2005: Perspective - Toms in search of a little normalcy

Fort Worth, Texas

David Toms arrived at the Bank of America Colonial in an intertwined golf slump and personal funk. He had averaged 75 since late March, and in early May he sued his management firm of seven years, seeking money and termination, among other things. All that weighed on his head as might a 100-pound anvil.

Toms doesn’t care much for conflict, and when lawyers draft 13 pages of documents and call daily, conflict is in full flower. He said he couldn’t stop thinking about the lawsuit during the drive here from his Shreveport, La., home.

“I cranked the music up trying to get this out of my mind,” Toms said. “Every time there’s a quiet moment, it’s like, ‘Where is this going to go? What am I going to say if I have to get before a judge?’”

He learned during the Colonial that his agency, Links Sports Management, filed a legal reply, leading Toms to crack, “I made USA Today this week, but not because of my play.” As it happened, though, his week ended about 20 shades brighter than it began. He somehow tied for third place at Colonial, testament to that cure-all double of skill and focus.

When Toms informed agent David Parker that he wanted to part ways, he had just put together four consecutive top-5 finishes on the PGA Tour. The highlight was some of the best ball-striking this side of Ben Hogan in a victory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Then he lost some of his game and mind this spring. Colonial served as a B-12 shot.

“It’s already getting better,” Toms said in Fort Worth. “I only got one phone call from my attorney this week.”

Toms figures it helped that news of the suit was “out in the open” by the time he teed off. That stopped whispers and inquiries. What’s more, you don’t win 11 Tour titles and $21 million in official earnings without knowing something about clearing your mind inside the ropes.

“I think I’ve been able to do that my whole career,” Toms said. “I’ve been able to just go play golf. That’s why guys win. They play golf instead of getting caught up with what’s going on.”

As if he didn’t have enough on his mind, Toms and his pregnant wife, Sonya, woke up at 2:45 a.m. May 17, the day he left for Colonial, upon hearing something come through a chimney flue. Toms got a flashlight and saw a flying squirrel in the fireplace in their bedroom. That started a 10-hour ordeal.

They put a cardboard box around the opening, but they couldn’t sleep because the squirrel made too much noise in the box. So they went upstairs to another bedroom. When Toms returned after sleeping about 31⁄2 more hours, he discovered the squirrel had chewed through the cardboard and “crapped” on the floor and bed.

Animal control personnel set traps, but the squirrel wasn’t found until the housekeeper screamed upon seeing it fly above the bed about 1 p.m. “It freaked her out,” Toms said. Finally, Toms’ mother-in-law threw things at the squirrel and it flew out a window.

At about 7 that night, Toms got a thrill of another kind during a practice round. He holed a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on Colonial’s 184-yard eighth hole. Toms didn’t realize the ball had disappeared until notified by caddie Scott Gneiser as he was approaching the green. He made the ace during an interview with your faithful legal-golf correspondent over a nine-hole walk.

“The crowd goes wild!” Toms said playfully, raising his arms over his head after what he said was about his 12th lifetime ace. “Well, at least the media is here.” After a moment, he added, “Do I have to buy drinks tonight?” And after another moment, this dawned on him: “It’s doing me good to get this (suit) off my chest.”

Though therapeutic, the ace wasn’t Toms’ favorite. Nor was the 243-yard 5-wood shot during his 2001 PGA Championship victory. Rather, his “best ace” came years ago on the Nike Tour in Monterey, Mexico. He was about to hit a 5-iron on a par 3 late in the third round when his chatty caddie for the week shook his head. The caddie told Toms he didn’t like the club selection and said, “If you’d listen to me, we’d be winning.”

Toms stayed with the 5-iron, holed the shot and fired the caddie at the end of the round.

Dismissing an agent under contract through 2006 is a little more complicated. When Parker, the Links Sports founder, didn’t accept Toms’ termination letter, the golfer sued, citing breach of contract and fiduciary duty. Links Sports called Toms’ claims “unfounded and unjust.” Parker said Toms’ settlement offer was “one-fourth of what he owes us” for commissions. Toms emphatically disagrees. We have a squabble over zeros and commas between two good men, and both know they would be best served not to prolong the fight.

With his endorsement deals and corporate outings pretty much on autopilot with companies he trusts, Toms said he will represent himself rather than pay a middle man $300,000 to $500,000 per year.

“It would floor people to see income for hour spent,” he said of his agent fees. “I don’t think you have many attorneys making that kind of money, anywhere in the world.”

Before Colonial, he said the case bothered him to the point he “wasn’t motivated to practice.” He said the low point was the five-hour drive home from the New Orleans tournament after “chopping wood with a cluttered mind and letting everybody down.” He said his dad told him recently that he could see the stress on Toms’ face and hear it in his voice.

“You’ve got to be able to move on,” father told son.

Toms did so at Colonial. Moving on also means gearing up for the three summer majors, starting with the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Not only did Toms miss the cut there in 1999, he experienced scorecard problems the first day. Jumbo Ozaki got the card wrong, having confused Toms with the group’s other player, Brandel Chamblee.

“It was the biggest mess you’ve ever seen,” said the man who knows about messes. “We were erasing this and changing this. (Ozaki’s English) didn’t seem to be very good that day.”

Then again, bad English beats legalese.

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