Dean sessions does not think of himself as a rabbit, to use Tony Lema's name for would-be Tour players, but he is. In fact Sessions is the ultimate rabbit, a lifetime-achievement-award rabbit. What Sessions and hundreds of other steerage-class players typically do is appear at PGA Tour sites on Mondays, three days before the first round, and compete over 18 holes for four open spots in the main event. Four-spotters, they are called. Congratulations to the low four players, see you next time to the 100 or so others who fail.
So what makes Sessions special? Well, persistence for one. By his own count the Monday qualifying round for last week's Nortel Open in Tucson was his 125th, dating back to 1987. Although the man is apparently sane, he is also 45, so he is competing against a cadre of youngsters, many just out of the nation's leading golfing colleges. And his futility is special, too. Once, just once, Sessions has succeeded, gaining a place in the 1991 St. Jude Classic in Memphis. More about that later.
Sessions has also tried to earn his player's card at nine Q schools. No luck. He has been unable to make it on the Nike tour. He has picked up some minor change on the satellite tours, but nothing to match all the $200 entry fees for Monday qualifying. Sessions's golfing habit is keeping him a very poor man, and he says he is fortunate to have a wife, Patsy, who is more than willing to go along with this apparent madness. It is she who has dictated a five-year plan of continued competition that will take him to the Senior tour, on which, if he qualifies, he will be a youngster.
In order to understand Dean Sessions, the golfer, it is necessary to know something of Dean Sessions, the man. He has lived in and around Boulder, Colo., for most of his life. He was an outstanding second baseman for the University of Colorado, rooming with future major leaguer John Stearns, who has remained a close friend and occasional business partner. After graduation, when no baseball offers came his way, Sessions joined E.F. Hutton as a stockbroker. He was married, had a daughter, and one would think the good life was at his doorstep: growing income, family and a low-handicap golf game with which to impress clients.
But the marriage lasted only eight years, and Sessions left the job, the wife and the daughter and moved to Seattle, where, with Alan Ameche, nephew of the football great, he invested in an upscale hamburger restaurant called Round the Corner. When it developed that it was costing more to produce a hamburger than a customer was paying, Round the Corner went round the bend, and Sessions returned to Boulder, bringing with him Patsy, whom he had met on a golf course. But let him tell it: "I was standing by the 18th green. She sank a long one. I said, 'Nice putt.' We made a date to play the next day, and we've been together ever since. I can't tell you how supportive she's been."
Sessions, it should be pointed out, has the makings of a super salesman. He is the sort of man who might try to convince you that the little diamond is more valuable than the big one and, what's more, would probably succeed. He is about 5'11" and 190 pounds, and has thinning gray hair and a chubby, almost cherubic face. He has a talent for remembering names on first meeting and then personalizing conversations, to wit: "I'll tell you, Johnny, that was the best shot of my career."
It is important to know this about the man because at the moment, in addition to his golf, Sessions has many irons, so to speak, in the fire. He still has a license to sell stocks, as does Patsy, who is also a CPA. They are part owners of a small company called Cumberland Capital, which helps small private companies go public. Dean is working on an amateur golfing competition called American Corporate Team Cup. Trouble is, the aggregate income from these various sources is perilously close to zero, which makes the time Sessions devotes to golf all the more mystifying. Yet there it is. It came to full boil in 1986 with that first Q school. For the next four years he played in assorted Mondays around the country, plus more Q schools and U.S. Open qualifiers. Sorry, Dean. Then came Memphis, 1991.
"I made five birdies on the front side," he recalls, his face taking on a dreamy look. 'Then I began to get visions of playing with Nicklaus, lost concentration and bogeyed two of the last three holes. I wound up in a three-way sudden-death playoff for two spots. We had to do it the next day, which meant a great night's sleep." Sessions duck-hooked a three-wood off the 1st tee while his rivals were down the middle. "I was sick," he says. "I had to hit a five-iron under the branch of one tree and over one of another. Somehow the ball stopped three feet from the pin. I made the putt and was in."
Today, more than four years later, Sessions still speaks of the days that followed like a child recalling his first trip to Disneyland. "I phoned Patsy and told her to get there, no matter what the cost," he says. "The tournament held a barbecue Wednesday night, and we sat at the same table with the Crenshaws and the Scott Simpsons. On the driving range I had my own space. My locker had my name on it in gold plate right next to Lanny Wadkins's."
Then pop went the dream. By Friday evening he was 81-81 and out. But he had tasted the good life and longed for more, so two years later he and Patsy decided to go at it full time. They sold their house in Boulder, bought a motor home and hit the road. From July 1993 to August of the next year, Sessions played in about 40 Monday qualifiers. His goal was modest: to earn $15,000. He fell short, $15,000 short.