2005: Champions Tour - Ironman
Streaks don’t start out as streaks, but as solitary little mile markers on the way to some unknown destination. Dana Quigley’s run of 264 consecutive Champions Tour starts (and 278 for which he was eligible) began rather modestly. He was a club pro with a three-quarter swing right out of the caddie yard who went from Monday qualifier to Senior PGA
Tour champion, hoisting his first glistening trophy at the Northville Long Island Classic Aug. 10, 1997 – the very afternoon his father, Wally, lost a long battle with cancer.
His adrenaline flowing, Quigley fired off a seemingly innocent warning shot that day. In that thick New England dialect of his, he declared, Tell Summah-hays to move ovah, referring to Bruce Summerhays, the tour’s then-reigning man of steel whose streak of consecutive starts was approaching 100.
There’s gonna be a new ironman out here, he said.
He wasn’t kidding. Quigley made the most of the one-time, one-year exemption he received in ’97; until last week’s Senior British Open at Royal Aberdeen, in Scotland, he hadn’t missed a single tournament. Not one. East Coast, West Coast, Middle America, he was there. Springtime, autumn, or on the hottest dog-hot days of summer, his name was on the tee sheet.
Is Irwin here this week? Anyone seen Watson? Stadler? Nobody ever had to ask about Quigley. Shoot, in the old days, he used to drive across entire states just to compete for $5,000; you think he’d pass on $1.5 million purses?
Somewhere along the line, as Quigley kept showing up to Champions venues with the same reliability rate as daylight, his tournament odometer rolling into triple digits, the streak became The Streak. One hundred starts, two hundred . . . it became his calling card. His signature.
Dana Quigley, Ironman. Golf’s Cal Ripken, trading line drives for 280-yard drives.
The Streak not only grew into upper-case prominence, but became a living, breathing, integral part of the family, like the loyal, dependable dog on the front porch that nobody wanted to see go away.
His 23-year-old daughter, Nicole, has been told for years she needs to get married on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. And son Devon, 20, plays as much as dad.
“It means a lot, to me and to my family,” Quigley said recently when asked about the streak’s significance. “I like being known as Ironman. I think my family would be absolutely dumbfounded if I stopped it for any reason other than health reasons. They know, and I know, I’ll never stop it because I don’t want to play golf.”
Quigley blushes when compared to Ripken, but Ripken has taken note of the golfer’s impressive tournament run. Ripken played 2,632 consecutive games for baseball’s Baltimore Orioles, not missing a game for 16-plus seasons from 1982-98. He never set out to break a record or create a legacy for longevity. He simply showed up to work every day, ready to go.
“I met Dana once in Baltimore, and I’d like to speak to him more, to get inside his head a little,” Ripken said following the PGA Tour’s Wachovia Championship pro-am earlier this year. “Mainly, I’d just like to ask him ‘Why?’ Rarely is it just to be noticed for a streak. It’s a sense of purpose, a sense of who they are. It’s a value. I find that enlightening in people.”
In the end, a combination of factors stopped Quigley’s run. A bothersome right hip that nags him most when he sits made him dread a transatlantic flight to the Senior British Open. And when a series of travel delays kept him from boarding a plane from Providence, R.I., to Newark, N.J., to get to Glasgow July 17, well, that was it.
“Hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” he said. “I’m doing great other than the depression of the streak ending. To give up eight years like that . . . I’m a little flat. But I’ve got a lot at stake this year, so it was senseless to push it.”
Suffice to say, it was a little strange last Thursday morning, when Dana and Angie Quigley sat at home and tuned in to the first round of the Senior British Open on TV.
“First time I’ve done that since I turned 50,” Quigley said. “Pretty bizarre. But after seeing that weather, geez, I don’t think I’m missing being there.”
Dana Quigley, 58, can’t remember a morning when he has rolled off the pillow and didn’t want to play golf. Never. That may be hard to believe, but he swears it’s the absolute truth.
Clearly there were days Beethoven didn’t feel like placing his fingers on the piano keys and Emeril didn’t feel like turning on the stove. But Quigley can’t recall a single day when he didn’t want to chase around a little white golf ball. Most days, when he’s home in West Palm Beach, Fla., 18 holes is only an appetizer. One day, he played 73 holes – a PGA Tour event in itself.
So what stopped him at 73 holes? Heat? Sore feet? Blisters? Darkness?
“Naah,” he says almost sheepishly, twisting a long cigar in his mouth. “I had to be on the gambling boat at 5 (o’clock).”
If the weather is amenable, he’ll play.
“I mean, if it’s freezing cold, then I don’t blame me, I blame the climate,” he said. “In Rhode Island, all through college and early on as a club pro, I played all winter long. It was all part of what got me here, believe me. But there has never seriously been a day when I got up and said, ‘Oh, shoot, I don’t want to play today.’ Never.”
That may be the most amazing streak of all, because it dates 44 years – all the way back to a 14-year-old boy in Rhode Island who discovered the game late and felt as if he needed to make up for lost time. He did so by playing 54 holes a day on Mondays when caddies were turned loose at Rhode Island Country Club, a quaint 1911 Donald Ross gem in Barrington. He played on winter mornings when patches of snow blanketed the ground and holes were cut into frozen temporary greens. And when he became a club professional, he’d play as much as he could. He played to avoid the pro shop counter, but he played mostly because, well, he loves playing. Maybe more than anyone on the planet.
“My phone rang last year on Christmas Day,” said fellow Champions Tour player Jim Thorpe, “and it was Dana, telling me he was putting out on the 18th hole. Nobody I can think of in this world enjoys playing golf as much as Dana Quigley.”
Quigley would set the tone very early in his club pro career at Crestwood Country Club in Rehoboth, Mass., just across the state line from where he had been raised. Crestwood was hiring a head professional, and Quigley wanted one point made very, very clear.
So Quigley walked into his interview and said, “Look, I’m a player. I play golf. I’ll give a lesson to anyone who asks me, but I’m not going to spend all day on the range. I’ll stock the pro shop and I’ll play with any member who wants to play, regardless of their handicap.”
Adds Paul Quigley, Dana’s older brother and occasional caddie, “And so he played 36 (holes) a day, almost every day. Men, women – he’d play with anyone. He’d just go play.”
He did that for 14 years, from 1983 to ’96, taking time out to play his five “major” championships a year, just as he does now. Only then, his majors were the respective state opens around New England. Even then, Quigley could shoot 63 anywhere, and as a respected player who seven times was New England PGA Section player of the year, the state opens meant everything to him. So when he had an off day, he’d beat himself up pretty good.
It was no different to how hard he’d been on himself on his first go-round as a PGA Tour player. He earned his card in 1977 and spent four seasons trying to make it. He had a handful of top 10s, but earned less than $100,000.
What stopped Quigley? Mostly, himself.
“I didn’t think I was good enough,” Quigley said. “I didn’t have any self-esteem. I sabotaged myself every chance I could. I’d get on the range and I’d be intimidated by the guys I’d see out there. I’d be intimidated when I read the starting times in the newspaper. Then I made sure I drank and stayed up late so I would not perform. I think I wanted to fail because I thought I was going to fail. I helped myself do it.”
The drinking would continue when he returned to life as a club pro. One particular winter night in South Florida, he’d imbibed too much and was on his way to find another drink, driving along Interstate 95, when it dawned on him that he either was going to kill himself or some innocent person in another car. He pulled off an exit, made it home, and hasn’t touched a drop of liquor since. Stopped cold. That was 1990.
“I still have some urge to drink every day,” he says. “It’s way harder than golf. That’ll never go away, and that probably keeps it in the right perspective. I know I don’t have that as an option.”
A man with a self-described obsessive-compulsive personality, Quigley turned down the volume on his social life and has filled the void with other activities. He shoots a little dice and listens to his beloved Red Sox on XM radio. Quigley seldom misses a pitch, and this year even got his hands on two season tickets his kids frequently use. And, oh, he plays a little golf. Actually, a lot of golf.
“I’m a sick golfer,” he admits, “but it’s a good sickness. My wife (who plays to a 9) plays five days a week and cherishes it. She always knows where I am.”
Thanks greatly to psychologist Bob Rotella, Quigley now believes in himself and his abilities, which brother Paul cites as the biggest difference between the old Dana and the new one.
Both versions always loved to play.
“I remember the days when he was behind the counter at Crestwood, and it was (talking in a gruff voice), ‘I’m not playing today. I’ve got lessons,’ ” recalls Rhode Islander Brad Faxon, who credits Quigley with helping inspire him to be a PGA Tour player. “It’s actually funny, because people now criticize him for playing too much, like he’s crazy. Wouldn’t we all want to be that lucky?”
Adds PGA Tour pro Brett Quigley, Dana’s nephew, “Everybody talks about ‘The Streak,’ but he plays more at home than he does when he’s on the road. He’s taking time off when he goes on the road to play a tour event. It’s unbelievable. The funny thing is, he doesn’t work out and he looks younger every year. A friend of mine always asks him, ‘When does your deal with the devil run out?’ ”
Dana Quigley is having his best season in 2005. He has won twice (bringing his victory total to 10), been a runner-up three times and leads the Champions Tour in earnings ($1,380, 840). It’s almost as if he’s that 14-year-old boy again, and every day is Caddie Day back at Rhode Island CC.
Quigley likely will surpass $12 million in career Champions Tour winnings this season. He hates it when people tell him he has worked hard for what he has. To Quigley, there is no labor involved.
“I didn’t work. I played a lot of golf, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “It was a labor of passion, and it was something I never felt like was work. Everyone says, you deserve it (success). You worked hard.
“Hey, I loved every minute of it. I shouldn’t be allowed this much pleasure in my life.”
A new streak starts this week at the U.S. Senior Open in Ohio. One and counting. (“Yeah, I’m going to be chasing that Quigley guy,” Dana joked.)
Will anyone ever break Quigley’s record of 264 consecutive starts? The owner of The Streak doesn’t think so.
“Because nobody is silly enough to try it, you know what I mean?” Quigley said one afternoon in Georgia as he steered his cart toward the first tee at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. He smiled. “I mean, who would do this? This is nuts.”