When golf fans first see Allen Doyle swipe at the ball, they have a tendency to dismiss him as a weekend duffer. What's disconcerting is his short and choppy swing. It resembles a slap shot, and he learned it during his high school and college hockey days and during all those winter nights when he practiced swinging his clubs in a basement. Doyle ranks as one of the winningest U.S. amateurs in the past decade. He has played on three World Amateur teams, finishing as the medalist in Versailles, France, last October to help lead the U.S. to its first championship in 12 years; has been a member of three Walker Cup teams; and has amassed dozens of national and Georgia state championships. Yet galleries and golf writers all over the world have never given him the respect he deserves because he looks so unorthodox on the golf course.
In 1978, for example, Doyle hit a tee shot in the Georgia Amateur that prompted a man in the gallery to shout, "Who's this chop?" The next day, a writer covering the event for the Macon Telegraph said it was a shame that "a nobody" like Doyle had won the tournament because it detracted from the strong field. In the third round of the 1986 U.S. Amateur, with Doyle even in his match, he whacked the ball off the 10th tee, causing a woman in the gallery to crack, "How'd this guy get into the tournament? He can't even swing the club!" Unfortunately, she happened to be standing near Doyle's father, Joseph, who whipped around and hollered, "What do you mean? He had to beat out 5,000 qualifiers!"
Typical of the criticism that exasperates Doyle was an observation made during the 1991 Walker Cup at Portmarnock, in Dublin. After he had easily beaten one of the best Irish players, an Irish sportswriter wrote that the victory was amazing, pointing out that Doyle ought to be sickling grass rather than playing golf.
"Some guys want to look good," Doyle explains. "But my goal is the score after 18 holes. The 'lookers' hit a big drive off the 1st tee, and everybody says, 'What a player!' Well, my swing isn't long, and I only drive the ball about 250 yards. On top of that, I wear bland slacks and plain white shirts. People take one look at me and say, 'Where'd this guy come from? He's not a player.' I'm the underdog. I try to maximize every shot. I keep scrapping and fighting. I'm your ordinary Joe."
This spring, Doyle's slap-shot swing has caused a stir on the Nike Tour, but for a change, he's receiving rave reviews for his talent instead of bad notices for his technique. In April, in only his second Nike Tour event Doyle won the Gulfport (Miss.) Classic, defeating Franklin Langham on the second hole of a playoff and pocketing the $36,000 winner's check. It takes Doyle almost two years to make that much money at Doyle's Golf Center, the driving range and miniature golf course he owns in LaGrange, Ga., 70 miles southwest of Atlanta. At 46, Doyle is the oldest rookie on the Nike Tour—with the Gulfport Classic victory he became the oldest player ever to win a Nike Tour event—and he's more than holding his own against kids half his age. In fact, he's already second on the money list, with $47,500.
"I'm sure there are kids on the Nike Tour who've looked at my swing and said, 'Hey, this ain't amateur golf, buddy. We're not playing for crystal, silver or merchandise certificates. This is the big leagues,' " Doyle says. "I realize I have to prove myself. All I ask is the opportunity to play."
Doyle has felt the need to prove himself during his entire golfing career because he didn't break into the game as a rich, country-club kid. The third of Joseph and Mabel Doyle's seven children, Allen grew up a rabid Boston Bruin fan in Norwood, Mass. His father worked in the investment division of John Hancock, but any extra resources were gobbled up in feeding and clothing the large Irish Catholic brood. A country-club membership was out of the question. "We'd go through three gallons of milk at the supper table," Doyle remembers. "In those circumstances there was never anything left over."
When he was 14, Doyle overheard one of his pals bragging about having made eight dollars carrying bags for 36 holes at nearby Spring Valley Country Club. Although he had never even seen anyone play golf, on television or in person, Doyle jumped at the chance to make some cash. The following summer he started playing golf with his fellow caddies at Ponkapoag, a local public course with dirt tees and brick-hard greens. Paying only a two-dollar greens fee, the motley crew would race through 72 holes from dawn to dusk. "We'd scream at the people in front of us: 'Look out, we're playing through!' " Doyle says. "If you approached the ball and were ready to hit, you hit it. There was no fooling around."
By the time he was 17, Doyle had developed into a respectable player without having taken a formal lesson. He was promoted to the bag room at Spring Valley, and he supplemented his income by betting with the other employees when they played. Because Doyle was consistently raking in cash, nobody tinkered with his swing. Hap Malia, the head pro at Spring Valley, gave Doyle an important piece of advice, which he took to heart: "If you can drive it straight and if you have a great short game, you'll take care of yourself."
"Some days I made $30, and I felt like I'd hit the lottery," Doyle says. "One night my mother jumped me about betting, and I explained that I knew what I could and couldn't do. But the truth is, there were times I'd be playing for $10, and I had less than that in my pocket. That's how I learned to play under pressure."