Maginnes On Tap: Unorthodox Gainey fits on Tour

Tommy Gainey watches his approach shot at the 18th hole during the third round of the Phoenix Open on Feb. 6, 2011, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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When Tommy Gainey won his second Nationwide Tour event last year at the “Banana Tournament” as he called it (the Chiquita Classic in reality), he was a assured a return trip to the PGA Tour.

Earlier in 2010, Tommy won the “Prince Melwood Tournament” another Gainey-ism, it is otherwise known as the Melwood Prince Georges County Open. Tommy finished fourth on the Nationwide Tour money list in 2010 and has made the most of his second go-round with the big boys on the PGA Tour in 2011.

In Tommy-ese it has been a very “rememberable” season.

It is easy to pick on Tommy. He is hardly polished. He has an everyman appeal like John Daly and Boo Weekley, but even those comparisons don’t quite work for Two Gloves. Tommy lacks the self-deprecation of Boo. He also lacks the element of surprise that Daly brought to the golf world two decades ago.

From a strictly golf standpoint, Tommy is the most aggressive player in the game, and that is the part that is often left out of the Two Gloves conversation. He plays like a man who just got out of prison with his hair on fire. Following Tommy in the final group on Sunday, commentator David Feherty asked, “Have you ever seen a man go after a sand wedge harder ... he rips the ears off of it.”

Tommy hits more sand wedges than most players because he attacks with driver more often than any player in professional golf. The home-brewed, home-spun, home-fried swing rips at the big stick on holes where prudence dictates a hybrid or a long iron off the tee. But that is not Tommy’s style.

Prudence may have been called for on the 11th tee on Sunday when Tommy launched a driver onto Alamance Street. But he had ripped driver on No. 10, where most players laid up short of the cross bunker, and had less than 100 yards to the flag. Trailing Web Simpson on the 11th tee by three shots, it was clear that Tommy was on the offensive. Even though the wayward tee shot effectively ended the 36-year-old Gainey’s chances of winning the Wyndham Championship, he was as unaffected as ever. He reeled off birdies on the next four holes to get back under par for the day and was the only player left on the golf course who could apply any pressure to Simpson.

Tommy didn’t win Sunday, but he pushed his earnings this year to nearly $2 million with the T-3 finish in North Carolina. I wonder how many other graduates of Central Carolina Technical College are pulling in that kind of cash this year?

Amazingly Tommy is completely unaffected by his new wealth or his new fame. Tommy has been a bit of a cult figure since he first showed up on the radar on the Big Break six years ago. Watching the man with two gloves and the swing out of a bad slasher film no one could have anticipated that Tommy would some day walk the same fairways with the best players in the world. No one except Tommy, that is.

The best thing about Tommy is that he appreciates every second that he spends on the PGA Tour. He appreciates every autograph that he signs and ever cheer sent in his direction. For Tommy, it is not so much where he came from that motivates him. No, it is the hurdles that he has cleared and continues to clear that make Tommy one of the most interesting personalities on the PGA Tour.

Two years ago, Tommy endured an unsuccessful year on the PGA Tour. While most would stay in limbo when returning to the Nationwide Tour, Tommy didn’t. It is a hard transition from courtesy cars at Riviera to gallery-less fairways outside Columbus. Tommy was just happy to have a place to play and motivated to prove to the world that he can compete against the best players in the world.

He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He knows that despite his success this year there will continue to be doubters. There will always be doubters for a guy whose action makes Jim Furyk’s swing look like a one-plane masterpiece. But Tommy doesn’t mind, and he is not about to change. In an era where players seem to be churned out of some factory wearing white belts and stern looks, Tommy is something different all together. He is fiery and off-balance - and the PGA Tour is a more interesting place because of it.

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