Tommy Gainey went from being a Carolina money game hustler, a winner of the Golf Channel’s Big Break and a mini-tour king on a bunch of tours, to the only other thing in the world of golf he wanted more: a PGA Tour Winner.
And he did it in some kind of fashion; he left a putt for 59 just short. But, starting from seven strokes back, 60 was good enough:
Wow. Really don’t know what to say. It’s been a struggle all year. You know, I hit it pretty well for the first three days, didn’t make many putts, but I tell you what, today putts just went in, and that’s why I shot 60. You know, I hit the ball just as good as I did the past three days. I was just able to make some putts, and that’s how I shot 60 and that’s how I’m sitting here.
But what about the 59? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have that too? Was he thinking about it at all?
Well, actually I wasn’t thinking about 59. (Laughs). See, all I did all day was just try to make birdies and a lot of birdies because when you’re seven shots back, your chances of winning a PGA tournament with the leaders, Davis Love, III and Jim Furyk, it don’t bide in your favor, man. It’s not in my favor.
But I got hot and had a hot putter, and I rode it out. And that’s what happened. I’m in this position, and man feels like I’m in a dream. So I’m just waiting for somebody to slap me up side the head or pinch me or something to wake me up.
But because he was so “in it,” pretty much all he was thinking about was making those birdies. But because he started seven strokes back and two hours ahead of the leaders, Davis Love III and Jim Furyk, he had to wait two excruciating hours to find out if his 60 was good enough:
Well, you know, you got Hall‑of‑Famers, you got future Hall‑of‑Famers chasing me, chasing me now. I’m Tommy Gainey. I’m “Two Gloves.” I shot 60 today and you got Jim Furyk, Davis Love, III and David Toms; Hall‑of‑Famers and future Hall‑of‑Famers chasing me.
I was just looking at my phone replying to text messages. I was just waiting. I mean I was nervous. I ain’t going to sit here and tell you I feel — I was very nervous because you know, when you got Davis Love, III, Jim Furyk and David Toms coming at you, you might want to pay attention. So I was paying attention, and you know, it just worked out for me. And very proud to be here right now.
And when Furyk and Love finally finished, two and four strokes back respectively, Furyk made a point of congratulating Gainey in the scoring area. It was truly heartfelt because a year earlier at the PGA Championship, Furyk made a point of pulling Gainey aside and encouraging him:
Well, we played nine holes together. He asked to play nine holes with me, it was just a messenger he sent to me. Let me tell you, I was very happy to hear that he wants to play nine holes with me because I mean he’s won 16 times. To win 16 times out here is unheard of, unless you’re Tiger or Phil or Vijay. So I was very happy to hear that.
And you know, I played nine holes with him, and he just told me, he said, “Tommy, you know, when you were on the mini tours, you were kicking their tail and now you get out here and you struggle a little bit.” He said, “Man, don’t change your game. Just keep going at it.” He said, “You got the game to be out here and to win. Just keep your head up and just keep trying, and sooner or later it’s going to happen.”
When somebody you have reason to respect takes the time to give you encouragement, it means the world:
And you know, who knows what would have happen if we didn’t play nine holes together, or even had a talk. So I mean I appreciate all the help I can get because, you know, I know I’m 37, considered a veteran maybe, but you know, I’m still young when it comes to out here.
I’m looking forward to all the help I can get because when you got a player like Jim Furyk or anybody else of that stature that wants to help you, it’s definitely in my favor to listen.
The reason that I know it means the world is because of a similar experience I describe in my forthcoming book, “Generating Miracles: A Spiritual Adventure on the Champions Tour.” It involved the late, Nick Berklich, my cart mate in the Miami qualifier my second year out:
Nick Berklich was the head pro at the time at Warwick Hills, the venue for the PGA Tour stop near Flint, Michigan each year. He got to see the best players in the world “up close and personal” once a year.
Nick had to withdraw after nine holes due to a shoulder injury, but midst my scoring problems on the front nine, he saw something. As he took his bag off of the cart, he paused, looked me in the eye and said, “You hang in there. You’ll be all right out here.”
I told him how much that meant coming from him, but the full import didn’t really hit me until later that night when I realized that we would all die to have such people say such things to us. There was more than one occasion in the coming years that this simple complement became a litmus test for my ability as a player, words I clung to when it looked like reaching my goal was impossible; “Well, Nick Berklich said you could play and he’s seen the best, so keep going.”
Gainey started his quest on a spate of mini-tours back in the 90s:
I played them all. The Tarheels tour, the Grey Goose Gateway Tour, the Hooters Tour, the U.S. Pro Golf Tour, the Teardrop Tour. And you know, the Teardrop Tour was back in the day; I’m talking, you know, like ’95, ’94, ’95‑ish. But the rest of the tours, you just look at all the players that played those tours, I mean a lot of them are out here on the PGA Tour. So that just tells you what kind of strength that field had.
Mini tours, you gotta make a lot of birdies, but you can’t make mistakes. Out here, you need to make a lot of birdies, but if you don’t, par is not a bad score. You gotta be able to accept the fact that par is not a bad score when you’re in a bad position and you can’t go at the pin. You just gotta take your 20, 25‑footer, never know, you might make it.
But even once he got to the Tour, life didn’t get any easier. In fact, it got pretty tough and he thought about quitting:
Yeah, I thought about quitting. You know, just look at 2008 and 2009, that would be two good examples for you, because 2008 I missed like 13 or 14 straight cuts. I ended up making maybe five cuts that year in ’08. I had one good showing and that was the last tournament of the year at Disney, the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, and you know, I get beat by Davis Love.
But ’09, same thing. I missed — you know, everybody knows I like to play a lot of tournaments, because I consider this the best job in the world, bar none. In ’09 I think I made like six cuts. So I went from making five cuts in ’08 to making like six cuts in ’09 and you can back check that, but I’m pretty sure that’s about right. So you know, when you go through two streaks like that, the first thing on my mind is, well, am I good enough?
And it was small wonder he felt that way. He has a golf swing that only a mother could love. He said that the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee once described it as something like, “it looks like he’s trying to kill a snake with a garden hose.”
But when I followed him in his playoff loss to Mark Wilson in Phoenix in 2010, as funky as it looks, his swing was right on plane every time and he had full control of his golf ball. And make no mistake, he has a strong sense of himself and his swing:
I look at it as it’s what I’ve got. It’s what I’m working with. I mean I don’t need to change it. I mean it works for me. Look at Jim Furyk. How many people do you think tried to change his swing? How about John Daly? …Look at Bubba Watson.
Because he is such a…player…I don’t think there was anyone who understands professional golf who didn’t think he was going to win sooner or later. But I’m pretty sure that Sunday morning, nobody looked 28 places and seven strokes back and thought, “Hey, how about Tommy Gainey?”
So because this was such a shock given those circumstances and what he did about them, Tommy Gainey’s 60 earns him the tag as Sunday’s “Popup Player of the Day.”
Tommy Gainey is a genuine inspiration and we can all learn from his peace with himself. It takes patience — and guts — when the evidence is so slow in coming.