From the beginning, Tommy Gainey has forged one of golf’s most fascinating and engaging stories.
He attracted attention more for his homemade swing and playing with two gloves rather than for his considerable ability. College coaches looked elsewhere to stock their programs. His brother Allen, not one of the famed swing instructor, is his teacher. He worked on an assembly line and graduated from the school of hard knocks.
Nevertheless, he says, “I love the game. I’ve been blessed.”
A native of Bishopville who lives in Hartsville with wife Erin and sons Davis and Thomas, the player called “Two Gloves” has flourished and floundered in the highly competitive world of professional golf.
He shot 64 to chase Davis Love III to the wire in the old Orlando tournament, fired a final-round 60 to overtake Love and Jim Furyk and win at Sea Island, Ga., triumphed on the Big Break TV show and collected a pair of Web.com triumphs. He also suffered injuries, lost his playing status and struggled to regain his form.
Through the peaks and valleys, he remained the same old Tommy, the small-town guy with an upbeat outlook. “Golf can knock you down,” he said, but he always gets up to play another day.
If he were ever going to be bitter, the occasion would have been this time a year ago. He received a last-minute sponsor’s exemption into the 2016 RBC Heritage and played himself within a stroke of the lead midway through the second round. Visions of a top-10 finish – or perhaps even his second PGA Tour triumph – did not seem remote.
Those dreams suddenly disappeared. A back injury, later diagnosed as two bulging discs and two herniated discs, forced him to withdraw, and he didn’t play again until the fall.
“Things happen for a reason and God has a plan for me,” Gainey said the other day in reflecting on his career, philosophy and his play in the 2017 RBC Heritage. The injury and rehabilitation kept him away from golf, but he found an unexpected rainbow – more time with his family.
The road back from the injury has been challenging. Using his past-champion status, he missed the cut in two of three PGA Tour starts in the fall. He received a sponsor’s exemption for the Heritage and missed the weekend by two strokes. On the Web.com Tour, he has made one cut in five starts and ranks 108th in earnings.
“Obviously, I haven’t played the way I want to and I can,” he said. “There have been some good things” – he ranks second among the Web.com players in driving distance – “but the consistency is not there, and you gain consistency by playing in competitive situations.”
Getting into those “competitive situations” has been a problem. The early-season Web.com schedule is spotty with two tourneys in both January and February and only one in March. His PGA Tour opportunities will be limited until the summer.
In keeping with his glass-half-full outlook, he refused to blame the breaks between tournaments for his slow start. Yes, he remembered Love talking after Wednesday’s pro-am about the difficulty of regaining that competitive edge after an injury-forced absence, but, Gainey said, “All the guys faced the same thing.”
He showed progress at Harbour Town with a 2-under 69 on Thursday, a round that saw three putts hang on the lip. “That’s golf,” he said, refusing to play the “what if?” game. Two bogeys early in his final round left him struggling to make the cut, and he fell short.
“More than 30 putts and playing out of the trees will get you here, and that was me today,” Gainey said. “The back is fine, although it probably didn’t look that way today. My real problem is the putter.”
He had hoped to turn the Heritage exemption into a top-10 finish that would have earned him a place in this week’s Texas Open. Instead, it’s off to Indiana and the Web.com Tour.
“I’m disappointed with the way I played, but it’s awesome to have received the opportunity,” he said. “A lot of guys would have loved to have this opportunity. It’s my fault I didn’t play better.”
He paused for a moment and typically found the brighter side, “I will play better soon.”
Autograph-seeking fans called his name. He looked up and said, “Be right there.” Sharpie in hand, he made his way down the line, signing his distinctive “2gloves” time after time.
Still smiling, he said again, “I’ve been blessed.”