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Ironman Quigley continues to set records

It's not a streak to Dana Quigley. It's a way of life. The streak means less to Quigley than what others make of it. The way of life that comes with the streak means more than Quigley can say without running the risk of getting all teary-eyed.

Golf is what Quigley does for fun. Rain and shine. Winter, spring, summer and fall. His vocation is his vacation.

For more than seven years, there have been two certainties at every stop on the Champions Tour: gray hair and Quigley. All the Administaff Small Business Classic had to do to entice Quigley to play was go public with a time (this week) and place (Augusta Pines Golf Club).

"I went the first 50 years of my life dead broke," Quigley said, smiling. "I played golf every day of my life for nothing."

Quigley has made up for lost time since joining the Champions Tour. Quigley, 57, will make a Champions Tour-record 246th consecutive start when he tees it up on Friday. In all, Quigley will be making his 260th consecutive start in an event in which he's eligible to play.

"It's important to me because my family is proud of it, and I'm pretty proud of the fact that I've been able to stay healthy and focused enough to play," Quigley said. "But to play golf every day ... ."

Quigley has won $10.04 million on the Champions Tour while mixing business with pleasure. Belatedly, he even brought a semblance of sanity and stability to his life.

The last time the Champions Tour staged an event without Quigley in the field, it called itself the Senior Tour. Quigley sat out the 1997 Senior Tour Championship not by choice, but rather because he needed to crack the top 30 on the money list to get an invitation. Having missed the first four months of the season waiting to turn 50, Quigley settled for 36th on the list.

"I admire Dana Quigley as much as anybody on this tour," said Bruce Lietzke, the 2003 Senior Open champion. "He is one of my heroes. I can't relate to what he's doing, because I don't have that passion. Golf is his passion. I can't relate to him, but I'm a huge fan."

The last time Quigley missed a tournament by choice was the 1997 Franklin Quest Championship. Eighty-six months and eight victories later, Quigley has demolished Mike McCullough's record of playing in 177 consecutive eligible events. Quigley has two second-place finishes this year and is 13th on the money list. He has cracked the top 10 on the list five times in the past six years, finishing 11th in 2003.

"Everybody keeps talking about the 260," said Allen Doyle, the 2001 Player of the Year who ranks 12th on the current money list. "I don't think that's impressive. I think what's impressive is that he plays well most every week. If you're hacking it, it doesn't mean anything."

Quigley learned the game as a caddie at Rhode Island Country Club in Barrington, R.I. Monday was caddie day, and Quigley and his brother Paul would regularly squeeze in 54 holes before dark. Quigley broke his arm as a boy, causing him to develop a backswing that's shorter than a 2-year-old's attention span.

His rapid-fire swing also means he can squeeze off more shots in a day than the typical obsessed golfer. Quigley and his son Devon once churned out 178 holes over a four day stretch. Paul Quigley remembers receiving a triumphant phone call one December evening right before Christmas.

"I've got a record you'll never beat," Dana Quigley told his brother. "I just played 73 holes in one day. It's beautiful. There's no one one the course out here. I think I've got time for another nine, but I'm playing at 7:30 in the morning."

Dana Quigley even scored some tee times on the PGA Tour. He lurked on the fringes from 1978-82, never finishing higher than sixth in an event, and settled into life as a teaching pro at Crestwood Country Club in Rehoboth, Mass.

"He didn't think he belonged," said Paul Quigley, an accomplished amateur player who sometimes caddies for his brother. "He idolized those guys. But he's making up for it now, isn't he?"

Quigley said he had such a shrunken sense of self, he'd cringe if he saw a Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson come near him on the driving range.

"I was intimidated by looking at the lineup of who was in town that week," said Quigley, who credits sports psychologist Bob Rotella with improving his outlook on the Champions Tour. "If I knew I was in a tournament Nicklaus was playing, I would start sweating on Tuesday."

To make matters worse for Quigley, he came to gravitate toward the 19th hole. He'd drink to celebrate the good rounds and to numb himself to the bad rounds. Quigley is an admitted alcoholic who says he hasn't had a drink in more than 14 years. On Feb. 21, 1990, Quigley impulsively decided that alcohol had done enough to him, his marriage, his family, and his golf game.

"I was driving home from the golf course on West Palm Beach during the winter, half lit, and I was going to a restaurant where I was going to drink some more," Quigley said. "For some reason, a shot came out of the sky and said, 'What in the hell are you doing?' "

The next day at the club, Quigley stunned friends by ordering his first non-alcoholic beer.

"Not only do you feel better, but you feel good about yourself," Quigley said. "You can't play at this level without feeling good about yourself. That's probably the big change in me: I accepted me for what I am. Drinking tends to put the Novocaine on that. My self-esteem was so low, it's incredible. I'm just thankful that I saw the light."

Dana Quigley didn't know it then, but a sixth-place finish at the 1997 BankBoston Classic was the beginning of a record streak. He captured his first Champions victory one week later over Jay Sigel in a playoff at the Northville Long Island Classic. Just minutes later, Quigley learned his father, Wally, had died of cancer that afternoon.

"I went from the highest high to the lowest low in a matter of seconds," Quigley said. "I know for sure — and I'm sure the whole family knows — this is all part of why all this happened to me. We just feel he died because the only way he could have been with me that day on the first win was dying and being there in spirit with me."

Wally Quigley had been a low-80s golfer, but he gave up the game while his kids were growing. He managed Little League teams. He got them golf lessons. He gave them his time and attention. And when Dana Quigley was at Crestwood, Wally Quigley worked alongside him in the pro shop.

"I play little games with myself," Quigley said. "If a bug crawls on the ball, I'll say, 'Dad, you showed up today as a bug.' Or, 'You're a mosquito today.' Or a yellowjacket in the summertime. I think of him every round of my life. This is his way of being with me."

Three weeks ago, with an open date on the schedule, Dana Quigley flew his 90-year-old mother, Dot, down from Rhode Island to show her his new home in South Carolina.

"I wanted to take her down to see it — as I put it to her — before she croaks," Quigley said. "I can talk to my mother that way."

It rained one day. They went shopping another. They watched the Ryder Cup — "every gruesome shot," Quigley said — for three days. He didn't swing a club the entire five days. Not once in the past decade, Quigley said, can he remember taking that much time away from a golf course.

But there's a tournament to play this week, so Dana Quigley will be playing. His streak does his family proud, and that's worth more than he can say. Normally quick with a joke and to light up a smoke, Dana Quigley suddenly found his eyes welling with tears.

"I probably wasn't the great son that my mother and father needed or wanted," Quigley said. "They always loved me and wanted me, but I was probably a little bit of tarnish on the Quigley name. I'm trying to pay back."

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