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The Iron Man

Dana Quigley, an unsuccessful journeyman on the PGA Tour, has played in more than 200 consecutive events on the Champions Tour
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Cuban Models, May/June 03

(continued from page 1)

Dana Quigley plays golf. He has played every single Champions Tour event he has been eligible for since he won his first tournament in 1997. When he isn't playing in a tournament, he's playing somewhere, with friends, in a pro-am or with his wife, Angie. "There's hardly a day goes by I don't play golf," says Quigley. "I love this game. Always have. There isn't anything else I'd rather be doing than playing golf. And the funny thing is, the older I get, the better I seem to get. Isn't that something?" Isn't Dana Quigley something? Now in his seventh season on the Champions Tour (formerly known as the Seniors Tour), Quigley has won eight tournaments and more than $8 million. So far this year, he's been in four tournaments, and finished in the top 10 three times, including a win at the MasterCard Championship in Hawaii. He's got a share of a private jet, an endorsement deal with Te-Amo, a boat, a big house and cash in the bank. It's a miracle, or is it? "The miracle is that I'm alive to be able to do this," says Quigley. "The miracle is that I survived this long, got myself together. I've got a whole new life, really, and I'm not going to blow it this time."

 

The Champions Tour holds a unique place in sports. Where else can an athlete turn 50 and suddenly be presented with the opportunity to make millions? There are so many tales of washed-up or little-known pros discovering that at 50 they can compete with players who used to blow them away. Players who, presented with a second chance to follow a dream, take the full advantage. And no one has taken greater advantage than Dana Quigley.

From 1978 to 1982 Quigley played the PGA Tour, sporadically, and he got into the occasional tournament from 1983 to 1996. He did little more than hang on to his career by his thumbs, the weakest possible grip. He made little money and almost no impression. If he led the PGA Tour in any one aspect, it was partying. He didn't have that much to celebrate, never won a PGA Tour event, but he would party at any time, any place. If he made the cut, he would party, which assuredly meant he would play badly on the weekend. As much as he was drawn to the game, he didn't respect it enough. Worse, he didn't respect himself. Lack of respect and lack of sobriety was a combination sure to kill a career. It was a toxic mix sure to poison a man's talent, and it did.

"Back then, I would pretend to be a golfer," says Quigley. "I had such low self-esteem that I wouldn't practice next to someone like Jack Nicklaus. I just didn't believe I belonged in the same company. Then I went ahead and proved that I didn't. I made a mess of my PGA Tour career. Made a mess of a lot of things, really."

On February 1, 1990, Quigley made a decision, a right-hand turn off Forest Hill Boulevard in West Palm Beach, Florida, onto I-95 North that would change his life.

After the 1982 PGA season, Quigley left regular Tour competition to take the job as head professional of the Crestwood Country Club in Rehoboth, Massachusetts. As a club professional, he was a tournament terror, winning a bunch of state opens in Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island for more than a decade. He was named New England PGA Player of the Year seven times. There was no denying his talent on the club level.

He could party and still beat everybody. In the winter he would go to Florida and beat those club pros all over again. He would play every day, sometimes 36 holes or more, then drink beer and play gin. Every day. His drinking led to two drunken driving incidents, and a failed attempt at sobriety after the second one.

Some nights he would join the pros for drinks and dinner. On that February 1, he was headed toward a restaurant in West Palm Beach where he would have a couple of cocktails, maybe a bottle of wine, a steak and a lot of laughs. But just as he got to the I-95 overpass, he made the hardest right turn of his life, a 60-mile-an-hour swing away from the party life and toward a new one. He didn't know it right that moment, but he had also set a course for future success on the Champions Tour.

"I was following a friend to a restaurant and it dawned on me I couldn't keep drinking like this," says Quigley. "I was into the socialness of being a drunk. I still don't think my body or mind craved it. I drank because everyone else around me drank. When I got home that night, I didn't say anything to my [first] wife. I really didn't make a decision to quit drinking. It wasn't like I thought I would never have another drink. I didn't have any set goals about not drinking. Then the next day we played golf and I had a nonalcoholic beer and got kidded about it. I did the same thing the next day. I was getting along without alcohol. It became a habit, then it became sort of a pride thing. I haven't looked in a bottle since. It was the most important thing I ever did. It was probably the first unselfish thing I ever did."

It would take seven more years before Quigley would become eligible for the Champions Tour. Though he could see a second chance at glory coming, his low self-esteem still was a shortcoming. His brother Paul encouraged him to give the Champions Tour a shot. To do so, Quigley still needed a booster shot, and he got one by seeing noted sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella on the recommendation of longtime friend and PGA Tour player Brad Faxon. Driving down to Florida for the 1996ñ97 snowbird season, Quigley stopped to see Rotella at his Virginia office. What Rotella told him was simple but necessary: You have the talent and the competitiveness, you belong to an elite group of players; there is no reason why you can't be successful on the Champions Tour. Three days later, Quigley won a club pro event in Florida. The switch had been turned on.

If there is anyone who knew how good Dana Quigley was, it was fellow club professional Jim Albus. Albus was one of the Champions Tour's best stories himself when, as the head pro at the Piping Rock Club on Long Island, he won the 1991 Mazda Senior Players Championship, earning himself a spot on the Tour that he has never relinquished. Albus had gone up against Quigley for the better part of two decades in winter tournaments in Florida and had seen firsthand how talented he was.

In April of 1997, just after Quigley turned 50, Albus was paired with Bob Charles in the PGA Seniors' Championship at the PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. When Albus spotted Quigley, playing in his first senior event, on an adjoining green, he just had to say something to Charles.

"You see that guy over there on 13?" Albus said. "That guy is going to win out here and fast. His name is Dana Quigley. He's a club pro I've known for a long time, and he' really good. If he gets qualified to play out here, he'll win."

"Never heard of him," said Charles.

It wouldn't be long before he did, and Jim Albus knew it would happen.

"Dana was a terrific club professional, dominating the Florida club tournaments for years," says Albus. "He was beating guys half his age. He was a very solid player in every aspect of the game. It was just a matter of him getting a spot to play [on the Champions Tour]. If he got it, I knew he would win."

Through most of the 1997 season, Quigley got into tournaments on sponsor exemptions or through the Monday qualifying round. In August, he was the low qualifier for the Northville Long Island Classic. By Sunday afternoon, after winning a three-hole playoff from Jay Sigel, Quigley had won his first Champions Tour event, earning $150,000 and year's exemption on tour. It was an incredibly exciting afternoon, one that would then turn incredibly bittersweet. He had visited his critically ill father, Wally, in the hospital after the qualifying round, and had doubts as to whether he should even try to play in the tournament. But his father and his brother Paul insisted that playing in the tournament was the right thing to do.

So there was Quigley, flush from victory, holding the trophy, kissing Angie, at the pinnacle of his golf career, when he got a phone call from Paul. During the back nine, just after Quigley had taken the lead, his father had died. Quigley bent down to the ground, cell phone in one hand, the other hand trying to wipe the tears from his face. Angie was rubbing his back and whispering into his ear. The line between joy and sorrow had never been drawn so fine. "It was the best day and the worst day of my life," recalls Quigley. "I vowed right there I would play the Tour for my father. I wasn't going to miss a tournament if I could help it." And he hasn't missed a Champions Tour event he was eligible for since that win on Long Island, a string of well over 200.

He's getting better, too. He won the MasterCard Championship to begin the 2003 season, pocketing the biggest paycheck of his life, $250,000. "There's a feeling that once you hit 55 out here, that your game goes downhill," says Quigley, who is 56. "I think Hale Irwin has shown a lot of people that isn't true and I hope to show a lot of people it isn't true. I still have my length, I'm hitting the ball a little higher and landing it a little softer. I think what might be the most important thing for me is managing my game. I've learned not to hit the hero shots anymore, certainly not on Friday and Saturday. I don't try to hit shots where the odds are 10-1 against. I just play my game and see if it's good enough."

While he hasn't won one of the senior majors, he has been in the top 10 on the Champions Tour money list for each of the last five years and, except for 1999, has captured at least one title every year. "What I like about Dana's game is that he doesn't try to change it," says fellow tour player and cigar smoker John Jacobs. "He's got a swing that works and he doesn't fool around with it, he doesn't try to hit shots he can't hit. When you play as well as he does, you don't have to be fooling around with anything, and he's smart enough not to do it."

Quigley's swing isn't one honed on the driving range. He doesn't beat balls for a couple of hours every day or spend an hour on the putting green. Instead, he plays golf. Every day. "I love to play, so why wouldn't I want to keep playing," says Quigley. "I've got lots of friends still in Florida and I like to play with them. I like to play with my wife. If we're traveling, that's on a Monday, and on Tuesday I have a regular practice-round game with Allen Doyle and Ed Dougherty. Sometimes Jim Thorpe plays with us, maybe Bruce Summerhays. We play for two-dollar birdies and keep track for the year. I made a killing last year. I think I was up 40 birdies on Doyle, and beat Dougherty on a couple of different bets."

If there's a casino nearby, it's a good bet you can find Quigley there, along with Dougherty and Thorpe, rimming a craps table. "Hey, babe, it's the only game," says Quigley. "I might play a little blackjack if the craps table isn't treating me well. It's a good way to pass the time, you know. I haven't won or lost all that much. Certainly haven't lost what I couldn't afford to."

Of course, he can afford to lose a little more these days. Before his flush days on the Champions Tour, he was living in a small condo in West Palm Beach. After his first victory, and the $150,000 prize money, he bought a proper house, at the Bear Lakes Country Club in Palm Beach. That, he left up to Angie. In fact, he leaves about everything up to Angie. "She writes all the checks, makes all the reservations, takes care of all the investments, the house -- everything," said Quigley, who didn't have the time to look for a new house as he played tournament after tournament on the Champions Tour. "She found the house, got the financing, closed on it, furnished it. The first time I saw it was after we already owned it. We're a great team that way. I play golf, she does everything else, and she loves it. I'd have to give her an awful lot of credit for my success."

Quigley became a cigar smoker in 1997. He is a member of Team Te-Amo on the Champions Tour and still remembers vividly and a bit wistfully the kindness of the late Larry Gilbert, who had been an original member of Team Te-Amo. "I remember asking him if I could get a couple of cigars," says Quigley. "The next day there was a box of cigars in my locker. I just thought that was such a great thing. And I think it was another one of those things that told me I belonged out here. Now I get free cigars. How good is that?"

Those free cigars pay tribute to his first victory. The wrappers are labeled: Dana Quigley, 1997 Northville Long Island Champion. An homage to the best day, and worst day, of his life. His success still leaves him wide-eyed. While someone like a Jim Albus could have predicted that Quigley would win, Quigley wasn't all that sure himself. "There's no way I could have predicted what I've been able to do out here," Quigley says with a genuine incredulity. "C'mon. I didn't do anything on the regular Tour, and Tour golf is different from winning club pro tournaments and state opens. I thought I could make some cash. If I got lucky, I might win. I really couldn't have dreamed this, so now that I'm living it, it seems like a dream now."

Seldom does an athlete, having failed in the prime years of his life to make it big as a pro, get the second chance much later in life. That's what the Champions Tour gave to Dana Quigley. He had a new wife, a new attitude and the clarity of sobriety. What he brought along from his previous life was a swing that was as much a part of his body as his arms and legs, and a love of the game that would not die. "It's been something, I'll tell you that," says Quigley, and there isn't anyone who would dispute it.

 

Jeff Williams is a sportswriter for Newsday on Long Island.

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