RALEIGH — Scott Parel is 48 years old, has been fighting a balky back and often is referred to as “Grandpa” by those in his line of work.
Parel also is the most recent winner on the Web.com Tour, and could be one to watch when the Rex Hospital Open begins Thursday at TPC Wakefield Plantation.
If that seems like a disconnect, it should. Unlike the twentysomethings who overpopulate the developmental golf tour and have fancy college golf resumes – this one an All-America, that one a Walker Cup member – Parel didn’t play while a student at Georgia.
He was a computer science major. After graduation, he spent 10 years as a computer programmer, database administrator and website designer in his hometown of Augusta, Ga.
That’s not the usual path to professional golf, and Parel found himself fighting back tears last week in Wichita, Kansas after he won the Air Capital Classic. It took 171 career starts on the Web.com Tour, but he finally had his first victory. At 48.
“You know, I don’t feel 48,” Parel said this week. “My 48 years only has 16 years of pro golf. The guys who started when they were 22 or whatever and have played 26 years of this grind, they may be a little more weathered than I am. I still feel pretty fresh.”
Parel won last weekend with a strong finishing kick, shooting 64 in the final round. The $117,000 paycheck bumped him up to 14th on the tour money list and had tour players patting him on the back Tuesday on the Wakefield putting green.
Some expressed surprise Parel would make the trek back to Raleigh, that he might be tempted to bypass the Rex to spend time at home with his wife and kids and savor the victory.
“I told ’em, ‘Shoot, I’m not missing this place. I almost won here last year,’ ” he said, smiling.
A year ago, Parel came within a lipped-out birdie putt on the 72nd hole of making the Rex Hospital Open his first tour win, losing a two-hole playoff to James Hahn.
“There’s courses where you just stand on the tee and know where to hit it right away, without having to do much thinking,” he said. “I just feel like this course has a lot of really good targets. To me, that’s the key.”
Only 5-foot-5 and 160 pounds, Parel makes the most of his low center of gravity. He isn’t the longest hitter on tour, but he’s not short, either, and can be a streaky good putter.
He played high school golf in Augusta and once out of Georgia became one of the state’s better amateurs. It’s not like he never touched a club until he was 32.
“I just had no aspirations of being a professional golfer,” he said.
That would change. By the summer of 1996, after twice shooting 60 at his home course, West Lake Country Club, he was pressed by friends to turn pro and enter the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.
“I didn’t quit my job,” he said. “I had a daughter who was 4 and a wife who was pregnant.”
Parel reached the second stage of Q-School. He was on his way, playing his first tour event – then the Nike Tour – in 1998.
There would be a lot of missed cuts, years of cashing small checks after tournaments and more Q-Schools. He played the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst – missing the cut – and some PGA Tour events, and has teed it up a couple of times at Augusta National Golf Club, albeit not in the Masters.
“He’s been going at it a pretty good while and has been a good player,” said Kevin Johnson, a former Clemson golfer and the 2009 Rex champion. “I can’t believe he hadn’t won before last week. It was great to see.”
A herniated disk in Parel’s back this year made walking golf courses difficult – “I was basically walking on one leg,” he sad. Cortisone shots and a nerve block eased the pain, and some video work corrected a swing flaw associated with the back injury.
For now, Parel is feeling just fine. He has that glow of a winner.