Scott Parel sank into a folding chair underneath a large, greenside tree and waited for fellow golfers Steve Wheatcroft and Paul Claxton to finish the 14th hole Sunday afternoon at Crestview Country Club.
Parel, the 48-year-old from Augusta, Ga. — yeah, that Augusta — had just delivered the decisive blow in the Air Capital Classic, a 45-foot eagle putt that stretched his lead to four shots over Alex Aragon in the final round of the Web.com Tour event.
Certainly this was the defining moment for a pro who didn’t play college golf, left his job as a computer programmer 17 years ago and began chasing a PGA Tour dream that, until this calm, sun-splashed day, had remained just out of reach.
“Honestly, it was just Keith,” Parel said of his longtime friend and caddie, Keith Nolan, who toted his victory tools around Crestview’s North course. “He knew how to keep me focused. After pretty much every shot, he was like, ‘Water and shade, water and shade. Just go find water and shade.’
“It really helped me stay focused. I wasn’t really thinking about, ‘Am I going to win? What’s going to happen when I win?’ I just focused on the task at hand.”
Parel turned an anticipated Sunday shootout into a one-man show. The diminutive, soft talker fired a 7-under-par 64 to outlast Aragon by three strokes and became the tournament’s oldest winner and the fourth oldest in tour history. Parel posted a 72-hole total of 18-under 266 for his first career victory and earned $117,000.
Parel never surrendered his spot atop the leaderboard on the final day and headed to Crestview’s back nine with a three-shot lead after a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 9. Aragon, who won the WNB Golf Classic in April, and third-place finisher Alex Prugh closed within two. But Parel stormed through Nos. 13-15 with two birdies and an eagle to fend off the threat.
“Since I didn’t need to win to lock my (PGA Tour) card up, it’s not frustrating at all,” said Aragon, whose 65 left him at 15 under and moved him up to No. 3 on the Web.com money list. “I mean I played great, he played great and he deserves to win.”
Parel’s putting propelled him to four birdies on the front nine. After starting the back nine with three consecutive pars, he rolled in a 12-foot birdie at the 437-yard 13th. Then came the long eagle at the 501-yard 14th, the same hole he eagled Saturday to take his first lead of the tournament.
“All week long, over longer putts, I felt like I could make them,” Parel said. “You get in the zone with the putter. I didn’t feel nearly as comfortable from maybe 4 or 5 feet, but from 20 feet and out, I felt like I had the speed and was seeing the lines well.”
Aside from his lone bogey at the par-4 sixth, Parel was nearly flawless. He rebounded with a birdie at the 456-yard seventh, hit 15 greens in regulation and put every tee shot in the fairway on the back nine.
“He played just an awesome round of golf,” said Wheatcroft, who holed a bunker shot for eagle on the final hole to tie Camilo Benedetti and Franklin Corpening for fourth at 12 under. “He played really solid tee to green, had a lot of birdie chances and made par putts when he needed to.”
Parel completed the third round with 16 golfers within four strokes of his lead. The group included Wichita State product Dustin Garza, who shot 68 Sunday to tie for 11th with Monday qualifier and former Kansas golfer Chris Thompson (69).
The victory was the perfect tonic for Parel, who came to Wichita with just $7,808 in season earnings after battling a back injury during the spring. He climbed from 153rd to 14th on the tour money list with $124,808.
The top 25 on the money list after the Cox Classic in August will earn PGA Tour cards, an achievement Parel missed by one stroke at the tour’s qualifying tournament in 2011. The top 75 will advance to the new Web.com Tour Finals, a four-event series that will produce 25 other tour members for the 2013-14 season.
“My goal was to get in that top 75 by the last four tournaments because I’d been playing so poorly with my health,” Parel said. “Two tournaments ago, I felt like I was better and the last tournament I felt like I was close to where I needed to be.
“Now I may have to re-evaluate that a little bit because I want to do what it takes to be in that top 25. The great thing about winning is that I’m going to be 49 next year and I’ll have some place to play.”
For Parel, who matched 2010 champion Jhonattan Vegas for lowest final round by the tournament winner, pursuit of the PGA Tour began when he left his job at Augusta-based PowerCerv, Inc. He planned to spend five years chasing the dream, but extended it in 2002 when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Bethpage and reached the final stage of Q-school.
Parel completed his 171st Web.com tournament on Sunday. Last June at the Rex Hospital Open, with Nolan on the bag for the first three days, Parel lost a playoff to James Hahn for his best career finish prior to Sunday.
Tears welled in Parel’s eyes as the married father of two reflected on their continued support through the years.
“My wife (Mary) has been unbelievable,” Parel said. “She’s never wavered and it’s been awesome.”