Friday, July 5, 2013
WHITE SULPHER SPRINGS, W.Va. — He pulled his hands out of his pockets and flipped them for all to see. Sure enough, they were whiter than an Iceberg Rose, creating a stark tanline on his wrist.
They don’t call this guy Tommy “Two Gloves” for nothing.
Tommy Gainey has one of the best nicknames on the PGA Tour, but his backstory’s even better. He grew up poor. He worked on a factory assembly line. He won the Golf Channel’s skills competition, “The Big Break VII” – but only after he was eliminated on “The Big Break VI.”
And here he is, armed with a baseball swing and a prayer, hanging out near the top of the leaderboard at The Greenbrier Classic.
“I’m very lucky and very privileged to be out here,” he said.
Actually, it’s the other way around. The tournament is lucky to have him. After Phil Mickelson checked out early again, the event could use a story the masses can rally around this weekend. And it’s hard not to pull for Gainey, who sits just two strokes back of leader Matt Every heading into today.
Because Gainey is like a lot of us. He speaks with a South Carolina drawl. He got nothing handed to him. He took up golf out of passion, not privilege, as he punched the clock at a 9-to-5 job.
“They make the best water heaters in the business,” Gainey said of his sponsor, A.O. Smith, and he ought to know. He worked on the company’s assembly line twice after attending Central Carolina Technical College.
Did we mention his swing? Well, yours might be prettier. A former third baseman and pitcher in youth baseball, he taught himself how to wield a golf club using the same principles. The crouch. The weight transfer. The inside-out trajectory.
And, of course, the two gloved hands – an unusual habit he picked up from his father.
You can check out the swing on YouTube, where one of the first viewer comments deems it “Gross…but effective.”
“No one’s trying to give me any tips on it,” Gainey said with a smile, “because I think they know my stance on it.”
And that stance is?
“It’s not happening,” he said. “I’m not changing. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. For God’s sake, I won a PGA tournament last year, so there’s got to be something good with it.”
There is. But after winning at The McGladrey Classic in Georgia last October, Gainey had struggled to open this season. He’d made just nine of 22 cuts coming into this week.
He broke out Thursday with an 8-under 62 to grab a share of the lead. On Friday, as the course played tougher, he got as low as 10-under before finishing with a 71 to remain in contention.
He picked up a few new supporters along the way.
“Absolutely, the crowd got behind me,” he said. “And they were still pulling for me even though I was hitting it like crap. It’s nice to have that crowd support. I appreciate that.”
He appreciates everything probably a little more than most. Gainey’s parents were working-class citizens who logged long hours to put food on the table. He did the same before making it on tour, where he admits he’s “gotten spoiled.”
Much of the money he makes goes to the family members who supported him. Meanwhile, on the course, Gainey does a lot of the things we might do if we were living our dream. He’s checking the leaderboard often, socializing with the fans.
Everything but getting a tan on those hands.
“Listen,” Two Gloves said with a grin, “I just don’t have time for it.”
No, he doesn’t. He’s got a tournament to try to win.