Bishopville's Gainey has more confidence for his third trip to Q-School's final stage
Two years ago this week, when he was on the cover of Golfweek following a successful final stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, Tommy Gainey was sure he never would have to endure that arduous, six-round hurdle again.
A year ago, when the Bishopville native and mini-tour legend returned for another Q-School finale, after finishing 148th on the 2008 PGA Tour money list, it was to enhance his limited exempt status. No way would he ever need to survive the Q-school meat-grinder to earn a spot on the tour, he thought.
So much for those best-laid plans.
Today, Gainey is at Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., for the start of his third Q-school final stage. Along with 131 other hopefuls (14 with South Carolina ties), the self-styled "redneck golfer" will put his 2010 hopes on the line for 108 holes, hoping to be among the top 25 on Monday and earn playing status on the PGA Tour.
"No, I didn't think I'd be back," Gainey, 34, said with a laugh. "But this game is so hard, so humbling, you can't ever tell. Some of the best go through Q-school; some don't even get to final stage. That's just the way it is."
In 2008, Gainey was golf's Cinderella story: The one-time factory worker who had wrapped insulation around water heaters, whose Pee Dee accent and habit of wearing golf gloves on both hands (hence his "Two Gloves" nickname) made him a hit on Golf Channel's "Big Break" reality series - and who, after dreaming of playing the PGA Tour, got there the hard way via Q-school.
To date, though, there has been no happy ending.
Gainey made six of 24 cuts in 2008, and if not for a second-place finish behind Davis Love III in the year-ending Children's Miracle Network Classic at Disney World, he would have been sent back to golf's boondocks. His failed second Q-school trip (tie-80th) and limited exemptions meant he played only 15 events this year.
But Gainey is nothing if not determined. He earned $128,347 (supplemented by $45,962 on the Nationwide Tour), and though that wasn't enough to avoid Q-school, it did something almost as important.
"He's got more confidence now. He realizes he's as good as what he's been telling himself," said Paul Graham, Gainey's manager the past five years and former manager for Hootie & the Blowfish.
"I don't know if Tommy truly believed that at first; you've got to prove it to yourself. He's definitely a more mature player now, better able to handle it."
That wasn't the case in 2007, when Gainey sailed through the first five rounds of Q-school only to shoot a 5-over-par 77 in his final round. He finished 19th to earn his PGA Tour card, but his confident air was shaken.
"But I'm a different player now than in 2007 and 2008," Gainey said. "I've been there, done that. I know what to expect from my game. I'm real comfortable out there, (and) I proved to myself and others I belong."
Gainey's life is more settled now. After going through two caddies, he has former mini-tour player and Nationwide Tour caddie Marvin King, who "knows what to say, when to say it." And he has a fiancee - Erin Joiner, Robinson's sister-in-law - whom he plans to marry in late 2010. He shares responsibility for his son, Thomas Dale Gainey III with the baby's mother, giving him, he said, someone to play for besides himself.
Whether he earns another shot at the PGA Tour or a place on the 2010 Nationwide Tour, Gainey is confident he can make it in professional golf. "He believes he can beat anyone on any given day," Graham said. "If you don't think that, you shouldn't be on the PGA Tour."
Such bravado, though, comes later. This week, Gainey and the rest will sweat every swing, every putt. "I think it's harder to get (to the PGA Tour) than stay there," he said. "Anytime you're in Q-school, there's pressure.
"It's one chance a year, and if you're not on your game, you have to wait another year."
His third time around, Gainey believes he's found the charm.