Published November 20, 2014
Moments after Tommy Gainey narrowly missed his putt for a 59, he walked off the 18th green at Sea Island with a two-shot lead over Jim Furyk and Davis Love III, who still had 10 holes to play in the McGladrey Classic.
"Got a long way to go," Gainey said.
More than two hours later, after Furyk needed a birdie to force a playoff and instead made bogey, he walked over to Gainey in the scoring area and gave him a hug. It was a reminder to the 37-year-old Gainey just how far he had come.
Gainey twice worked on the assembly line for A.O. Smith, wrapping insulation around hot water tanks until a downturn in the economy cost him his job. He played mini-tours that no longer exist, and made a name for himself on a Golf Channel reality series for wearing two gloves. He fashioned his own swing from his days playing baseball.
It was Furyk, of all people, who pulled Gainey aside last year and told him he was good enough to win.
"I played nine holes with him and he just told me, 'Tommy, when you were on the mini-tours, you were kicking their tail, and now you get out here and you struggle a little bit.' He said, 'Man, don't change your game. Just keep going at it. You got the game to be out here and to win. Just keep your head up and just keep trying, and sooner or later it's going to happen.'
"Who knows what would have happened if we didn't play nine holes together, or even had a talk?"
Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey couldn't have imagined winning like this.
Seven shots behind going into the final round, Gainey came within one putt of a 59, and then had to wait more than two hours as David Toms, Furyk and Love — who have combined for 49 wins, three majors and 17 Ryder Cup teams — tried to catch him.
None of them could.
Gainey broke the course record at Sea Island with a 10-under 60, which carried him to a one-shot win over Toms. He became the fourth player this year to rally from at least seven shots in the final round to win, helped by seven straight 3s on his card on the back nine.
"Oh, man," Gainey said. "I tell you, you're out here on the PGA Tour. You're playing with the best players in the world. Ninety-nine percent of these guys have already won, and won majors, big tournaments. The only show I can say I've won is the 'Big Break.' Now I can sit here and say I've won the McGladrey Classic here at Sea Island, and I'm very proud to be in this tournament and very proud to win. And wow, it's been a whirlwind day.
"I didn't know having 24 putts and shooting 60 would be like this," he said. "So I'm pretty stoked about it."
Furyk was pretty bummed.
He went 55 holes without a bogey, a streak that ended on the 18th hole when he needed a birdie to force a playoff. From the fairway, Furyk pushed an 8-iron right of the green and had to settle for a 69, a sour end to a season filled with bitter moments.
It was his fourth time with at least a share of the 54-hole lead. He lost in a playoff, made bogey on the 16th hole at Olympic Club that cost him a shot at the U.S. Open, and made double bogey on the 18th hole at Firestone to lose the Bridgestone Invitational. Furyk had said going into the week that even a win wouldn't erase memories of those losses, along with losing a 1-up lead to Sergio Garcia in the Ryder Cup.
This time, someone went out and beat him with a record score, and Furyk couldn't catch him.
"I think what I'm most disappointed about is when it came down the stretch, hitting the ball pretty much as good as I can, I made really, really poor swings at 17 and 18 with a 7-iron and 8-iron," Furyk said. "So to play those two holes and not get one good look at it for birdie was disappointing."
Love's hopes of winning before the home crowd — he has lived at Sea Island since he was 14 — ended with a tee shot into the water for double bogey on the 16th. He was trying to become the first Ryder Cup captain since Tom Watson in 1996 to win on the PGA Tour.
A gracious host even in defeat, Love recalled his last win at Disney in 2008, when he didn't look at a leaderboard until the 18th hole and saw Gainey making a run. Love held on with pars. This time, he saw Gainey's name appear out of nowhere again, and couldn't do anything about it. He closed with a 71 and tied for fourth.
Toms, who closed with a 63, also needed a birdie on the 18th hole, but he pushed his drive well right into the bunker and had little chance of reaching the green.
"I was thinking about what kind of putt I was going to have before I ever hit the fairway," Toms said. "You get ahead of yourself and that's what happens."
Gainey's round was about 9.4 shots better than the average score in the final round. He had a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th to become the sixth player in PGA Tour history with a 59 and narrowly missed it.
He started his round with a 31 on the front nine, despite missing a 6-foot birdie putt on the second hole and failing to make birdie on the reachable par-5 seventh. Starting with his 10-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole, he put together seven straight 3s on his scorecard. His 20-foot birdie putt on the 14th tied him for the lead. He holed out a bunker shot from about 40 feet on the par-5 15th to take a two-shot lead, and then holed a 20-footer on the 16th to bring golf's magic number into view.
Gainey hit wedge into about 20 feet on the 18th hole, leaving him a birdie putt for a shot at a 59. He ran off to a portable bathroom before the big putt and gave it a nice roll. The pace was just a bit off and it turned weakly away to the right.
"I wasn't thinking about 59," Gainey said. "See, all I did all day was just try to make birdies — and a lot of birdies — because when you're seven shots back, your chances of winning a PGA tournament with the leaders, Davis Love III and Jim Furyk ... it don't bide in your favor, man. I'm in this position, and man, it feels like I'm in a dream. I'm just waiting for somebody to slap me upside the head or pinch me or something to wake me up."
Instead, he went over to the volunteer tent for a champagne toast. Gainey raised a bottle of beer.