrington 275.9 72.4% 59.4% 28.69 26
Steve Jones 280.1 69.0% 66.3% 29.50 27
Darren Clarke 269.6 77.6% 66.7% 29.63 28
David Toms 274.4 74.1% 64.9% 30.13 28
Nick Faldo 263.3 75.9% 61.5% 28.63 32
Justin Leonard 266.5 73.3% 66.0% 30.00 32
Mike Weir 268.0 69.0% 65.6% 29.63 32
Colin Montgomerie 275.5 78.9% 69.1% 30.81 33
Miguel Angel Jimenez 268.2 76.7% 64.6% 29.63 35
Sergio Garcia 278.5 71.6% 67.4% 30.50 39
Jim Furyk 270.1 76.7% 68.8% 31.63 47

"It was nothing to dread," Dunlap said of being paired with
Woods. "I was just anxious to see how I'd do."