Hate to be Rude: Gillis’ career revival

Tom Gillis

Tom Gillis

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LEMONT, Ill. – Tom Gillis is perhaps the best story this week at the BMW Championship. At 42, he’s a career journeyman who thought about quitting competitive golf less than four years ago. Now he’s playing the best golf of his life, at an age when many show signs of decline, and finds himself 48th in FedEx Cup points on the PGA Tour.

“If we talk about the journey, we’ll be here a long time,” said the man who didn’t finish better than 139th in earnings in two previous full Tour seasons.

Gillis has earned $1.07 million officially this year, more than his combined total of the past on Tour. His swing, putting stroke and commitment revamped, he thinks he can win a Tour event. Now he has a chance to make the top 30 and get to next week’s Tour Championship. That would mean more potential riches and entry into the first three major championships of 2011 and other big events.

photo

Tom Gillis during the 2010 Farmers Insurance Open.

That would mean another step up a ladder, far from his position on Rung 1 in late 2006. That was the low point for someone who had undergone three hand surgeries and played golf in 26 countries

“I thought about hanging it up,” said Gillis, who has three finishes in the top 10 this year, including a T-5 last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship, and seven top 25s. “I went home to Michigan and sat around for three months and talked to some people about (golf instructor) jobs. I didn’t know if I wanted to make the commitment to come back.

“But now it’s all gravy.”

Gillis played the PGA European Tour in 1998-2002,  learning how to play in difficult weather and “how to become tough between the ears.” Then he sandwiched an injured year with a couple of unsuccessful PGA Tour seasons in 2003 and ’05. After hitting bottom, he moved to Florida in early 2007, recommitted and improved his swing and putting under the guidance of a new instructor, Jeff Leishman.

He shallowed out a swing that had a closed clubface and steep angle of attack. After studying plane and arc, he changed his stroke and putter.  Gillis got back to the big Tour after finishing fifth in Nationwide Tour earnings last year. Now, thanks to the changes and confidence, he ranks first in birdie average, 12th in total driving and 13th in putting average.

“Now I’m disappointed,” said Gillis, coming off a 65-65 weekend at TPC Boston. “I thought I’d have more chances to win this year.”

• • • 

photo

Charley Hoffman after winning the Deutsche Bank Championship.

You be the judge. Say we had one U.S. Ryder Cup pick left and had to choose among three players. Here are their records since July 1:

Player A: Seven starts, two missed cuts, best finishes of T-14 and T-33.

Player B: Seven starts, five top 25s, best finish of fifth place.

Player C: Seven starts, best finishes of 1, T-4, T-7 and T-10.

Who’s your pick?

Rickie Fowler is Player A. Captain Corey Pavin, admittedly relying on his gut instincts, picked him.

Player B is J.B. Holmes.

Player C is Charley Hoffman, winner on Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship, thanks to a closing 62.

Point is, if anyone has the right to feel snubbed by being not picked, it’s Hoffman.

• • • 

Tiger Woods has tied for 12th and 11th, respectively, since the PGA Championship, where he started working with instructor Sean Foley.

That used to be bad news for him. Now it’s progress that he says pleases him.

“That’s been nice to see the progress, to be able to go out there and hit the golf ball the way I know I can, know the fixes and understand the concept,” Woods said Wednesday at Cog Hill. “That is something I am proud of, and I’m showing some good signs so far and just need to keep building.”

Woods is 51st in FedEx Cup points and probably needs a top-5 finish to advance to the Tour Championship, the playoff finale.

• • • 

Speaking of hair, Rickie Fowler says he’s going to get a haircut before the Ryder Cup because he feels his locks have grown a little long.

He might fall down the money list if he has to pay by the inch.

• • • 

Given that then-world No. 8 Paul Casey and two-time 2010 Tour winner Justin Rose aren’t members of the European Ryder Cup team, Luke Donald was asked Wednesday whether the Euro side needs to change the selection process.

One of the three captain’s picks, Donald didn’t say no.

“I do believe that when you have (players like that) not make the team, maybe there’s a question for looking at how we can do this better to make sure we have the strongest team,” Donald said. “There’s a lot of players now that are playing around the world, and I think every great player wants to play against the best players (read: PGA Tour and FedEx Cup playoffs). I’m not sure if he should be penalized for that.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

• • • 

Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday, the same day as his video show of the same name.

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