DAVID TOMS plopped into a rocking chair on the porch of the U.S. team's cabin at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club and stated the obvious. "These are trying times in Louisiana," he said softly, referring to the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to his home state. But he could have been talking about himself. A week before the Presidents Cup, Toms had been felled by a racing heartbeat during the first round of the 84 Lumber Classic at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pa. He was loaded into an ambulance (while wearing his Cleveland visor, a subsequent source of amusement for his fellow pros), rushed to a nearby hospital, then airlifted to a larger facility in Pittsburgh, 50 miles away. There his condition was diagnosed as supraventricular tachycardia--a dangerously rapid heart rate.
The 38-year-old Toms was treated, released--two days after his collapse he was back at Nemacolin hitting balls on the range--and cleared to play in the Presidents Cup. The frightening episode came at a time when Toms's hurricane relief work had snowballed into a full-time job. Based in Shreveport, Toms spent several days as a volunteer, raised more than $600,000 and relocated about 400 people into furnished apartments and houses around town. One of them was Herb Tyler, the former LSU quarterback who turned up in a shelter in Ruston, La., after Katrina. "No way an LSU quarterback is going to be in a shelter if I can help it," says Toms, an LSU alum. The scope of recent events made losing a few Presidents Cup matches a mere trifle. "I'm 0-2 and haven't played great golf," he said last Friday evening, "but at the same time, last week I thought I was dying."
Toms experienced a few dicey moments during the 10-mile ambulance ride from Nemacolin Woodlands to Uniontown (Pa.) Hospital. To get his heartbeat under control, paramedics gave him an injection that briefly stopped, then restarted his heart. "Of course, the guy didn't tell me that's what he was going to do," Toms said. "He simply told me [it was going to hurt]. I found out later." At that moment Toms feared the worst. "I said a prayer," he said. "I was in a lot of pain and thinking, Just let me be O.K. I don't want my children to lose their father like this. I had tears rolling down my face. It was pretty emotional."
Scott Gneiser, Toms's caddie, first realized something was amiss when Toms stopped and knelt as they walked off the 1st tee--their 10th hole--during that first round. "When we got David on the ground, it got worse," Gneiser says. "You could actually see the pulse pounding in his neck." Toms protested when fast-arriving paramedics inserted an intravenous tube in his arm, saying he had to hit his second shot or he'd be disqualified. Stay down, Gneiser told him.
The scariest moment for Gneiser came in the ambulance when he overheard doctors on the phone recommend using shock paddles on Toms. "The paramedic said, 'I don't want to do that. He's still conscious and not in great danger,'" Gneiser said. "I was sitting on some towels right by David's head. I didn't want to see that."
Toms's crisis quickly passed at Uniontown Hospital, where he responded to medication. He was feeling much better by the time he arrived at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, but the Associated Press erroneously reported that he was in critical condition. "ESPN put DAVID TOMS CRITICAL on the crawl across the bottom of the screen," says Adam Young, the executive director of the David Toms Foundation. "David's grandfather called me; then writers from all over the country started calling."
Toms was propped up in bed watching television with Gneiser in his hospital room when he saw the crawl. "Critical?" Toms asked, laughing. "Wow! I didn't think it was that bad."
Doctors told Toms that his condition can be controlled by medication or cured with surgery. For the time being, Toms is using the medication, but he plans to undergo the operation, during which the extra electrical pathways causing arrhythmia are removed, before the end of the season. He joined the U.S. team on Sept. 20 for a Presidents Cup dinner at the White House, where residual radiation in his body from a battery of tests set off security alarms. "That showed how much this event means to David and to all of us," said Fred Funk, who teamed with Toms in Saturday's foursomes match, which they lost 2 and 1 to Tim Clark and Nick O'Hern.
Toms finally earned a point on Sunday, beating Trevor Immelman 2 up in singles. Then he planned to get back to some real work. This weekend he was to play with President Bush, Brad Faxon and Phil Mickelson in Kennebunkport, Maine. Then on Oct. 3 Toms will host the David Toms Invitational, a charity tournament to benefit Big Oak Ranch, a home for orphaned, abused and abandoned children in Birmingham.--Gary Van Sickle
Toms has found housing for 400 people.