Just Believing It

“It’s a matter of time for me and just believing it.” So said Tom Gillis in his post-round Q&A after ending up tied for the lead with Justin Rose in the Honda Classic at PGA National Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Gillis was talking about finally achieving his first win.

This is a big deal for Gillis. He’s never won in 22 years on Tour. Hell, he’s never been tied for the lead after the second round. If his name sounds familiar to readers of this blog, it’s because I first discovered him in last year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. There he gave a heartwrenching and heartwarming interview about his jouneyman career.

I found it so inspiring, I devoted an entire post, “Hopes and Dreams,” to his story. I couldn’t lay it out again any better than I did there, so I encourage you to take a quick detour to read about the heroism sometimes involved in overcoming trials and tribulations. You may need a tissue.

Unfortunately, after finishing the first round in Phoenix T3 shooting 65 with a gaggle of other guys, he slowly slipped down the leaderboard to finish T68.

And 2011 didn’t go all that well for him either, although he did finish 106th on the Money List with $814,000. That compared with 76th in 2010 and $1.2 million.

But the beginning of this year is gone and he’s made only one cut in four tries, a T40 at AT&T Pebble Beach. But now he’s back on his home turf of Jupiter, Florida, and he has some distinct advantages:

I think just the [green] surfaces, the bermuda, it’s real similar to the course I play right up the road called the Bear’s Club. I think just being home for that week and playing [practice rounds]; I played a few times. It’s getting back and trusting that grain and all that, and the wind. We played in a lot of wind last week. That really helps out.

Q. Seems like it’s getting a little breezier now. How important is that to put up a low number early?

I’ve never led out here after two days, so it was kind of like–kind of wanted to do that this week. I don’t know why.

Earlier in the week, I was like, you know what, I’m going to loosen up on Thursday and Friday; you loosen up on Sunday down the stretch when you have a chance because you’re going to go for it, so see what we can do.

Yeah, hope it keeps blowing to be honest with you. (Laughter). It probably will. Traditionally that’s what it does down here. Throughout the day it strengthens. I don’t think it’s supposed to get any more than 13 or 15. But this place, you get into 20-mile-an-hour, gusting up there to 30, this place becomes a whole different beast. It’s very, very difficult. But I’m happy.

Q. Safe to say you’re kind of a late bloomer, and what’s been happening with your game?

I’d say so. I’m your prototypical journeyman. I’ve been doing it almost 22 years now, played all over the world, 26 countries, played The European Tour, Asia, South Africa. So I think I’m probably my own worst enemy at the end of the day but I’m a lot better than I used to be. I would say, yeah, I’m a late bloomer.

But that’s the great thing about this game is you keep yourself somewhat in condition, you can go quite a while. We’ve got a guy out here, Tom Pernice, who is exempt on both tours [PGA and Champions] and is competitive. Guys like that, they give you a little motivation, because these young guys, they hit it far. Force us to get in the gym, which I don’t like much.

Q. How much does a guy like Harrison Frazar winning [in Memphis] after being out here for a long time motivate you or give you a sense of what’s still possible and possibly ahead of you?

Yeah, I think there’s no question, guys that have been out here–Harrison’s situation, he was ready to quit.

Sometimes when you’re ready to pack it in–I’ve been there. Not out here, but I’ve been there many times in 22 years, and all of a sudden, boom, that’s when things have happened. But it does provide motivation, to answer your question, yes. No question.

Q. When was the last time you thought about packing it in?

Would have been 2006. I played out here 2005. Played Nationwide in 2006. Really didn’t adjust very well from–I played in Europe for five years, and then I played the PGA Tour in 2003. I was out in 2004 for an injury. Played here in 2005. Didn’t keep my card and thought, geez, now I have to go to the Nationwide, and it was a real — I just never got my head around it. Finished outside the top 100 out there. And then I missed in the Q-School. So I thought, well, geez, I’m 38 now, what am I going to do?

So I went back to Michigan for a few months, thought it over. Job market wasn’t very good. Didn’t have a whole lot to offer them to be quite honest with you. So I thought, geez, I’d better turn around and go back out there and see if I have anything left. It happens.

But it’s kind of a cool story. I like it because you dig deep and you move forward, and it’s a good example to young kids, just never give up and keep believing. Sometimes it’s hard to do that in this game, because it seems like the game is built to tear you down to some extent.

Q. Does a player know when he’s about to win, or does it sneak up on you?

No, I think the player knows. I think he knows. I mean, my challenges are pretty much between my ears. It’s not a talent issue. I can do it all out there. There’s not a guy out here–all my friends know that, the guys that play out here. It’s a matter of time for me and just believing it.

I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I feel like we are going to start knocking on the door, that’s how I feel. And it’s strictly a mental state. That’s all it is. There’s nothing different physical. That’s all it is.

And, of course, believing it.

Who knows how far Gillis will get in this tournament; he could fade like he did in Phoenix. But, you know, it really doesn’t matter. You have in Gillis a guy who has paid his dues with his youth, but here he is, still is trying to win his first PGA Tour tournament…and loving it.

Could he dare ask for more? Yes, he could and yes he has. He wants that win.

Maybe this will be the week.

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