The best season of Scott Parel’s golf career got even better Sunday.
Parel, a long time Augusta resident, won the Champions Tour for the second time in two months, taking a Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs event Sunday in Los Angeles to move into second place on the tour’s points list with one tournament remaining.
Unlike almost all the legendary names who take up most of the space atop Champions Tour leader boards, Parel never was a PGA Tour member, playing just five events in his career.
He played on what is now the Web.com Tour from 2003-15, several times just playing a handful of tournaments in a season, as he struggled for most of his time on the tour just to retain his status.
Parel played his best golf at the ages of 47 and 48 in 2012 and ’13, and when he turned 50, was ready to take on the players he had only seen on television during his stints on the mini-tours and the Nationwide/Web.com Tour.
In his three seasons playing against the likes of Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh, Steve Stricker, Kenny Perry and the other name players on the Champions Tour, Parel has more than held his own, even though he joined the tour with no status due to his lack of career earnings.
Parel played the 2016 season as a frequent Monday qualifier, and did well enough to finish in the top 50 in earnings. He won the tour’s qualifying tournament late that year, and moved up to 21st in earnings in 2017, earning him fully exempt status on the tour for the first time.
The 2018 season has been a successful one for Parel, beginning with the unofficial season opener in Florida in January, where he won in a playoff over fellow Georgian Scott Dunlap.
Since then, Parel has put together a long string of outstanding efforts, recording a trio of top-3 finishes (one in Atlanta), before breaking through in late August in Seattle, shooting 63 in the final round to win by three.
Parel has placed second two more times since then, one of them in Calgary the week after his victory, where a final round 62 was not quite good enough to catch Scott McCarron.
On the strength of his consistently excellent play throughout the 2018 season, Parel entered the Playoffs seventh on the money list, and moved up to sixth in the Schwab Cup standings with a top-10 finish in the Playoffs opener in Richmond.
He followed with his second victory of the season, this one coming at Sherwood CC in suburban Los Angeles. With the World Series ending later that evening at Dodger Stadium, and four of the city’s professional franchises at home that day, the Champions Tour tournament was not exactly the prime attraction in LA that day. But Parel is used to competing in events that don’t attract much attention outside the golf community.
Parel was a contender in the tournament at Sherwood CC from the first round, opening with a 5-under 67 to finish in the day in second place, one shot behind the leader. Parel, the second longest hitter on the Champions Tour behind Perry, took advantage of Sherwood’s layout of five par 5s, notching four of his seven birdies on the day on them.
He remained one back after a second round 70 highlighted by an eagle on one of the par 5s, and was among the contenders all day Sunday. He shot a bogey-free 68, with three of his four birdies coming on the par 5s.
Parel finished the tournament at 11-under 205, one shot in front of Paul Goydos and three in front of a trio of players, Perry among them. With 36-hole leader Miguel Angel Jimenez dropping down the leader board with six bogeys in the final round, Parel inched in front of Goydos and Perry and held on for the win with pars on his last five holes.
For the week, Parel was 10-under on Sherwood’s par 5s, but his victory was not just due to his length off the tee. He led the field in greens in regulation (79 percent) and managed some vital par saves on Sunday to preserve his slim lead.
Parel has displayed few signs of nerves when competing for victory in the final round, and his play Sunday was no different. In his seven finishes of third or better this season, Parel has shot scores of 67, 64, 66, 63, 62, 65 and 68 in the final round, with his 68 at Sherwood the highest score of the seven even though he was only one shot off the low round of the day.
“I was comfortable that I could win.” Parel said after his victory. “I’ve done it before. So I tried to give myself a target score. I thought maybe 12-under would have a chance, and I just played good, solid golf. I didn’t get in too much trouble and kind of played like I’ve been playing.
“It certainly didn’t feel like the 63 I shot in Seattle, that was quite a different feeling. I didn’t really pay much attention to what was going on behind me. I just played the front nine and then looked at the leader board and saw that I was in contention.”
There was one person Parel had his eye on the entire week, and that was the Champions Tour’s dominant player for most of the past decade – Langer.
“My goal was to try to at least play better than he did so that maybe I could make up a little ground and I did that.”
Langer, who finished four shots behind Parel in a tie for sixth, remains in the lead in the points standings, but Parel moved up to second with his victory and is within reach of winning the Charles Schwab Cup with another strong finish in the final event of the year in Phoenix Nov. 8-11.
“If I keep playing the way I’m playing, I think I’ll at least have a chance,” Parel observed.
After his victory Sunday, Parel was asked if it feels a bit surreal to be competing against players who have already enjoyed outstanding careers at the highest level of the sport.
“I’d be lying if I said no,” he replied. “These guys have been playing against each other and the best players in the world when they were younger, and here I am only in my third year. I don’t know about surreal, but sometimes I have to pinch myself.
“I’ve worked hard, but a lot of guys work hard and don’t get this. So for whatever reason, it’s working out.”
Parel’s story is unlike any other of the Champions Tour elite players. He was a multi-sport athlete in high school at Aquinas in Augusta, but at 5-foot-5 did not have the stature to continue in baseball or football.
He said he “didn’t really think honestly about being a professional golfer,” while attending college at Georgia. He considered trying to make the golf team as a walk-on, but his academic schedule did not match up well with the requirements for competing for a spot on the team.
“I just concentrated on my studies and got a degree in computer science and went from there.”
Parel spent the first 10 years after he got his degree working in the computer science field, but after enjoying some success in golf at the amateur level, made the decision in his early 30s to take a shot at a professional golf career.
After playing for several years at the mini-tour level, Parel made it to the Nationwide Tour in 2003, and had status on the tour for 10 of the next 13 years, frequently having to go back through the qualifying process to stay on the tour.
His two most productive seasons came in 2012 and ’13 in his late 40s. He finished second in Raleigh in 2012 and scored his lone victory the next year in Wichita, but finished 35th and 31st on the money list, falling short of the top-25 showing needing to earn a PGA Tour card.
Parel played his final season on what had since become the Web.com Tour in 2015, and ended up 76th on the money list, one spot out of remaining exempt for 2016. He spent 2016 playing a lot of Monday qualifiers on the Champions Tour, and played his way into enough tournaments to place 46th on the money list.
He made a farewell Web.com Tour appearance in Wichita in 2017, and shot in the 60s all four rounds to finish T32. He went on that year to have an excellent season on the Champions Tour, and is in position to end his third year on the tour as the Charles Schwab Cup champion.
Parel’s PGA Tour “career” consisted of five tournaments between 2002 and 2008. He qualified for the U.S. Open in ’02 and ’05, and Monday qualified three times, twice in Atlanta. He made his lone cut in the 2005 BellSouth Classic, posting scores of 66-77-74-69 to tie for 57th and collect a check for $11,660, which comprise the total of his PGA Tour earnings.