Arizona Golf Courses – Bill Huffman’s Golf Blog – Scottsdale’s Allen is “A Man on Fire”
Last weekend, shortly after Michael Allen had pulled off back-to-back wins on the Champions Tour, the Golf Channel’s Curt Byrum put the rare double in perfect perspective.
In a way, what Allen is doing on the 50-and-over circuit compares to what Phillip Humber did recently. You know Humber, the guy that nobody knew before the Chicago White Sox journeyman pitched a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners.
Allen is like that. While most people think of Fred Couples or Bernhard Langer or Tom Lehman when somebody asks who currently is the best player in senior golf, nobody thinks of Allen. But after 22 top-10 finishes in his last 42 starts, including the consecutive Ws in the Encompass Insurance Pro-Am of Tampa Bay and the Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf, Allen is literally running away from the Over the Hill Gang.
“Yeah, I’m on a bit of a roll right now, and I’m loving it,’’ said the good-natured Allen, who at 53 has discovered the fountain of youth. “I guess the difference between then (his early career) and now (as a senior) is I’m comfortable with my game and my swing.
“But if you asked me what is the secret to my success, I guess I’d have to tell you the truth: I’m 42.’’
Allen likes to kid, but that impressive list of what he’s done lately is no joke starting with the money list, where he has piled up $891,782 this season for a $339,000 edge over No. 2 Bernhard Langer. He also has a 350-point lead in the Charles Schwab Cup standings, the senior perk that will earn you a $1 million annuity should you end up there at the end of the season.
Comparatively speaking, if Allen was playing on the PGA Tour, he would be approaching $3 million and lead the FedEx Cup like Tiger Woods used to do.
Allen also is the overall statistical leader on the Champions Tour, and early this season surpassed $10 million in career earnings. That last footnote might be the most tell-tale considering Allen never did win a PGA Tour event in 20 years of struggles. But he did record three runner-up finishes on the PGA, won the 1998 Nike Open along the way, and earned the title “King of Q-School’’ after successfully graduating a record nine times in 13 tries.
Yes, Allen seemingly has had to grind it out forever, including a two-year, self-imposed hiatus from professional golf in the mid-90s, when he tried out jobs as an assistant club pro at Winged Foot, followed by a stint as a stock broker. When those detours didn’t pan out, he returned to golf and worked his way back up through the Nationwide Tour ranks, eventually rejoining the big leagues in 2002 at age 42.
The second time around turned out to be sustainable, and then he hit pay dirt immediately after he turned 50, winning the Senior PGA in his Champions debut. Those next two victories didn’t come until recently, but every week for the last year and a half it seemed Allen was among the leaders, setting records in 2010 ($1.16 million) and 2011 ($1.19 million) for money won without winning a tournament. Along the way, he added another $800,000 in winnings playing part-time on the PGA Tour.
These days, the dabbling on both tours is more infrequent, as Allen has only one thing on his mind, and that’s winning that Cup, a feat that would undoubtedly be the pinnacle of the savvy veteran ’s career. But even with his new-found success as a senior, Allen couldn’t resist taking time out earlier this year to play in the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, where he recorded a ninth-place finish worth $99,900.
Not that the coveted Cup would change Allen’s laidback personality for one minute, mind you.
“I haven’t picked up a club since Sunday,’’ said Allen, who teamed up with partner and fellow oenophile (wine lover) David Frost to win the Legends on that day. “And I don’t plan on picking one up until Friday, when I’ll hit a few balls, and then maybe practice a little on Saturday and Sunday.’’
How can such an easy-come, easy-go approach correlate into being the top dog?
Simple, Allen pointed out.
“I finally understand the relationship between my swing and my body, and now I can finally sleep without worrying about those two things. These days I just like to kick back when I’m home with the family. For me, it’s just a real good thing to get away from golf for awhile.’’
Actually, Allen said he wanted to play in this week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans but couldn’t get a sponsor’s exemption, and he tried. That happens when for most of your career you haven’t gotten a lot of respect, and Allen – the Rodney Dangerfield of Golf — understands that.
“The only (sponsor’s exemption) I ever received in all those years, and I probably tried a hundred times, was the invite I got from the Senior PGA when I turned 50 (in 2009), and I ended up winning that,’’ he said with a laugh. “But, hey, I get it. People just don’t know me.
“And let’s be real: this is the Champions Tour, and we don’t get a lot of coverage. And, well, winning the Senior PGA isn’t quite like winning the PGA Championship, so I understand it.’’
The good news is, people are finally getting to know Allen. Like on tour, he is regarded as a quote-meister with the media, and his sponsors love him because of his loyalty and great sense of humor. Just as cool, Allen doesn’t dwell in the past, so there’s no hard feelings or offense taken when he constantly had to do everything the hard way.
To be completely honest, Allen said, “I wasn’t very good when he played the regular tour.’’ And as he told pgatour.com recently: “Then as you get older in life and you just go through experiences, you just learn that somehow you’ll get by.’’
But after never really understanding his swing in 10 years of working under former coach Hank Haney, Allen switched to Mike Mitchell in his later career. And Mitchell, who teaches out of The Hideaway in La Quinta, Calif., showed Allen how to unite his mind, body and swing – “biomechanical golf’’ – into perfect harmony.
“I’m not trying to diss Hank, but Mike Mitchell changed everything,’’ Allen said. “Now my swing is centered and repeatable, and my body is in the best shape of my life.
“I mean even when I don’t play golf, I usually work out. As a result, I no longer go to bed worrying about my game because I know it’s not always going to be perfect, but it’s going to be pretty close.’’
The life-long odyssey from the bottom to the top of his profession has left Allen in a state of grace. Sure, he’d love to win the Schwab Cup – “my No. 1 goal’’ – but he still takes time to savor the breeze on his Harley as well as a good bottle of wine.
“How is all this going to change me? Not one bit,’’ he said. “My favorite things still are picking my daughter up from school when I’m home and having lunch with my friends.’’
Allen even downplayed a rumor that, with all the money he’s won lately, he’s going to join the Valley’s other touring pros that make up a sizable membership at Scottsdale’s most elite golf club, Whisper Rock.
“Oh, I don’t have that kind of money,’’ chuckled Allen, who plays most of his golf at Mesa Country Club. “And like I said, I just don’t play that much golf when I’m home to probably justify (an expensive membership), although I do love it up there at the Whisper Rock when I get invited as a guest.’’
Allen said he thinks the Rock rumor got started by his good buddy, John Jacobs, another Champions Tour player who blossomed late in life.
“JJ’s always telling me I should join, but I think that’s mostly because he needs a partner when he gets a game with guys like Geoff Ogilvy and Paul Casey. That’s probably the real reason.’’
Yeah, Michael Allen gets it. These days there is no reason to play against guys 20 years his junior (well, maybe once in awhile) when you are known by your peers as “A Man on Fire.’’