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Reaching New Heights

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AT&T NationalBETHESDA, Md. ' If youre having a hard time recognizing Michael Allen dont be alarmed, even those closest to the reluctant senior ' a sprawling group that includes the better part of anyone he has ever met ' may be wondering who this guy is and what did he do with Michael Allen?
 
The Allen who scorched Congressional for a third-round 65 and the second-to-last tee time on Sunday at the AT&T National bears little resemblance to the guy who lost his PGA Tour card so many times the members at Mesa (Ariz.) Country Club had a gold plate put on his locker that read: PGA Tour Q-School All-Time money winner.
 
Michael Allen
Michael Allen is trying to add a PGA Tour victory to his Champions Tour major. (Getty Images)
Or the Allen who was so at odds with his chosen profession a few years back he actively pursued a club pro job . . . at one of Donald Trumps courses, no less. Or the guy who figures hes worked his way through 20 or so swing coaches throughout his career looking for answers.
 
Or the guy who is 0-for-336 over two fruitless decades on Tour.
 
They said Ive lost 336 times, Allen smiled on Saturday. I guess Im overcoming my fear of losing.
 
The first sign things were different came in late May, when the young 50-year-old won the Senior PGA Championship in his first over-50 start. Allen was no longer the guy whod made more trips to Q-School than he could count ' Maybe Ive made it to final (stage) 13 times . . . too many . . . its depressing, he said. He was now a major champion.
 
Some saw the change coming. His caddie Mike Maroney was lured out of retirement by the prospect and swing coach Mike Mitchell had been waiting patiently for what was to come.
 
His mom once told me he was always a late bloomer, Mitchell said. Hes been grinding it out; its all hes ever done. All he knows.
 
The Senior PGA was the ultimate litmus test. Leading going into the final round, pressed by proven winners on a demanding golf course and ultimately triumphant ' perhaps the only tonic capable of clearing away 20 years of cobwebs and bad thoughts.
 
The golf universe doesnt give do-overs, just ask Jean Van de Velde. Allen, however, found himself recharged by his Senior PGA make good, flush with options and places to play and hungry to do what no one has ever done ' win his first Tour event after winning his first Champions Tour tilt.
 
I was just very comfortable. I was just confident in my game and with the situation and didnt want to accept second place, Allen said. I dont know why, but it made it fun. Im not always fighting myself right now. Im just playing the game.
 
Honesty has never been a problem for Allen. One of the circuits most likable and endearing players, he is comfortable with the fact that hes been a journeyman on the brink his entire career. And for all that time, nobody has done obscure better. He doesnt have any arrogance whatsoever, Mitchell said. He allowed me to maneuver him into a direction. For a lot of players without that personality it would have been very difficult.
 
His tie for 14th at last weeks Travelers Championship ' a finish that in the past would have merited a good bottle of Pinot Grigio, a cigar and a late night ' had him worried: Honestly, I was shanking it, he said.
 
So his caddie put in a call to Mitchell, who teaches out of Mission Hills in Palm Springs, Calif. When Mitchell arrived at Congressional he told Maroney it would take 12 minutes to fix his man. It took him six (minutes), the caddie smiled. There is a comfort level to the new Allen thats born only from experience. For the first time in a career that began in 1988, the father of two is finally comfortable in his Tour skin.
 
Probably, Allen said. You know what: I play every week because I enjoy playing now. I played the entire West Coast because I love all those tournaments.
 
The new-look Allen is no longer complicated by doubt or two of the scrappiest decades known to professional golf. Allen 2.0 knows where the ball is going, or how to fix what may be wrong to make it go where he wants it, and can make magic with that broom-handled putter.
 
Thats the guy his peers probably dont recognize. Outside the ropes, however, Allen is as engaging and genuine as hes always been.
 
In the wake of his Senior PGA victory, he bought the entire press corps Dom Perignon to celebrate and his caddie a 2009 Harley-Davidson Fat Bob motorcycle.
 
He also put the lads back at the Armstrong Gun in Sunningdale, England on notice. The Gun was Allens watering hole of choice when he lived in Sunningdale during his European Tour days.
 
His Senior PGA victory earned him a spot at the Senior British Open, which will be played at Sunningdale July 23-26. Few returns will be as sweet as this one.
 
The drinks will be flowing again, said Allen, who plans to take a week off after the Senior British and travel Europe with his family.
 
And what does a senior major winner on the brink of his first Tour victory drink when he returns to an old haunt?
 
Whatever they have on tap is good for me, Allen smiled.
 
Some things never change.
 
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