Insider: Parel not slowing down as PGA TOUR dream moves closer to reality

Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Parel currently ranks 19th on the Tour money list.

Scott Parel doesn’t tiptoe around all those nights in job-change angst, wondering if computer programming maybe was the better choice after all.

It holds the promise of steadier paycheck. And a good ergonomic chair can ward off the herniated disc that had Parel and his golf swing in knots as recently as four months ago.

“Gosh, I hope I haven’t thrown away 16 years on this and have nothing to show for it,” the 48-year-old pro mused recently, confessing his thoughts when doctors pinpointed the cause of the pain that began shooting down his leg.

It was 16 years ago that Parel decided to scratch the golf itch, ditching that programmer’s job to chase a PGA TOUR card in his early 30s. He’s still chasing.

He’s also never been closer than this.

Boosted by his first career win last month after 171 Tour starts, Parel arrives at this week’s Midwest Classic at No.19 on the money list with $126,917. Six events remain before cards are given to the top 25 in regular-season earnings.

Should Parel survive that cut, he’d become the PGA TOUR’s oldest rookie since the circuit went to full-season exemptions 30 years ago. Realistically, he needs at least another $20,000 to create enough cushion to withstand any jockeying over the final weeks.

“The task is still not done,” he said. “I’m nowhere near accomplishing what needs to happen to stay in that top 25, so there’s still a lot to do. … I have to focus on playing well every week, just like I had before.”

Parel came tantalizingly close to a promotion last season, finishing 35th on the money list. His season included a playoff loss to James Hahn at the Rex Hospital Open, missing a 15-foot birdie try that could have won in regulation.

As it turned out, the $39,600 difference between first and second place was more than enough to have placed Parel among the top 25.

This year, Parel’s balky back has forced him to revise his goals twice. Pain set in toward the end of the Tour’s opening three-week swing through Latin America, and a nine-hour flight home from Chile only made matters worse.

“I’d never had anything like that before,” he said. “I knew it was something other than muscle.”

After scuffling to a tie for 62nd in Louisiana, an MRI revealed the bulging disc – L5-S1 in medical parlance – pressing against his sciatic nerve. Though a cortisone shot eased the pain, it couldn’t offset the damage done to his swing.

“I had just ingrained bad habits,” he said. “It was very subconscious. I knew I wasn’t hitting the ball very solid … but I didn’t really know why until I looked on video and saw what was going on.”

Parel missed five consecutive cuts before putting his swing right again. No longer was the top 25 a goal; it was cracking the top 75 for a berth in the Tour Finals and a shot at the 25 cards given out there.

No sooner had he lowered his sights, though, a week in Wichita raised them again. A Sunday 64 at the Air Capital Classic gave him that elusive first victory.

“It’s amazing what one week can do,” he said.

Though it doesn’t get Parel all the way to the PGA TOUR, it’s a worthy reward for the unique path he’s taken.

Part of a strong University of Georgia contingent on the Tour, Parel is the only one who didn’t play golf there. He hit the books, earned his computer science degree 1986 and went to work as a programmer.

“I was fortunate with the jobs I had, that the guys would let me play and practice golf,” said Parel, who became a formidable amateur. He reached the 1994 U.S. Amateur at TPC Sawgrass, where a loss to former champ Buddy Alexander kept him from a match against Tiger Woods.

Friends in his hometown of Augusta, Ga., began encouraging him to try the pro ranks. At age 31, Parel entered PGA TOUR qualifying. Unable to practice because of work responsibilities, he made it to the second stage before weather troubles ended his run.

In the spring of 1997, Parel finished third in a mini-tour event. “I quit my job in August,” he said, “and haven’t really looked back.”

Parel’s jump originally came with a self-imposed deadline: Three years to reach the PGA TOUR’s doorstep, or back to the world of binary code. He wound up spending five years on the mini-tours before finally landing a spot on the Tour.

“We always did well enough,” he said. “I won one or two events every year that kind of paid the bills and kept us from going under.”

Parel supplemented his income during the offseason by picking up work as a computer consultant. Give credit to his wife, Mary, for letting him keep the dream alive.

“She’s been unbelievable,” he said. “It would be one thing if you’re single and only have yourself to worry about; now you’ve got a wife and two kids. You always question whether you’re doing the right thing, being gone and having very little money to work with for everything else in your life.”

The distinction as the PGA TOUR’s oldest rookie now belongs to Allen Doyle, who ran a driving range in rural LaGrange, Ga., before his breakthrough. Parel would be a full year older by the time the 2013-14 season opener rolls around in California.

“If I were to win this week or finish second, then maybe I can start thinking about it,” he said. “But I can’t say I’ve done it yet. I still haven’t accomplished all that I’ve set out to do.”