WELCOME TO thelast stop on the Hail Mary Tour, also known as the Children's Miracle NetworkClassic, the final official event of the PGA Tour season and a place wheredesperate golfers fighting for their jobs take desperate measures. ¬∂ TheDisney, as most of the players call the tournament because it's held on theMagnolia and Palm courses at Disney World, is the final chance for players toearn partial or fully exempt status for 2009. Yet although the Disney is themost pressure-packed regular Tour event of the year, it is also on themust-play list for every pro whose wife and kids want to kick back at the MagicKingdom. ¬∂ "It's really a paradox," says Joe Durant, who won the Disneyin 2006 but left Orlando last week a disappointing 128th on the money list andwith only conditional status for '09. "It should be the most relaxedatmosphere on Tour, but a bunch of guys are in agony. We're all grinding hardbecause nobody wants to go back to Q school." ¬∂ Boo Weekley, the Ryder Cuphero and backwoods philosopher, was among the lucky vacationer types. Asked ifhe was going to practice after one of his rounds, Weekley grinned and said,"No, sir. I have to go find my son at the park. He's probably got Mickey ina headlock." ¬∂ At the other extreme was Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey, whonearly completed one of the Tour's alltime Hail Marys. A 33-year-old rookie whohad won only $65,405 all season and was buried at No. 228 on the money list,Gainey endured a Bob Uecker--like summer—0 for June, 0 for July, 0 for August,0 for September. Then he nearly won the final tournament of the year, athriller that wasn't decided until the last stroke on the last hole of the lastround, when Davis Love III made a clutch par save from a greenside bunker toedge Gainey by a shot, 25 under to 24 under.
"I had nothingto lose," said Gainey after shooting 30 on the back nine for the secondstraight day. All Love did was fire back-to-back 64s on the weekend.
It was a heck of ashootout for two players who couldn't get any Mutt and Jeffier. Love is of thecountry club, the 44-year-old son of a legendary golf instructor. He has earned$37 million in his career, played in six Ryder Cups and won prestigious titlessuch as the Players and the PGA Championship.
Gainey used towrap insulation around water heaters on an assembly line in McBee, S.C., and isa latecomer to professional golf. His homemade game, highlighted by anexaggerated grip, with a right hand underneath the club and a bent-over stance,looks more suitable for ditchdigging. The shiniest things on his résumé, untilnow, are star turns on Golf Channel's Big Break, a reality show, andsuccessfully running the gantlet at last year's qualifying school. He's calledTwo Gloves because he wears a glove on each hand, usually a black one. It's ahabit he brought from his baseball days, and why not—he uses a 10-fingerbaseball grip to play golf. Noting their differences, Gainey, who lives inBishopville, S.C., says, "Davis went to North Carolina. He was an all-star,he was all-world. I graduated from high school and went to work."
So how did TwoGloves wind up as the last man standing in a shootout with Love? By turningaround his game. Gainey made the cut in four of his last six starts, includingone on the Nationwide tour, with caddie Don Donatello on the bag. Donatello, afellow Big Break contestant, helped Gainey focus on his weak short game, takinghim to Rife's studio in Orlando to get fitted for a new putter. Gaineydiscovered there that he had been aiming left of the target, as Donatello hadsuspected, and that he needed a shorter putter—34 inches instead of 35. Thestudio visit was on Nov. 4. By last Friday, when Gainey shot a second-round 66,he was enjoying newfound confidence on the greens. "I ain't one to complainabout a 66," he said, "but I left a couple out there or that could'vebeen something around 59." Earlier this year Gainey would've given anythingfor a 66. The new Tommy Two Gloves expected to make every putt.
Stats don't lie.Gainey ranked 177th on Tour in putting for the year. Last week he led thefield. "He has plenty enough skills to play out here," Donatello says."He has the talent; he needs polish."
The big finish wasbig stuff for Gainey. There was the money, for starters—a payoff of $496,800,almost eight times what he had won in his first 23 starts. Asked if he'd beenrunning a deficit in '08, he said, "I'll say this: I wasn't makingmuch."
His winningslifted him inside the top 150 on the money list (148th), which gives himconditional status for next year—he can play in any tournament he can get inwith his low standing. It also gives him a pass to the final stage of Q schoolin December, but even if he doesn't make it through Q school, he'll tee it upin the first full-field event of '09, the Sony Open in Hawaii, by virtue of histop 10 finish in Orlando.
Skipping thesecond qualifying stage, a top 150 perk Gainey wasn't aware of, meant hesuddenly got this week off, so he planned to drive home to Bishopsville onSunday night, a seven-hour trip. "I'm not going to sleep tonightanyway," he said.
The Disney was hisseventh straight tournament, which means it has been seven weeks since he'sseen his six-month-old son, Tommy Gainey III. Gainey says that he's no longerwith the woman who bore his son, an emotional distraction that didn't help hismental focus during his difficult rookie season. "I'm playing for himnow," Gainey says. "I miss him a lot. I can't wait to see him."
GAINEY MADE themost significant move on the money list, but there were other award-worthyjumps.
The He's Got GutsAward (Though Not As Many As He Used To) goes to Jeff Overton, who began theweek as the official bubble boy at 125 on the list. He ranked that high onlybecause he played the Ginn sur Mer Classic the week before, only nine daysafter having his appendix removed. Playing in pain that sometimes had himtwitching on his follow-through, Overton somehow came in 21st. He feltconsiderably better in Orlando and a closing 69 lifted him to 118th on thefinal list and clinched his Tour card for '09, making his gut-wrenchingperformance a week earlier that much more impressive.
The Ponce De LeonCup goes to 49-year-old Michael Allen, who began the week at 123rd and wasprepping for the Champions tour Q school. Allen, who'll turn 50 in January,finished ninth and wound up 106th on the money list. Now that he's exempt forthe PGA Tour again, he'll skip the senior Q school and stay on the big Tour,where the competition is considerably better but so is the money.
Scotland's MartinLaird, 25, gets the Mover and Shaker Trophy. He was the only player to beginthe week outside the top 125 (126th) and end up inside it. He holed apar-saving seven-foot putt on the 72nd hole that proved to be the stroke thatlifted him to No. 125, although he would've been bumped to nonexempt status ifGainey had won. "I knew if I missed that last putt, I had no chance,"said Laird, who was relieved but visibly shaking when he came out of thescoring cabin after his round.
The Roberto deVicenzo Golden Scorecard goes to Shane Bertsch, who missed 2007 due to vertigoand played this year on a medical extension. He had to win about $785,000 in 25events to retain his exemption, which he did, but Bertsch misinterpreted therule. He thought meeting the requirement exempted him for '09. Instead, itexempted him for the remainder of '08. He didn't learn of his error until theTuesday of Disney week, after he had already skipped the Ginn sur Mer Classicto sprinkle his father's ashes on their favorite hunting ground in NorthDakota. Bertsch ranked 124th upon arrival at Disney, missed the cut and slippedto 126th, about $11,500 behind Laird. Ouch.
Finally, let'spresent the Lifetime Achievement Award, or a reasonable facsimile, to Love. His20th career Tour victory earns him a lifetime exemption on the PGA Tour, whichmeans he'll never have to worry about making the top 125.
Love is acandidate for the comeback player of the year, too, having worked his way backfrom a major ankle injury that required surgery about this time last year.Love's closing 64s gave him 15 consecutive rounds in the 60s at the Disney,breaking a tournament record held by Tiger Woods.
"At least Igot one of his records," Love said, joking.
That's something.After all, it is a small, small world.
Look for AlanShipnuck's latest Hot List at GOLF.com.
"Davis went to North Carolina," says Gainey."He was an all-star, all-world. I GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL AND WENT TOWORK."
Two-time transplant recipient and PGA Tour wannabe ErikCompton is making a bid to be newsmaker of the year
SORRY, ROCCO, but Erik Compton's late-season run hasovertaken your runner-up finish in the U.S. Open as golf's feel-good story ofthe year.
The 29-year-old Compton's miraculous comeback from asecond heart transplant took another amazing turn when, playing on a sponsor'sexemption, he made the cut at the Children's Miracle Network Classic. Andthat's only half of it. Last week's 60th-place finish and check for $10,074were good for Compton's confidence. But they were overshadowed by the giantstep he had taken two weeks earlier, one that showed Compton's remarkableresilience, when he rallied from seven strokes back in the final round with agutsy four-under 68 to advance through the first stage of PGA Tourqualifying.
This week Compton will tee it up in the second stage ofQ school at Southern Hills Plantation in Brooksville, Fla., near Tampa, and ifhe makes it through, he'll be guaranteed at least conditional status on theNationwide tour and have a chance to earn a ticket to the PGA Tour duringqualifying's third and final stage, Dec. 3--8 at PGA West in La Quinta,Calif.
Not bad for a guy who first needed a heart transplantat age 12 and, when that heart began to fail last year, survived a near-fatalheart attack before undergoing a second transplant surgery last May.
Compton is still so weak from his procedure that he hasto ride in a cart during competition. The Tour will allow him to use the cartuntil next March. He is also allowed to take an antirejection medicine that ison the Tour's list of banned drugs.
"I don't think any doctors anticipated my playing aTour event five months [after the transplant]," says Compton, anAll-America at Georgia who has knocked around in golf's minor leagues, mostlythe Nationwide and Canadian tours, since leaving school in 2001. "Golf is askill, and if you have your hands and eyes working, you can play thegame."
Compton sent in his application for Q school onlybecause the first stage was in Key Biscayne, Fla., near his home in Miami. Therest is history in the making. He is believed to be the only professionalathlete to have received two heart transplants. His first transplant came froma 12-year-old girl, his latest from a 26-year-old All-America volleyball playerwho was in a motorcycle accident. "I got the heart of a champion,"Compton says of both donors, and he has written letters of thanks to theirfamilies and promised to do his best to honor their memories and their preciousgifts.
This year has been dizzying. Compton also got marriedthis summer, and he and his wife, Barbara, are expecting their first child inFebruary.
He's grateful for a second chance at everything."I'm the same guy who had seven chest tubes and 20 IVs in him and lookeddead," Compton said last week. "Now I'm alive and playing golf in thistournament. Miracles do happen."
Photograph by David Walberg
WORKER'S COMP Gainey, who used to wrap insulation around water heaters, matched the closing 64 of Love (inset) but fell short by a stroke.
Photograph by David Walberg
Photograph by David Walberg
TWICE BLESSED Compton is probably the only pro athlete to have had two heart transplants.
Photograph by David Walberg
REALLY ROLLIN' Gainey had ranked 177th on the greens for '09 but after being fit for a putter led the field.