Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey has evolved from novelty to threat, having finished third twice in the past three weeks on the PGA Tour. His elevation is not lost on other players, including Phil Mickelson. The four-time major winner told Gainey last week at the Wells Fargo Championship, “Tommy, great playing this year.”
Compliments like that from a superstar can help inflate the self-esteem of someone, particularly a climber out of left field. Gainey had never met Mickelson before. He was so moved by the comment that he told his wife and agent later in the day.
“That made me feel good,” Gainey said Wednesday at The Players Championship, where he figures to be more contender than sideshow in his first appearance at TPC Sawgrass. “For him to say ‘nice playing’ was pretty awesome, really humbling. I didn’t know he kept up.”
Gainey, 35, is an aggressive player with an all-around game. He’s 16th on Tour in putting from 5 to 10 feet, making 62.5 percent. He’s 22nd in total driving, 26th in distance, 34th in greens in regulation.
But that kind of command is just part of the reason behind his rise, part of the reason he already has four top-8 finishes this year.
This chicken-egg question has been kicked around for years: What comes first, good play or confidence?
In Gainey’s case, performance ramped up his confidence. His two victories on the 2010 Nationwide Tour made him believe.
“I don’t think people understand how good the Nationwide Tour is,” Gainey said. “If you can compete out there, you can win here. Winning those two tournaments, my confidence went to a new level.”
His head was in a far different place his first two years on Tour, when he finished 148th in earnings in 2008 and 202nd the next season.
“I just played terrible,” he said. “When you play horrible out here – even though it’s the best job in the world – it’s tough. It did me good going back to the Nationwide Tour and getting more developed.”
That development included improving his short game, which separates upper-level players from those below. The work and success have people viewing him differently. Anymore, he’s not just a curiosity who wrapped insulation around water heaters in South Carolina in the mid-1990s.
In other words, he’s not going to catch anyone by surprise as he did that day about 15 years ago when playing a money match.
“When they saw me with two gloves on, they said, ‘Who is this guy with two gloves?’ ” Gainey said. “For them it was like, ‘How much are we playing for and how fast can he get to the first tee?’ ”
As it happened, Gainey won a few hundred dollars. “After that,” he said, “they weren’t so happy.”
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Tiger Woods said Tuesday that his left knee and Achilles are better and that he’s able to compete in the Players Championship this week. But if the leg is good enough to play on, why did he wait until Monday to have his first practice session since the Masters?
Something doesn’t seem to add up. You’d think if the injuries were minor, he would have been able to work on his putting and chipping before Monday.
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Tim Clark, the 2010 Players champion, will try to defend his title despite a right-elbow injury that has limited him to one start since his tie for second at the Sony Open in January.
Clark, his elbow still sore, missed the cut at the Masters a month ago and hadn’t touched a club since then until Monday. He says he’s about “70-80 percent” healthy after getting treatment that includes accupuncture and soft-tissue work. He said he hopes to be fully recovered in a couple of months.
“It’s a lot better,” he said. “Two weeks ago, I didn’t think I was going to be able to play here.”
Clark still isn’t sure what caused the injury. He just knows that when he woke up on the Tuesday after his second-place finish in Hawaii, his arm was in pain.
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Trying to forecast a Players winner is risky business. It might be the hardest tournament to predict, because so many players have a chance.
That particularly has been the case since the move from March to May in 2007. TPC Sawgrass plays faster and firmer now on Bermuda grass that isn’t overseeded. That brings in more shorter hitters, such as Clark. A wet, soft course in March favored longer hitters.
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The 137-yard island 17th has claimed 400 water balls during the past eight years, an average of 50 per tournament. And these are the best players in the world.
Even the winners shake when they arrive there. Listen to Clark talk about how his central nervous system felt on the 71st hole of his victory last year.
“I’ve never been as nervous as I was on 17 last year on Sunday,” Clark said. “I couldn’t even describe the sort of feeling standing over the golf ball, thinking, ‘Am I going to actually make contact here and get it off the tee.’ ”
Somewhere Pete Dye is smiling if not belly laughing.
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Lucas Glover, the Wells Fargo winner Sunday, grew a beard out of laziness during the offseason and isn’t sure how long he’ll keep it.
He said he receives positive comments in person but has received some negative emails as well as some jabs from friends. On Wednesday, he said he got a text from his best friend, a dentist, talking about “Hair Club for Men and wondering if the beard was interested.”
Most interesting reaction so far to the facial hair? Someone has started a Facebook page called “Lucas Glover’s beard.”
“We don’t know who did it,” said Glover’s agent, Mac Barnhardt. “But it is funny.”
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Was checking in at the media registration desk Tuesday when I heard a French accent behind me say, “Hey, how are you?”
I turned around and said, “Hey, how is your life going? You used to be a rich and famous golfer and now you’re at media check-in with me?”
With that, Jean Van de Velde smiled and said, “I love my life.”
He’s here working for Sky Television. Though he says his body is fully healed, he plays three tournaments a year. He said he misses the competition but not the travel.
I last saw the 1999 British Open protagonist at last year’s Open at St. Andrews. He was there as a roving course reporter and wore a bucket cap and trendy glasses. I told him Tuesday that I asked about five golf-savvy people if they could recognize the reporter in the bucket cap, but none could.
“It was a good disguise,” I said.
“Well then,” he said, “I might wear the Inspector Clouseau disguise again this week.”
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Jeff Rude’s “I Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.