ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – I’m thinking of getting two gloves. Seriously. I’ve got to give it a try before the USGA and R&A start discussing a ban on that, too.
They work for Tommy Gainey. Until he shot a final-round 60 on Sunday to come from seven shots back and win the McGladrey Classic, the two black gloves he wears on all shots were his claim to fame. (That and winning a “Big Break” reunion show.)
“Today, putts just went in,” he said of his 24-putt performance.
“It was easy. I just told him the yardage and he hit it in tight,” said Gainey’s caddie, Marvin King. “His speed on the greens was impeccable today. That was the difference. We had been burning the edges all week.”
Gainey made seven consecutive 3s from the 11th to 17th holes in the final round. The most spectacular was courtesy of a holed bunker shot for eagle at the par-5 15th hole.
Gainey went for the green with a 6-iron from 210 yards on his second shot. The wind was helping, blowing left to right, and his ball drifted into the right greenside bunker. Disappointed but not down, Gainey thought about sinking the shot.
“I’m pretty good out of the bunkers,” he said.
His caddie recalled how Gainey holed a bunker shot in almost identical fashion when he shot a 62 and won the 2010 Nationwide Chiquita Classic. When he made it this time, Gainey’s arms shot up in a V and he pumped his fist in celebration. He led by two.
The “59 watch” heated up when he poured in another birdie at 16 from 21 feet to get to 10 under for the day and 16 under for the tournament on the par-70 Seaside Course. Gainey still needed one more birdie, and the pressure increased when his 7-iron from 187 yards at the par-3 17th hung in the wind. He made par from 44 feet away.
As Gainey made his way to the 18th green, fans implored him to make another birdie.
“I’ll take another par,” he said.
Gainey was aware of his opportunity for 59. He shot the fabled figure once before at Northwoods Golf Club in Columbia, S.C, lipping out a 12-foot eagle putt at the last hole for 58. But this was different, and Two Gloves wasn’t taking any chances.
“There’s a lot of trouble on 18,” he said. “There’s water right, bunkers left, water further left. I just wanted to get it in the fairway and have a decent second shot to the green.”
Gainey ripped a drive down the left center of the fairway that crossed the cart path at 150 yards and settled into a tricky lie in the light Bermuda rough. Walking off the tee, he killed a small bottle of water in three gulps. When he arrived at his ball, he asked his caddie for his yardage. It was 145, but King subtracted 5 yards, figuring the adrenaline was flowing. He was right.
“I’m juiced up,” Gainey said. “I’m gonna nuke a gap wedge.”
Gainey wasted little time. He took dead aim and said he thought he stiffed it to about 6 feet.
What did he do next? He rushed across the fairway to the public restroom.
“When you gotta go, you gotta go,” he said afterward.
At the green, Gainey discovered he had a little more work to do. His putt was in the neighborhood of 12-15 feet, and ShotLink said it was 19 feet below the hole. Gainey and King lined up the putt. They read it starting left and then darting right at the end. Gainey feared if he hit it too hard, it could roll 8-10 feet past, possibly even off the green.
“I just knew all I had to do was get it started,” Gainey said. “It was going to get there.”
Hard to be too critical of a pro who made 150 feet of putts and shot 60, but the putt didn’t get there.
“Of all the people on Tour with a putt for 59, I didn’t think you would be the one who’d leave it short,” King said, needling his boss.
As Gainey arrived at the scorer’s area to sign his card, it was 2:40 p.m., and 54-hole co-leaders Jim Furyk and Davis Love III were early in their rounds.
“Long way to go. I’m not counting anything,” Gainey said, other than adding up his score.
Gainey hugged his wife, Erin. And so began the long wait as “future Hall of Famers” took their best shots at another crowning moment.
“Two shots is not too hard to make up,” he said of his lead at the time. “They’re coming after me.”
First David Toms made a charge, climbing within a stroke of the lead. At 18, he drove into the right fairway bunker and managed only a par.
Next was Love, the tournament host and Ryder Cup captain, who was trying to put the U.S. team’s defeat in the rearview mirror by breaking a four-year winless streak. His last triumph was the 2008 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Walt Disney World, where Gainey, of all people, finished second to Love. Gainey remembered how he might’ve won that day had Love not benefited from a fortuitous break.
“Seventeen at Disney, he rope-hooked it and it stayed up in that rough instead of going in the water, and he chipped out and made a 15-footer for par, and he got it up and down on 18 out of a bunker for par to beat me by one,” Gainey said.
On this occasion, the golf gods shined on Gainey. Love’s eagle attempt at 15 from a bunker, the same hole where Gainey holed out earlier in the day, circled the cup and stayed out. Love tapped in for birdie to climb to within two shots. When Love “rope-hooked” his drive on 16, he wasn’t so lucky this time. It splashed, and he made double bogey. This time Love, whom Gainey called one of his childhood idols, handed Gainey the trophy.
“I guess I owed you one,” Love said when he congratulated him.
And then there was Jim Furyk. On Saturday, he said he was ready to turn the page on this season. It was a good year, but one that had the potential to be so much better. Four times he led or shared the lead heading into the final round, and each time it ended in disappointment. Furyk said he didn’t know Gainey had shot 60 until he made the turn. He explained that he found it harder to chase a low score. When he reached the 18th hole, Furyk needed a birdie to force a playoff. By now, Gainey had made his way to the practice tee to loosen up, just in case. He said he hit no more than a dozen balls. When Furyk pushed his 8-iron approach to the right of the green and failed to hole his putt from the rough, Gainey was a Tour winner at last.
On his way to the winner’s ceremony, Gainey and Furyk met behind the scorer’s area. They shook hands, hugged and Furyk said, “I’m happy for you.”
Gainey thanked him for “the talk.” Later, Gainey explained how he and Furyk played a nine-hole practice round together at the 2011 PGA Championship.
“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. Man, don’t change your game. Just keep going at it,’ “ Gainey said. “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.’ ”
It did, and soon Gainey was standing on the 18th green, the longest of longshots giving a victory speech in which he asked those in attendance to give the volunteers a round of applause and said, “Mr. Superintendent, whoever you are, what a great golf course. Good job!”
At this point, Scott McCarron, the veteran pro and three-time Tour winner who was serving as the emcee of the ceremony, piped in with some timely advice for Gainey.
“One thing I can tell you about making these speeches, Tommy: Always thank your wife,” McCarron said.
It was a rookie mistake, and after the laughter died down, Gainey followed instructions. When he got his hands on the trophy, he held it tightly.
As photographers snapped pictures of Gainey, he was asked by a tournament official whether he wanted to do anything “fun” with the trophy.
“This is my first one of these,” he said. “I’m not letting it go.”
Later a photographer noted that Gainey stayed true to his roots, declining a flute of champagne for the victory toast in favor of a Miller 64.
It all felt like a dream, he said.
“I’m just waiting for somebody to slap me upside the head,” he said, “or pinch me or something to wake me up.”
Dream big. Tommy Two Gloves is a Tour champion.