KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Woody Austin figures he would be in paradise this week no matter what the location.
He is in sporty company at the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship after a summer that gave him a tiny taste of celebrity. He won in Memphis with a final-round 62, put up a valiant fight with his clubs and his mouth against Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship, then stole the show at the Presidents Cup by falling face-first into the water trying to play out of a hazard.
That was the highlight of a career that has been anything but smooth.
“Not everybody has things go their way,” Austin said.
Austin wonders how good he could have been if he had joined the PGA Tour out of college at Miami. But he tore up his knee, and it was struggle for a guy who had more resolve than money. He had to work as a bank teller, as a bartender, in the supplies department of a drug store, and he almost ran out of money before he could prove himself.
And he needed help from a friend.
No telling how his career would have turned out if not for a tiny gift from Doug Dunakey when Austin was down to his last dime.
Dunakey, best known for three-putting for 59 on the Nationwide Tour, first met Austin at a mini-tour event in Florida, and they soon became traveling companions on the road to uncertainty. It was Dunakey who suggested he play the Dakotas Tour in the summer of ’93, and Austin had to take out a loan to pay the entry fees up front.
“I won a tournament in Orlando. It was called the Florida Coast Golf Tour, and I got $1,200 for that,” Austin recalled. “That was my spending money for those eight weeks on the road.”
He and Dunakey got in the car and began their journey to the Dakotas, making two detours. One was to try to Monday qualify in a Nike Tour event, and the other was the Waterloo Open in Iowa.
Austin almost didn’t make it past the first stop.
“My wife called me up and said, ‘We’ve got problems,”‘ Austin said. “That tour (in Florida) went under, so that check bounced and I had no money. Like I said, I had borrowed the money from the bank, so I had nothing. That was my last gasp. I borrowed the $300 from the guy there to get in the Waterloo Open that next week, and if I didn’t make any money, I was done.”
That’s where Dunakey entered the picture.
He lived in Iowa and had been runner-up in the Waterloo Open the last two years. So when Austin fell on hard times, Dunakey offered to pay the entry fee. They stayed with Dunakey’s parents. One of Dunakey’s brother caddied for Austin to save even more money, and Austin milked this opportunity for all he could.
“Woody shot 60 the first day,” Dunakey said. “He ended up winning $10,000. That was the most money he’d ever seen in a long time.”
Austin still has the cardboard check from the Waterloo Open, perhaps as important as any golf memento in a collection that includes PGA Tour rookie of the year in 1995, three trophies and a spot on the Presidents Cup team under captain Jack Nicklaus.
Then came the Dakotas Tour, with the first stop in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“The tournament was Friday through Sunday,” Dunakey said. “Monday was practice, Tuesday was the Junior Pro-Am, Wednesday was the Ladies Pro-Am. He took every dime. He made as much as one guy possibly could.”
The money wasn’t anything like the seven figures for winning on the PGA Tour, or even last place money of $51,000 this week at Kapalua. But it was enough for Austin to go home and pay his entry fee for Q-school.
“If I don’t do well at Waterloo, I’m done, period,” Austin said. “Because I’ve got no money to even keep going to the Dakotas to play.”
Where would he be now? Hard to say. Austin only knows he would not have been at Q-school in 1993, where he did well enough to earn full status on the Nike Tour and stop working at the bank and tending bar in Tampa.
He won Q-school the following year when it was held in Florida, then he broke through as a PGA Tour rookie by winning the Buick Open in a playoff and qualifying for the Tour Championship, where he tied for fourth.
In between, he repaid a favor.
Having qualified for the PGA Tour for the first time, Austin and a group of other Americans decided to travel to South America to play a couple of tournaments. Austin asked Dunakey if he wanted to tag along. The cost was $3,000.
“I told him, ‘Woody, I don’t have any money,”‘ Dunakey recalled. “He said, ‘I’ll give you the money.’ I told him I didn’t know if I could pay him back and he said, ‘Don’t worry. You’ll do fine.”‘
Dunakey did better than that. He won the first tournament they played and earned $15,000.
“They paid me in cash, in $100 bills,” Dunakey recalled. “We’re staying in this resort where they’ve got guards with machine guns. I was paid in the back room of the pro shop, thinking I was going to get my throat slit. I was a nervous wreck. I paid him $3,000 right there, stayed one more week and went back a week early. He never let me live that down.
Dunakey could not help but notice the coincidence of friends helping each other out. He gave Austin $300 with no strings attached, and Austin won his next two tournaments to jump-start his career.
“When he had a chance to help me, he did,” Dunakey said. “It took me a couple of more years to get on tour, but that was the start.”