It’s obvious: they want to get better. And the way to get better is to watch the elegance of Davis Love III, the languid, inscrutable power of Fred Couples, the classic swing of Bill Haas, the solid ball striking of Boo Weekley, the faultless swing plane of Stuart Appleby.
But nobody watches to see Tommy Gainey’s swing. Who? That guy who shot 14-under par and leads the Waste Management Phoenix Open by one shot going into today’s third round.
Tommy first came into our general awareness when he was a contestant on the Golf Channel’s Big Break IV. The format was a U.S. versus Europe team event and Gainey created quite a buzz. It was about his swing and not in a good way. It was about the fact that he played with two gloves instead of one. And adding to a reason not to watch him was his good ole boy, South Carolinian accent. Three strikes and you’re out. And proving out collective wisdom, he was eliminated half way through the show.
There was a subsequent event none of us heard about. He won the USPGT Tour Championship in Suwanee, Georgia and the $50,000 that went with it. To a mini-tour player, that was a fortune.
But we didn’t hear about him again until Big Break VII, which he won somehow. Was anybody watching? That won him an exemption into the Nationwide Tour Cox Classic in Omaha, Nebraska. He finished T8 and won $17,550. Did anybody notice? At the end of the year, he finished T19 at Q-School and I’m guessing that’s when he widely came back into our awareness again.
Stick with me here.
But he only made six of 24 cuts. His 2nd in the last tournament of the year (to Davis Love’s popular 20th career win and a lifetime exemption) earned him enough money to be exempt in 2009 on the Nationwide Tour, where he made 11 of 13 cuts and $46,000. He also got into 15 PGA Tour events, but only made 8 of 15 cuts and $128,000. His T64 at Q-School sent him packing back to the Nationwide Tour in 2010.
But in our minds he was just sort of hanging around with that ugly swing of his. Hanging around and winning; twice. And making 20 of 27 cuts, $404,000 and a trip back to the big show by virtue of finishing 4th on the Money List.
But once again, he validated our opinion of him. He missed the cut in all three of the first tournaments of 2011. How much longer are we going to be forced to endure this? Well, maybe for quite a while. If he gathers himself with his second chances like he did on the Big Break and on the Nationwide Tour and on the PGA Tour, he just might fight his way to a win. And if he does, he earns the two year exemption that goes with the money.
I was in his post-round interview yesterday afternoon. This is a good and decent man. When he finally cobbled together enough money to play full time in the mini-tours, (TearDrop and Gateway), he spent two and a half years getting better, winning and making the small checks you win out there. But his mother had health problems, so he gave it all up to help out with her. “You only have two parents,” he said. And to do this, he got his old job back wrapping hot water heaters with insulation at $10 an hour.
In time he was able to start playing again and here he is, at the top of the heap through two rounds in Phoenix, with his funky swing, his two gloves and his down home accent.
And once again, we have yet another illustration about the many surprises in store for us when we judge what’s possible for another human being. His “three strikes” say nothing about his heart, his determination, his grit, his searing will to win. And now that he’s had a lot of practice honing those admirable traits in one of the toughest proving grounds in the world, this just might be the week that the world finally looks on Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey with admiration instead of veiled derision.
And even if he’s not successful this week, we know from his past that he will be.
I’m recording the Super Bowl so that I can follow him today. You can catch him on CBS at 3:00 PM Eastern. And you don’t need to watch his swing to learn very valuable lessons. Our humanity draws us to judge others, but lingering in our awareness is the worry that others might be judging us. And that’s as bad for a golf game as a faulty swing.