“I feel like I somewhat let down my family and friends because they want it so bad for me,” said the 46-year-old Augustan, whose dogged quest to reach the PGA Tour fell one stroke short Monday at Q-school. “It’s just so hard. … This is probably the toughest thing I’ve had to swallow.”
Parel is in the 14th year of a five-year plan to play at golf’s highest level, and his family and friends have been unwavering in support for a guy who went to Georgia and never even played for the Bulldogs’ golf team.
In 1997 at age 32, he decided to give up the job he applied his computer science degree to and try to make it as a professional golfer. He’s hovered in various levels of the minor tours ever since.
With one fewer stroke Monday against a field of 172 otherplayers – almost all of whom are younger, some by as much as 27 years – he’d have realized his goal.
“I just hate …” he said in halted fragments. “It was just one shot … anywhere … out of 108 holes. That’s what’s probably the most difficult about it. If it’s two, three shots or something like that, you don’t feel quite as bad about it. But one shot. You never know if you’re going to ever get that close again.”
The only thing harder than trying to play golf in gusting winds under the cruelest conditions and most intense pressure the sport creates was speaking to his wife, Mary, and younger brother, Rob, shortly after the round and his opportunity was over.
“She was holding it together pretty good, I think just for me,” Parel said of his wife, who covered much of the raising of their two children – Kayla, 20, and Cory, 16 – while he has travelled the mini-tour circuit. “My brother was very upset. He just wants it so … all my family and friends want it so bad for me. They know how long I’ve been going at it.”
Rob Parel, a doctor in Macon, Ga., cried on the phone.
“Why don’t good things happen to good people?” he asked.
Parel has reached the final stage of Q-School three times. He finished 94th in 2002 to gain conditional status on the Nationwide Tour. He finished 67th in 2007 to earn his first full-time Nationwide card.
But he’d never been this close. An ace on his 14th hole in Sunday’s fifth round fueled a 67 that had him tied for 13th with one round left to make the top 25 who earn PGA Tour cards. It seemed like this was finally going to be his time.
“Seemed like that to me, too,” he said. “But I really didn’t daydream about any of that. I just tried to sort of fool myself into thinking just play golf and whatever happens happens. I think you kind of have to do that. If I had been daydreaming about being out on the PGA Tour, I don’t know what I would have shot today.”
On Monday, in winds that rose and fell and switched directions every time Parel stood over his ball on the Nicklaus Tournament course at PGA West, he made three bogeys and only one birdie to shoot 74, his highest score of the week.
“I just never really felt nearly as comfortable today as I had all week,” he said. “I’m sure the situation had a little bit to do with it, but honestly I didn’t really feel that nervous.”
Parel’s last bogey came on the 13th hole when his approach from the fairway sailed left and long.
“That was the worst shot all week by far – not even close,” he said. “As I stepped over it, it started blowing even harder, so I backed off. I just never committed to the shot. You can’t do that, especially in this situation and the conditions the way they are.”
After his wedge into the par-5 15th hit close but barely dribbled over the back of the green, Parel’s birdie chip lipped out.
“I knew I needed to make a birdie somewhere coming in,” he said. “I needed to be a little more aggressive, and I was. I just didn’t pull off the shots I needed to. Thought I hit a pretty good third shot on 15, and then I thought I chipped it in and it just trickled right over the hole.”
Playing on the bubble the entire round, Parel was a fixture on the live Golf Channel telecast.
“I could tell by the cameras in my face all day they were probably showing me a fair amount on TV,” he said. “I thought, ‘I bet my family is just dying right now even more than I am.’ I know it’s a lot tougher to watch than it is to play. I was probably a little more upset for them having to endure that and to not have it be a success.”
The finish secured him full status on the Nationwide Tour for the first time since 2008, but it seemed little consolation in the immediate aftermath.
“It’s hard to think that right now,” Parel said. “But give me a week or so and I’ll start getting to look at that schedule and think I get to play on the Nationwide Tour this year and not the eGolf Tour. It’s kind of hard to be upset about that, but it’s hard to feel good about it at this point.”
For all he’s been through, Parel deserved a better fate. Everyone who knows him and follows his quest is as crushed as he is.
“For whatever reason, they all think I’m a pretty good guy and they just would like for something good to happen to me,” he said. “If it’s gonna happen it’s gonna happen, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a good guy or not. I’d rather be known as a good guy and not ever get on the PGA Tour than be a jerk who made it. That’s the bottom line. If people perceive me as being a good person who will do things for others, that’s all you can ask for. I still get to do what I love for a living. Unfortunately, right now it’s just not at the highest level.”