No one would have believed it. He exploded onto the PGA Tour scene by finishing 11th on the money list his rookie season in 1982, then reached stratospheric heights the next year with a win over Jack Nicklaus in the PGA Championship and a No. 1 finish on the money list.
He then began a slow drift down the ladder, jolting on rock bottom in 1992 when he finished at No. 185. The following year (1993) was nearly as bad, Sutton finishing in the No. 161 position.
As Ive said a number of times, where I was for those two years I wouldnt wish on my own worst enemy, he said. I found myself in an almost unbelievable situation.
What happened was that other things became more important to me. I failed to take a long look at myself and where I was headed. I was swayed to do things not in the best interests of Hal Sutton.
By 1998, though, his career had taken another U-turn upward. He had won the Texas Open in September and now was at the end of the season, at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta, ready to play the Tour Championship. Sutton was 40 years old, but on the verge of winning his biggest tournament since the PGA back in 83.
He had opened in 1-under 69, which was six shots worse than Vijay Singhs remarkable 63. He crept up slowly with a 67 Friday and parlayed that with a 68 Saturday, leaving him just one stroke behind Singh as the fourth round rolled around.
Singh still managed to hold the lead for most of the day Sunday, clinging to the one-stroke margin as he prepared to play the 18th ' a 240-yard par 3. He clubbed a 3-iron right at the flag. It looked spectacular until it landed, not more than six feet beyond the cup.
The ball pitched to the back of the green, however, then into a patch of Bermuda. Playing partner Sutton was in a bunker with his tee shot. But Sutton exploded out of the sand to within three feet. And Singhs chip went 30 feet past. Now he had to make a six-footer just to tie Sutton, who had sunk his putt for a par.
Singh adroitly carved in the putt, sending the two back to the tee to begin the playoff.
This time, Sutton boomed a beautiful 4-wood shot which finished six feet from its destination. There had been only 15 birdies on No. 18, and Sutton faced a tough task to get No. 16, having to slide his downhill putt slowly toward the cup.
He coaxed it warily towards the hole, and he rejoiced when it went in ' birdie, and for the match.
It was one of the hardest holes Ive ever seen in my life, he was to say. But it was a success.
Im like every other golfer in the world, Sutton said ' always looking for a chance to be negative.
This time, however, there was no need to be negative. Sutton was a winner.