Golf

Bob Gillespie

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

'It's a great day' at the Heritage for Tommy Gainey

Posted 4/13/2012 9:56:00 AM

Tommy Gainey wasn’t at Augusta National on Sunday when Bubba Watson won the Masters, but watching on TV, the Bishopville native recognized a kindred spirit.

That would seem to make sense for those who know Gainey, a former factory worker who rose from two appearances (and one win) on Golf Channel’s “Big Break” reality series to a spot on the PGA Tour. If he weren’t already called “Two Gloves” (for wearing golf gloves on both hands while playing), Gainey might fit the “Bubba” image, too.

But in this case, Gainey was talking about Watson’s creativity with golf shots – the sort of ability that Gainey says will be essential this week at the RBC Heritage, played at tight-and-twisting Harbour Town Golf Links.

“The trees that they have here, the oaks, all the moss that’s on there – you just have to hit all kinds of shots,” he said. “This is the only golf course that I’ve ever played that you can hit an absolute straight ball and have no (second) shot whatsoever. You have to pull a Bubba Watson, curve it 25 yards right to left or left to right.

“I feel like I’ve got a good imagination (in creating shots). And I think you’ve got to have that to compete out here. This golf course, Harbour Town, it presents a strong, strong test.”

Gainey should know. A year ago, he came to the final hole needing a birdie to get into a playoff with Luke Donald and eventual winner Brandt Snedeker. Gainey’s putt just missed, but his third-place finish gave him his largest payday of 2011. Thursday, he began this year’s tournament with a 1-under 70.

But last year’s performance meant more to “Two Gloves” than money. He’s a proud South Carolinian, he says, and considers the state’s lone annual PGA Tour event to be “his” major championship, on a level with the Masters.

“If you ask (PGA Tour players), they’ll say this is the second-best tournament that they play in,” he said. “You want to know why? Why No. 2? Because Augusta National is No. 1, and the reason is it’s a major.

“I get that. I would love to play in it one day. (But) this is my No. 1, I mean here at Hilton Head, it’s No. 1. It’s in my home state. The people that I love, my family and my friends, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Gainey put himself into the mix for another top performance, climbing onto Thursday’s leader board early. This week, he said, is a family affair, with wife Erin and son Thomas III and his dad, Tom Sr., on the island to watch him play, along with friends from Bishopville and Camden, his current residence.

It’s not wonder Gainey is so popular here. Before the tournament, you might’ve thought his other job was with the local chamber of commerce as he pitched places to eat on the island.

“I would say any type of seafood,” he said. “They’ve got some good steaks around here at the seafood places, too. … There are some really good seafood places that I don’t know about, too, but the locals do. I try to look into that and try go to figure out where to go.

“But it seems every time I try to call and make a reservation to a couple of these restaurants, you have to wait an hour and a half. I love to eat, so it’s kind of hard to wait (that long) to eat. But that just goes to show you how good the food is.”

Like most of the players in the RBC Heritage field, Gainey was excited to hear news of Royal Bank of Canada and Boeing coming aboard to sponsor the tournament through 2016. “I heard Gov. Nikki Haley talk about that we need to keep this tournament because it’s good for the economy, for South Carolina (and) it’s good for the people of South Carolina.

“I’m all about that, because this is a great state to play golf in; it’s a great state to live in, as well. … I mean, what more could you ask for? A great, hard golf course and the beach, great places to eat. And this place is known for their food, by the way.” OK, Tommy, we got that.

Gainey said he plans to keep coming back to the RBC Heritage as long as they invite him, and with his booster approach, that’s likely to be a long time. He does maintain other ambitions, too.

“One of these days, I’ll be in Augusta,” he said. “But right now it’s all about Hilton Head and Harbour Town and the people of South Carolina and RBC.”

From his perspective, that pretty much sums it up.