There are few if any stories in professional golf that have followed similar career paths as that of long-time Augusta resident Scott Parel.
Although Parel’s story arc is far from over, he experienced what is to this point the highlight of his 20-plus year career, winning the Champions Tour event Sunday in Seattle.
Parel shot a final round 63 that included consecutive birdies on the final six holes of the front nine. The course record 7-under 29 on the outgoing nine propelled him into the lead after he began the day five strokes back of two co-leaders.
After a bogey at the short par-4 10th temporarily stalled Parel’s momentum, he rebounded with a birdie on the 11th, a lengthy par 4 that is one of the tougher holes on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Snoqualmie Ridge course, which has hosted the event since 2005.
Parel held on to the lead the rest of the day, wrapping up his victory with back-to-back birdies at 16 and 17, the latter with a curling 45-foot putt down a ridge that increased his lead to four shots. Parel finished with an 18-under 198 total, one shot off the tournament record, and wound up with a 3-stroke margin of victory.
Among the perks that come with a victory on the Champions Tour is a spot in next year’s season-opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii sponsored by Mitsubishi Electric, which also sponsors the Atlanta tour stop at TPC Sugarloaf.
“I’ve been dreaming about this,” Parel said after his win in Seattle. “It means I get to take my wife to Hawaii. I know she’s been wanting to do that.”
Parel readily admits that he owes his career in golf to the support of his wife Mary. She encouraged him to take a shot at becoming a tour pro after he worked for 10 years in the computer programming field following his graduation from the U. of Georgia in 1986.
At the age of 31, Parel made the decision to turn pro, and spent his early years in professional golf at the mini-tour level, where the travel is constant and the financial rewards are minimal.
After years of toiling in golf’s version of baseball’s low minor leagues, Parel finally made it to the Class AAA level in 2003 when he qualified for the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour). Parel got into 18 tournaments, made just two cuts and $3,344 and returned to the mini-tours the next year.
Parel was back on the Nationwide Tour in 2005 and stayed there for the next decade although he had to return to Q-school several times to regain his status. After again making only two cuts in 13 starts in’05, Parel finished among the top 100 money winners each of the next three years, but dropped outside the top 100 in ’09 and made just a combined 10 starts the next two seasons, missing the cut in all four tournaments he qualified for in 2011.
During his career in golf, Parel has enjoyed much of his success in qualifying events, and was back on the Nationwide Tour in 2012. At the age of 47, Parel had the best season if his career, making 20 of 26 cuts and nearly capturing his first title above the mini-tour level. He lost a playoff in Raleigh with current PGA Tour member James Hahn, ending the year 35th on the money list.
Parel finally broke into the winner’s column in 2013 at the age of 48, shooting a final round 64 to win by three in Wichita, one of the few cities that has hosted an event every year since the tour began under the sponsorship of the Ben Hogan Company in 1990.
But with an opportunity to earn a spot on the PGA Tour as a rookie at the age of 49 in 2014, Parel struggled over the final three months of the season and ended up 31st on the money list, six spots outside the number needed for a PGA Tour card.
During his 20 years as a tour player, Parel has made five starts in PGA Tour events, two each in the U.S. Open (2002 and ’05) and two at TPC Sugarloaf (2006 and ’08). His only made cut came in ’06 at Sugarloaf after an opening 66.
Parel’s last two seasons on the Web.com Tour did not go as well as the previous two, and at the age of 50 in 2015, he placed 76th on the money list, one spot too high to retain exempt status for the following season.
As a result, Parel concentrated his efforts in 2016 at Monday qualifiers on the Champions Tour, with most of his 15 starts coming as a result of his qualifying prowess. He recorded three top 10s, one in the Senior PGA Championship, the other two in Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs events, and cracked the top 50 in earnings after beginning the season with no status other than the opportunity to compete in Monday qualifiers.
With a long history at PGA Tour Q-school, Parel was prepared for the finals of Champions Tour qualifying, and earned medalist honors to earn one of five spots on the 2017 tour. Parel tied for second in the senior major in Birmingham, added four more late-season top 10s and played well in the Playoffs, winding up 21st in the final Charles Schwab Cup standings.
He took a break from the tour for one week last year, playing in his 222nd and final Web.com Tour event. He tied for 32nd in Wichita, where he won three years earlier.
Parel began 2018 with a victory in an unofficial Champions Tour event in Orlando, winning in a playoff over fellow Georgia resident Scott Dunlap. Parel made three strong runs at an official win prior to Seattle, one of them coming at TPC Sugarloaf, where he shot a tournament record 64 in the final round to get into a three-way playoff won by Steve Flesch with birdies on each of the two extra holes.
The previous week, Parel tied for third in Biloxi, and added a second runner-up finish in Des Moines, finishing one shot behind the winner. With six top 10s and 11 top 25s in 17 starts, Parel came into Seattle 12th in the Schwab Cup standings, and moved up to eighth with his victory, eclipsing $1 million in earnings with his winner’s check of $315,000.
Parel shared the first round lead in Seattle with a 7-under 65 that included nine birdies – five on the front nine and four in succession on the back. A bogey at the par-5 18th kept him from holding the lead outright.
An eagle on the par-5 eighth was the only highlight for Parel in the second round, as he shot 70 and fell five shots off the lead behind rookie Ken Tanigawa and Kevin Sutherland, who beat Parel by 10 shots with a 60.
“I had shooting nine-under in my mind because I thought 18-under would have an outside chance,” Parel said after shooting his target score Sunday.
After his fifth straight birdie at the eighth hole in the final round, Parel took a look at the scoreboard and saw that his plan was working out even better than he imagined.
“I got a little interested because I knew I was six under and one ahead of where the leaders started.”
With a sixth straight birdie at the ninth, Parel moved into the outright lead, and made up for his only bogey of the day at the 10th with a birdie at the difficult 11th. The birdie at 16 gave him some breathing room, and he put the tournament away with his long birdie putt at 17.
“I surely didn’t expect to make it,” Parel said of his 45-footter at the 17th, giving himself one chance in 50 of holing the putt.
After his victory, Parel credited his wife for getting him started on his professional path and supporting him through the lean early years as a tour player. Mary, a registered nurse, went to work after Scott left his job in computer programming to take a shot at life as a tour pro.
“She was a very big factor. We had two kids and she wasn’t working, and I was quitting a pretty steady job to do it. She was the one that pushed me and said ‘you’ve got to chase your dream or you’ll be 60 and you’ll regret it and think about what if I had tried this or that’.”
Parel is one of many UGA grads who went o to a successful career in professional golf, but unlike all his fellow Bulldogs, Parel was not a member of the golf team in Athens. During his time at Georgia, the Bulldogs’ roster included players who were either current or future All-Americans, with many of those on the teams going into careers in golf as players, club professionals, college coaches or tournament directors.
Although he never tried out for the golf team, Parel made an effort to make the Georgia baseball team as a walk on, but 5-5 infielders are a rarity in that sport as well.
Despite being one of the shortest players in stature on the Champions Tour, Parel ranks third in driving distance at 297 yards, one yard longer than John Daly in fourth. Never known as an outstanding putter, Parel ranks third in putts per greens in regulation, and is near the top in the overall putting stat. Thanks to his length off the tee and success on the greens, Parel leads the tour in birdies (233) and birdies per round (4.25).