Dennis Paulson isn't afraid to tell it like it is. He'll tell
you about the time, when he was a 5'11" high school sophomore in
Costa Mesa, Calif., that he was beaten up by a scrawny
Vietnamese kid. Lying on the floor, Paulson demanded a rematch
after school. The appointed hour came and--pow! pow!--Paulson
went down again. "Man, I should've won," he says, "but he knew
kung fu and stuff."
Paulson is a little beefier and a lot balder now at age 37, but
he's as brash as ever and shares his views with anyone and
everyone. "He chatters a lot," says Lee Janzen. "Sometimes he
just butts in. On the range I see him talking more than I see him
hitting balls, but he must be doing something right, the way he
has been playing."
After 11 years as a pro, Paulson came into his own last year when
he made 25 of 28 cuts and finished 27th on the money list. He won
for the first time this June, at the Buick Classic, and now says
his goal is making the 2001 Ryder Cup team. Don't care for his
opinions? Too bad, he says, because he's here to stay.
The Buick win was especially sweet. A year earlier Paulson was in
shock after losing the Classic to Duffy Waldorf in a playoff.
During his many years on the mini-tours, Paulson had a perfect
5-0 playoff record. This year he went Oakleys to Oakleys against
David Duval at Westchester Country Club and prevailed on the
fourth hole of overtime. Paulson did so while wearing a yellow
Straight Down surfer shirt with a cargo plane on it. "His shirts
look terrible," says Paul Azinger.
Not that Paulson cares. "You think I'd wear these shirts if I
thought they looked bad?" he says. "I've got game, and I've got a
lot of confidence. I'll wear whatever I want."
Swaggering down the fairways with his chest out and his goatee
pointed skyward, Paulson, the 1985 national long-drive champ, is
proud of his nickname: Chief. "He talks big, and he can be
political, which sometimes rubs people the wrong way, but he
means well," says Brent Geiberger, one of Paulson's buddies.
While he might not be the most likable guy on Tour, Paulson is
considered a good playing partner because he plays fast and is
Most of Paulson's run-ins have been with the golf establishment,
not with other players. "He's like the reincarnation of Dennis
the Menace," says Ron O'Connor, tournament director of the
Southern California PGA section, of which Paulson, who lives in
Encinitas, Calif., is a member. "We wanted to nickname him
Sunshine, but we were already calling Paul Goydos that. Dennis
was never a major problem, but he found fault with everything."
For example, when Paulson was sent a membership questionnaire, he
contacted the section office complaining that he shouldn't have
to fill out the form because he was a Tour pro, not a club pro.
"He made it a point to make sure we knew he wasn't one of us,"
There is no love lost between Paulson and the PGA of America,
either. During the '99 PGA Championship at Medinah, Paulson made
a stink over the number of tickets he was allotted. "No wonder
it's the fourth major," he said back then. Last Friday, upon
learning that he had made the cut with his three-over 147 at
Valhalla, he said, "Great. Now I've got to stick around on the
weekend to shoot 150." Actually, he played a little better than
that, shooting 143 (70-73) to finish 58th.
Paulson was particularly annoyed with the pace of play during the
first two days at Valhalla. "It figures they would run the
tournament this way," he said. "It's like the guys who sell balls
for a living versus the guys who hit balls for a living."
Paulson insists he's not a bad guy. After all, he says, he wasn't
the one who 19 years ago started a fight outside an Anaheim bar.
But he says that he and a friend certainly finished it, by
leaving two men lying in the parking lot barely breathing after a
series of body blows and kicks to the head. "We didn't check to
see if they were O.K.," Paulson says. "They could be dead for all
While Paulson longed for the life of a Tour pro, he never fit the
profile. He owned a pit bull named Heishe that went ballistic
whenever it got near someone watering a lawn, and he once bought
a piranha on the black market in Anaheim. He switched to
low-maintenance pets (pythons and boa constrictors) while on the
mini-tours because he only had to feed the snakes a live chicken
or a rabbit once a month.
Paulson says he has mellowed, especially since marrying the
former Linda Rixey in 1991. Now he prefers backyard barbecues
over bar fights and hasn't leaped off a 50-foot cliff into a lake
in years. His new 5,200-square-foot house includes a 300-gallon
saltwater aquarium, but angelfish, not piranhas, swim in it.
Eventually he plans to fill the tank with leopard sharks and
other aggressive species, but he's waiting until his children,
Dillon, 3, and Ethan, 3 months, are old enough to appreciate
Despite his exotic tastes and tough-guy image, Paulson, who lists
being a good parent as his top priority, says he has a better
grasp on what's important in life than most of the players do.
"Golfers forget that what we do is just a job," he says. "They
like to act like they're important, like they're curing cancer.
Even Tiger Woods. He's truly amazing, but all he's doing is
chasing a little white ball all over the countryside. It's not a
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL
THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL After this flop shot was a flop, Paulson struck back at Valhalla.
"Golfers forget this is just a job," Paulson says. "They act
like they're important, like they're curing cancer."