Dennis Paulson isn't afraid to tell it like it is. He'll tell you about the time, when he was a 5'11" high school sophomore in Costa Mesa, Calif., that he was beaten up by a scrawny Vietnamese kid. Lying on the floor, Paulson demanded a rematch after school. The appointed hour came and—pow! pow!—Paulson went down again. "Man, I should've won," he says, "but he knew kung fu and stuff."
Paulson is a little beefier and a lot balder now at age 37, but he's as brash as ever and shares his views with anyone and everyone. "He chatters a lot," says Lee Janzen. "Sometimes he just butts in. On the range I see him talking more than I see him hitting balls, but he must be doing something right, the way he has been playing."
After 11 years as a pro, Paulson came into his own last year when he made 25 of 28 cuts and finished 27th on the money list. He won for the first time this June, at the Buick Classic, and now says his goal is making the 2001 Ryder Cup team. Don't care for his opinions? Too bad, he says, because he's here to stay.
The Buick win was especially sweet. A year earlier Paulson was in shock after losing the Classic to Duffy Waldorf in a playoff. During his many years on the mini-tours, Paulson had a perfect 5-0 playoff record. This year he went Oakleys to Oakleys against David Duval at Westchester Country Club and prevailed on the fourth hole of overtime. Paulson did so while wearing a yellow Straight Down surfer shirt with a cargo plane on it. "His shirts look terrible," says Paul Azinger.
Not that Paulson cares. "You think I'd wear these shirts if I thought they looked bad?" he says. "I've got game, and I've got a lot of confidence. I'll wear whatever I want."
Swaggering down the fairways with his chest out and his goatee pointed skyward, Paulson, the 1985 national long-drive champ, is proud of his nickname: Chief. "He talks big, and he can be political, which sometimes rubs people the wrong way, but he means well," says Brent Geiberger, one of Paulson's buddies. While he might not be the most likable guy on Tour, Paulson is considered a good playing partner because he plays fast and is chatty.
Most of Paulson's run-ins have been with the golf establishment, not with other players. "He's like the reincarnation of Dennis the Menace," says Ron O'Connor, tournament director of the Southern California PGA section, of which Paulson, who lives in Encinitas, Calif., is a member. "We wanted to nickname him Sunshine, but we were already calling Paul Goydos that. Dennis was never a major problem, but he found fault with everything."
For example, when Paulson was sent a membership questionnaire, he contacted the section office complaining that he shouldn't have to fill out the form because he was a Tour pro, not a club pro. "He made it a point to make sure we knew he wasn't one of us," O'Connor says.
There is no love lost between Paulson and the PGA of America, either. During the '99 PGA Championship at Medinah, Paulson made a stink over the number of tickets he was allotted. "No wonder it's the fourth major," he said back then. Last Friday, upon learning that he had made the cut with his three-over 147 at Valhalla, he said, "Great. Now I've got to stick around on the weekend to shoot 150." Actually, he played a little better than that, shooting 143 (70-73) to finish 58th.
Paulson was particularly annoyed with the pace of play during the first two days at Valhalla. "It figures they would run the tournament this way," he said. "It's like the guys who sell balls for a living versus the guys who hit balls for a living."