ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- Even before the recent Golf World magazine cover and the national newspaper headlines, people in Georgia knew all about Allen Doyle.
Doyle's fame, which spread as an amateur golfer starting in the early 1970s in Augusta and then to Alma and LaGrange, made the national news when he won the PGA Seniors Championship last month.
The PGA Seniors, held at Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is one of the four major championships for the 50-over senior set.
"I had some modest goals without setting too high a ladder to climb this year. I'm thrilled beyond words," the 50-year-old Doyle said this week at the Nationwide Seniors Championship at the Golf Club of Georgia, which begins today outside Atlanta.
Doyle, in his first full year on the Senior PGA Tour, had one victory since joining the seniors last June. As has been a pattern throughout his amateur and then pro career (he didn't turn pro until he was 46), few took him seriously before the PGA Seniors.
It probably had something to do with his short, unorthodox swing, which resembles a slap shot in hockey. No surprise, then, that Doyle was a star in that sport in college. Doyle said he developed the swing from practicing his golf swing in a low-ceiling room while growing up in Woonsocket, R.I.
By shooting a final-round 8-under-par 64 that featured eight birdies and an eagle, Doyle came from four shots back at the start of the day to win the PGA Seniors by two shots. His 64 was the lowest final-round score by four shots.
"I heard NBC was scrambling to come up with stuff on the air about me," Doyle said. "When they did their pre-tournament work, they said, `This guy's got a chance, this guy's got a chance.' When all of a sudden I'm up there, they're speechless."
Which is exactly how Doyle left many Augusta-area golfers when he lived here from late 1971 to 1976. After graduating from a military school, Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., Doyle started to fulfill his commitment to the service at Fort Gordon.
He went though Officers Basic Training for six months, spent 13 months in Korea and then picked up his hitch at Fort Gordon.
Doyle lived in Augusta, not on Fort Gordon, and spent his free time playing golf at Goshen Plantation and the Armed Forces Golf Club, now known as Forest Hills. At the time, Gordon Lakes Golf Course was being built. The Army operated the Armed Forces Golf Course.
"I played a ton at both of them," Doyle said of Goshen and Armed Forces.
"I was a good player then," Doyle said. "I won the All-Army championship in 1973 and 1974 and the Golf Capital (at Goshen) in 1974 and 1975. But it helped me playing Goshen and Forest Hills because you have to hit it pretty straight and they've got small greens. You've got to be a shot-maker because you've got to work the ball because of the doglegs. They helped develop my game."
Doyle didn't limit his play to Goshen and Armed Forces.
"I liked Augusta because there were a lot of good golf courses you could play," said Doyle, who would visit Midland Valley, Palmetto, Pine Ridge and Persimmon Hill.
"There were a bunch of guys there who loved to play," Doyle said. "At Goshen, there was always a big bunch of guys who would play on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. As compared to a place like LaGrange, a lot of times you have trouble finding a game. Around Augusta, you never had that problem. In Augusta, if there was a golf course that wasn't in good shape for some reason, you had 10 or 12 others. You'd just hop in the car and go there."
When Doyle left the Army in 1976, he stayed in Augusta for six months, playing golf six days a week at Goshen, he said.
It was during this time that he was able to take up an offer his friends at Goshen had told him about.
"They'd always be telling me, `Come up and play, we've got good games on Tuesdays,"' Doyle said. "I was in the Army at the time so I'd tell them I can't do it. I'll never forget the first time I went up there on a Tuesday about 12:30. There were 30 of them on the first tee and when they saw me, their eyes lit up. They said, `Get down here!' I had a zillion bets that day. I'd have matches where me and five other guys were against Dave Franklin, Charles Durand, J.W. Barker and others. They were always after some new blood. It was always a fun time.
"It wasn't competition in terms of tournament golf," Doyle said. "But it was competition because whoever won would have bragging rights for the week until we played again."
Six months after leaving the service, Doyle took a job with Milliken, a textile firm. He moved to Alma, Ga.
"I really thought about staying in Augusta," Doyle said. "If I could have got a good job there, I probably would have. I often wonder what would have happened if I'd stayed in Augusta. I might be doing the same thing I'm doing now. But then again, I wouldn't have got in the golf business and had my range. You never know."
The driving range, at Doyle's Golf Center, opened in 1984 in LaGrange, where Doyle has lived since 1980 when he was transferred by Milliken. He quit there in 1981 to manage a public golf course in LaGrange. Doyle did that for six years until he threw all his energy behind Doyle's Golf Center.
By the time he turned pro in 1995 at age 46 to begin preparing for the senior tour, Doyle's house was filled with his amateur trophys. He won the Georgia State Amateur Golf Association Amateur Championship a record six times and the GSGA's Mid-Amateur (for golfers 25-over) all five times he played in it.
Doyle could have won a few more state amateurs and mid-amateurs, if not for a one-year suspension in the early 1990s for his deportment on the course. That soured his relationship with the GSGA and he seldom played in any of their events afterward.
Nationally, Doyle played on three World Amateur and two Walker Cup teams, was a semifinalist in the 1992 U.S. Amateur and won five national amateur events in 1994.
"After the season I had in 1994, I kind of said, `There's nothing else I can do,"' Doyle said. "I've done everything that I can do (in amateur golf)."
The prospect of the senior tour wasn't the only reason Doyle turned pro. In 1994, his two daughters, Erin and Michelle, were nearing college age and he hoped to win some money to send them to school.
As a rookie on the Nike Tour in 1995, Doyle won three times, including the season-ending Nike Tour Championship. As it turned out, his daughters didn't need the money after all. Both earned golf scholarships. Erin went to Southern Mississippi and Michelle to South Alabama.
His immediate success on the Nike Tour opened up a door Doyle wasn't expecting to see. At the time, the top 15 money winners were exempt onto the 1996 PGA Tour. Doyle finished second among money earners and was headed for "the Show."
At age 46, Doyle was the oldest rookie in PGA Tour history. Doyle struggled on the PGA Tour, finishing 314th on the money list in 1995, 140th in 1996 and 189th in 1997. For the 1998 season, Doyle had lost his PGA Tour card and didn't get it back in Tour Qualifying School. So, he played in nine Nike Tour events, finishing 122nd on the money list. He got in two PGA Tour events, finishing 215th on the money list.
"It seemed like when I got off to a good start, I started trying too hard," Doyle said. "I'd shoot 3-under on the front nine and 1-over on the back, as compared to the seniors or anywhere else I've played, where I'd just keep it going on the back nine."
The fact is, Doyle never expected to be on the PGA Tour, much less starting in his late 40s. Of course, his unexpected success on the Nike Tour brought him there when he thought he'd just "kick around on the little tours" before trying the senior circuit.
"Why turn pro at 46 to try the PGA Tour?" Doyle asks. "The odds were, even if I went out there and wasn't trying too hard, I wasn't going to set the world on fire."
Doyle has returned to his normal mode on the golf course now he's with the seniors. There, the competition isn't as stiff, there are no cuts and there isn't great depth among the top players. It also doesn't hurt that the course are considerably shorter than they are on the PGA Tour.
"Here, I'm not behind the 8-ball quite as much as I was on the tour," Doyle said. "At every level I've been at, most everybody has hit it by me. On the senior tour, I can drive with the majority of the guys. I'm probably outdriving as many guys as are outdriving me."
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