Commentary

Tommy Gainey a refreshing champion

Updated: October 30, 2012, 11:58 AM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey is an easy guy to root for. His working-class persona and homemade swing make him one of the most endearing characters in the game. On Sunday, Gainey shot a final-round 60 to win the McGladrey Classic in his 105th PGA Tour start. The former assembly line worker at the A.O. Smith Company, a maker of water heating equipment, flirted with a 59, but settled for 10-under-par 60 in a round that included eight birdies and an eagle.

[+] EnlargeTommy Gainey
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesTommy "Two Gloves" Gainey reached for the skies after holing a bunker chip for eagle on the par-5 15th hole Sunday at the McGladrey Classic.

Gainey, who started the final round 7 shots off the lead, finished a shot ahead of David Toms, who carded a 63 on Sunday.

Always a streaky player, it's not surprising that the South Carolina native would put on a display like the one he had on St. Simons Island. He plays almost as much as anyone on tour: 31 events so far this year, 34 last year.

Without an overly formal approach to the game, his philosophy is akin to throwing spaghetti against the wall and waiting to see what sticks. Gainey started this season by missing eight of his first 16 cuts. After making a career-best $2.1 million in 2011, it looked like he was headed back to Q-school. Then out of nowhere in May, he saved his season with a third-place finish at the Colonial.

I caught up with "Two Gloves" in August at The Barclays. We talked South Carolina Gamecocks football and his early-season struggles. He told me that an equipment change and a nagging wrist injury had contributed to his poor play.

"I'm just happy to be out here," Gainey told me.

In a sea of Iron Byron golf swings and marathon range sessions, Gainey stands out for his individuality and commitment to a life in the sport unencumbered by pressure to do everything prescribed by a mental coach, a physical trainer and swing coach. He doesn't work out, figuring those miles of walking 30-odd weeks a year is enough exercise. He hasn't tried to undo the baseball-inspired golf swing or give up one of his two trademark gloves.

It's all a part of his brand, but it's not a marketing gimmick to differentiate himself from the rest of his players. "Two Gloves" is the muni legend who made it. Everybody knows somebody like him at their local course. He's good because he knows how to square the clubface at impact and make putts.

Isn't that the whole point of the game? It's not a beauty contest. While seemingly thousands of future pros toiled at this or that fancy junior golf academy, Gainey was dreaming of making $12 an hour at A.O. Smith and learning how to play the game under pressure in big money matches with older men.

The AJGA could have been the AARP for all he knew.

So while Gainey doesn't make for the best blueprint for getting to the PGA Tour, it's refreshing to see that a player like him can still succeed on the PGA Tour.

At the beginning of every tour season, I walk up and down the range looking for a young man with a quirky move like Gainey's or Arnold Palmer or Jim Thorpe or Lee Trevino or Raymond Floyd or Don January or Eamonn Darcy. I want to see who has the nerve to look imperfect on the range next to Tiger Woods and Sean Foley.

To use some advice that Harvey Penick once gave one of his Texas Longhorn players, if a guy with a bad swing and a bad grip is at your level, he is a very dangerous man to beat.

If the boys on tour didn't already know that Gainey was dangerous, they know it now after his performance at the McGladrey Classic. And it's just a matter of time before he charges his way to more wins.


Dickey leaves a lasting impact


On Oct. 16, 2012, Bill Dickey, one of the giants in golf history and philanthropy died in Phoenix after a long illness. He was 83.

Two years ago while on a reporting assignment to Phoenix, I stopped by an office building in the heart of the city to see Mr. Dickey, who founded the National Minority Junior Golf Association in 1984 to help minority golfers pursue a college education. It was nightfall and I had just come from meeting Bubba Watson for a magazine article in his agent's office in Scottsdale.

Mr. Dickey wanted to know everything about my life as a golf writer. Though he was frail and weak and wondered how long he had left to live, during our meeting in his paper-stuffed office he was alert and as keen as ever about his aspirations for minorities in the game of golf.

And he remembered everything.

He remembered the first time we met at a junior golf tournament in Dayton, Ohio in the late 1980s, when he promised me scholarship money from his organization. He remembered how he had helped me land a summer internship with the PGA Tour. He remembered the calls that he had made on my behalf for an opportunity with the USGA. He remembered all the kids from my era, especially my friends, Tim O'Neal and Andy Walker, two guys who went on to play on the Web.com Tour. He also spoke of Leon Gilmore, who worked for years with the First Tee and the PGA Tour, before getting into club management.

We were all his children.

Long before the PGA of America gave Mr. Dickey its Distinguished Service Award in 1999, thousands of us knew this man for his generosity and stewardship over the affairs of minorities in the game. His imprint on ensuring that the game looked like America is felt everywhere from the rise of the First Tee, to the number of African-Americans in the golf media, to the minority men and women trying to play the game professionally, to the number of minority club pros.

I know that I wouldn't be where I am today without his support and encouragement.

I will always remember our parting words in that dark parking lot at the office building that he had built with his brother-in-law as a part of a real estate empire that he had helped to start after graduating Arizona State in the 1950s.

He worried about the future of the Bill Dickey Scholarship Association. He didn't have the strength to beat the streets for corporate sponsorship like he had done in past years. The shadows were lengthening on his life and the future of his organization, but he was hopeful. He left me with a name: Joseph Bramlett.

"Watch him," he said. "He's going to get his PGA Tour card in a few weeks. I promise you."

Mr. Dickey knew talent. Bramlett had played in his Bill Dickey Invitational for the best minority golfers. When the Stanford University grad finished in a tie for 16th to earn his card at the 2010 PGA Tour Q-school finals, Mr. Dickey was the first person I called.

He was overjoyed.

As I got into my rental car after our last visit, I knew I probably would never see Mr. Dickey again, but I was never more assured than at that moment he would live forever in me and in the thousands of men and women he helped to cultivate in us a love for the game. Golf is definitely better off because Bill Dickey lived.


Tseng on the rebound?


Yani Tseng, the women's No. 1 player in the world, made an appearance on a leaderboard for the first time in months with a third-place finish at the LPGA's Hanabank Championship in South Korea on Sunday. She finished a shot outside of a playoff between Suzann Pettersen and Catriona Matthews that Pettersen won on the third extra hole.

It was Tseng's first top-10 finish since she got a tie for ninth at the Sybase Match Play in May. In 2011, the 23-year-old Taiwanese star won seven times around the world to solidify her dominance in the women's game. And after three quick wins to start the 2012 season, it looked like she would continue her mastery, but she has looked mortal since then.

Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park and Jiyai Shin have emerged to fill the void left by Tseng's vacancy at the top of leaderboards. But Tseng is still the best women's player in the world. It's time for her to reassert her claim to the throne.

Lewis, the 27-year-old former Arkansas Razorback, is the best America hope at becoming No. 1 since Cristie Kerr held the slot twice in 2010. Lewis, who has won three times this year, finished in a tie for 33rd at the Hanabank Championship. A rivalry between Lewis and Tseng could be great for the women's game.

Tseng is the defending champ at the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship, which starts Thursday.


Furyk still trying to add to potential HOF résumé


At the beginning of the week, I picked Jim Furyk to win the McGladrey Classic. My prediction that he would rebound from a very disappointing Ryder Cup for his 17th career win almost came to pass. But on a day when Tommy Gainey had eight birdies and an eagle, Furyk could muster only two birdies in his 1-under-par 69. Two bad iron shots down the stretch cost him any legitimate chance of matching Gainey's 16-under-par total.

For Furyk, who was looking for his first win since the 2010 Tour Championship, the McGladrey event was another reminder of a year of close calls and bitter disappointments.

At 42, Furyk is at a point in his career when it gets harder and harder to win. In 2012, only three players 40 and over have won on the PGA Tour.

Has Furyk done enough to earn a place in the World Golf Hall of Fame? Earlier this year, Fred Couples got a berth into that most prestigious club with 15 wins and a Masters victory. Furyk has 16 wins and a U.S. Open. The former University of Arizona star is widely considered one of the most consistent players of his generation: respected by his peers and fans, alike for his tenacity and will to succeed with one of the most unorthodox swings in the game.

After struggling through equipment changes in 2011 -- including new irons and a new golf ball -- Furyk showed something this year of the player that won the 2010 FedEx Cup playoffs. But in 2012, he has shown an inability to close out tournaments. His most notable failure came in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club outside San Francisco.

He was tied for the lead on the 16th tee with two par-5s in front of him, but he would end up bogeying two of the last three holes to finish 2 shots back of the winner, Webb Simpson.

Furyk's 1-3-0 record in the Ryder Cup matches at Medinah Country Club just put salt in an already painful wound. Furyk lost 1 down to Sergio Garcia in the Sunday singles after holding the lead on the back nine and later admitted what a disappointing year 2012 had been for him. He wasn't happy when a reporter recounted some of the sordid details of his year.

On Sunday at the McGladrey Classic, Furyk wore that same look of bewilderment on the 18th hole at the Seaside Course after a bogey finish left him 2 shots back of Gainey and in third place.

Still, you don't get to where Furyk has been in the game without being a fighter. He will recuperate fast from this and get back into the winner's circle in 2013. He still believes he can win tournaments and contend in the majors. At times this year, he was as good as any of the young guns who now regularly win on tour. But he also looked like a man constrained by nerves.

How he plays over the next few years could determine if makes it into the Hall of Fame. To some, he might be a shoo-in, but it won't hurt his case to add another major and four more wins to get to 20 for his career.


Van Pelt nabs another top-10 -- and a win


For a professional golfer, nothing is bigger than winning, but the next best thing is getting a top 10. Tiger Woods has 177 of them, including 74 wins. Last year, Luke Donald rose to No. 1 in the world on the strength of 14 top-10 finishes.

In 2012, the top 10 leaders on the PGA Tour have been Rory McIlroy and Bo Van Pelt with 10 each. McIlroy was able to convert some of those chances into four wins. Van Pelt, well, he's probably become best known around the tour this year for grabbing all those high finishes without a win. The 37-year-old former Oklahoma State star has just one career victory on the PGA Tour at 2009 U.S. Bank Championship.

But on Sunday in the European Tour's ISPS HANDA Perth International in Australia, Van Pelt held off Jason Dufner for a 2-shot win and his first European Tour title. The native of Richmond, Ind., who now lives in Tulsa, Okla., will be the defending champ at this week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, where last year he earned a 6-stroke victory.

This year Tiger Woods will join Van Pelt in the field at the Mines Resort & Club in Kuala Lumpur. The 14-time major champion hasn't played in Malaysia since the 1999 World Cup.

The last time these two players went head-to-head in a tournament was in early July at AT&T National, where Van Pelt went shot-for-shot with Tiger during the last two rounds. Tiger was able to secure his 74th win, but Van Pelt's performance underscored what most of us have known about him, which is that he is a top-tier player who should have many more wins.

While Van Pelt isn't on track for the Hall of Fame, his career symbolizes the ultra-successful tour player who has become rich in the era of $6 million purses and no-cut events. He's as consistent as a good sports franchise that makes the playoffs every year and the guy you want on your fantasy team.

If you were a player, would you rather have his career -- 1 win, 48 top-10s and $17.9 million in career earnings -- or have a smattering of victories but no longevity and sustained presence as one of the elite on the tour?

Van Pelt has more top 10s and money this season than 15 players that have won PGA Tour events in 2012.

Winning is very important in Van Pelt's profession -- a two-year exemption and a Masters invitation if you win the right events -- but you can get job security and a trip to Augusta with consistent top-10s, too.

So much is made of winning a major, but the history of golf is full of major winners who were not great players. Colin Montgomerie is one of the greatest players ever to emerge from the European Tour, but he has never won a major or a PGA Tour event.

Van Pelt doesn't have Monty's 31 worldwide wins or success in the Ryder Cup, but to a lesser degree, Van Pelt's inability to win up to his potential could forever hang over his name.

His winning performance in Australia is a reminder that he's more than just a top-10 machine. We shouldn't be surprised if he successfully defends his title in Malaysia. And even if he doesn't win, it's probably a good bet he will get another top-10.

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