The beginning of each season is like a job interview for Scott Dunlap.
He’s not required to fill out a lot of forms or supply three references. And he’s never been asked how he responds to criticism or whether he works well with others. But how he performs early in the season on the Champions Tour will greatly determine how much his future employment opportunities.
“In my position, being a year-to-year guy, you have to come out of the gate motivated,” said Dunlap, who is in the field for this week’s Mitsubishi Electric Classic at TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth. “Not being on the all-time money list or not having one of those spots where you’re guaranteed to play this Tour as long as you want … I’m not that guy. I have to play well.”
Dunlap was alluding to the hierarchy of the Champions Tour, which allows players to remain eligible based on being among the top 30 money winners from the previous year or from their career earnings. Guys like Fred Funk and Mark Calcavecchia are set, because of their longevity and success on the PGA Tour. Guys like Dunlap, who is No. 140 on the all-time money list, must play well enough to secure a spot in the top 30 on the money list at the end of the season or lose their status. That means asking for a sponsor’s exemptions or surviving a Monday qualifier for a handful of spots.
“I have a job interview every year,” Dunlap said. “It’s stressful and you see a lot of people losing their mind because it is so stressful. It’s nice to get off to a good start and relieve some the pressure. Now I can just think about winning.”
Dunlap, who lives in Duluth and plays out of the Atlanta Athletic Club, turned professional in 1985 after finishing an All-America career at Florida. Since 1990 he’s played on either the PGA Tour or the Web.com Tour, where he won twice.
His first full season on the Champions Tour was 2014, and he won the Boeing Classic, where he defeated Mark Brooks in a playoff. Dunlap didn’t win in 2015, but finished second twice, had 10 top-10s and wound up 10th on the money list.
This year he’s at it again. In five starts, Dunlap has been in the top 10 on three occasions, ranks fourth on the money list and fourth with a 69.4 scoring average. Two weeks ago at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Resort Classic, Dunlap shot 12 under, but was passed on the final day when Miguel Angel Jimenez shot a final-round 65.
“I beat the whole field by three shots and lost by two,” Dunlap said. “You think about what more you could do and you struggle to come up with much of an answer. It seemed like a pretty good effort.”