Dunlap still grinding in golf’s Class AAA. Veteran tour player thrives on world travel
By Mike Blum
When the Nationwide Tour played its first season in 1990, Scott Dunlap was among the players hoping to use the fledgling developmental tour to earn his way to the PGA Tour.
Dunlap eventually made it to the PGA Tour via another route, and managed to remain in golf’s major leagues for six seasons between 1997 and 2002.
Since 2003, however, Dunlap has called the Nationwide Tour home, and his window for making one more stop on the PGA Tour before he becomes eligible to tee it up with professional golf’s senior citizens has almost closed.
At the age of 47, Dunlap is battling it out a regular basis with players 20 years (or more) younger, many of whom hit it 20 yards on average past Dunlap off the tee. But he has managed to remain competitive with the tour’s long-hitting youngsters, and has enjoyed the ride in golf’s version of baseball’s Class AAA, even though his stay in the big leagues was far longer than the proverbial cup of coffee tasted by Crash Davis in “Bull Durham.”
Last year was the first time since 1994 that Dunlap did not make at least one start on the PGA Tour. Even though he lost his PGA Tour status, he remained a fixture in the BellSouth Classic, playing in that event until it came to an end under a different corporate name in 2008. He came close to a victory at TPC Sugarloaf in 2005 after having to play his way into the event in a 4-spot qualifier, but has not cashed a check on the PGA Tour since the ’05 season.
Truth be told, Dunlap is not especially distraught having to spend his weeks in cities like Athens, Boise, Chattanooga, Columbus (Ohio), Omaha and Wichita, as opposed to Los Angeles, Dallas, Charlotte and Chicago.
“There is no joy on the big tour other than the chance to make a lot of money,” Dunlap said after completing the first round of the recent Nationwide Tour event in Athens. “It’s a tough, lonely existence and everybody goes their own way.”
Dunlap has experienced professional golf in a variety of different situations and locales, enjoying much of his success in his early days as a tour pro outside the U.S. During the 1990s, he won tournaments in Canada, South Africa and South America, with his most recent victory on the Nationwide Tour coming in Panama in 2008.
Already this season on the Nationwide Tour, Dunlap has a top-10 finish in New Zealand and a top-20 in Colombia, adding a second top 10 a little closer to home last month in Athens.
“It’s a mystery to me,” Dunlap says of his success around the world. “When I first went out there, I was as green as anybody. But I enjoyed meeting new people and playing on new stages.
“Now I look forward to getting on a plane and going somewhere. I’d rather do that than stay home.”
Early in his career, Dunlap had to venture outside the U.S. to pursue his career. After qualifying for what was then known as the Ben Hogan Tour in 1990, Dunlap did not play on either that or the PGA Tour until ’95, when he enjoyed an excellent season on the Canadian Tour and notched an 8th place in the Canadian Open in just his second career PGA Tour start.
Dunlap played his way onto the PGA Tour with a strong showing in the finals of qualifying later that year, and with the exception of one year, was a PGA Tour member from 1996-2002.
During that time, Dunlap won twice each in Canada and South Africa and fives times in South America, including three straight titles in the Peru Open, the last of which came in his career-best year in 2000. Dunlap finished 44th on the PGA Tour money list with earnings of over $1 million, and was a familiar figure on leader boards that season in many of the game’s top events.
Dunlap tied for 3rd in the Players Championship, was an early contender in the British Open and was either first or second after each of the first three rounds in the PGA Championship before slipping back the final day into a tie for 9th.
Two years later, however, Dunlap lost his exempt status on the PGA Tour and has been unable to regain it, with a top-25 showing in the 2005 Canadian Open his last accomplishment in the show.
This is Dunlap’s eighth straight year on the Nationwide Tour, and his time there includes a pair of victories and three top-60 finishes on the money list. His victory in Panama in 2008 afforded him some status on tour this year, and his solid early season play will keep him on the tour full time for the rest of the year.
“I began the year with conditional status, and in that situation you have to make some money early. I was ninth right out of the box in New Zealand and got off to a decent start, so I don’t have to worry about having a place to play.
“I just have to worry about playing well.”
After winning the season-opening tournament in Panama in 2008, Dunlap enjoyed only sporadic success the remainder of the season and struggled throughout ’09, missing the cut in half his starts with his best finish a tie for 17th.
But Dunlap has responded with a series of strong showings early this season, and remains confident he can still compete with the youngsters.
“I can still do it. My deficiencies are technical. I’ve got my issues like everybody else, but age is not one of them.”
Dunlap’s stats verify that contention. Approximately one-third of the way through the 2010 season, he was second on the Nationwide Tour in greens in regulation, among the top 25 in fairways hit and was averaging 287 yards per drive.
However, Dunlap was tied for last among tour regulars in putts per round, and was near the bottom in putts per greens in regulation.
After graduating from Florida with a degree in finance in 1985, it took Dunlap a decade to make his way to the PGA Tour, and he has played on either it or the Nationwide Tour ever since. Success did not come easily to him, and he says he “felt like I was on borrowed time,” from the outset of his professional career.
“I never felt like I had everything in order to stay out there for a long time.”
Dunlap has managed to put together a solid career, and for one season at least, was among the PGA Tour’s top players. He retains the belief that “I did it once, I can do it again. If I didn’t think I could do it, I wouldn’t be out here.”
Some players who had a taste of life on the PGA Tour have had a difficult time adjusting to being back on the Nationwide Tour. But Dunlap has enjoyed his time there and has not encountered the attitude/motivation problems that have derailed the careers of others, even during the times when his game was not up to par.