A dozen years ago, even an optimist like Bishopville native Tommy Gainey probably couldn't have envisioned the week he had at what he calls "the second-best tournament in the world," The Heritage (his choice as the world's best: The Masters).
The former mini-tour player drew huge crowds at Harbour Town Golf Links as he shot 67-68 on the weekend and came within a 14-foot birdie putt at the 18th green of joining a playoff between Luke Donald and eventual winner Brandt Snedeker. Still, the third-place money ($387,600) all but assures the 35-year-old of being exempt on the PGA Tour again in 2012.
"There's no question about it," he said of his belief that he will win soon. "I'm getting closer and closer, it seems like." Gainey, who played the PGA Tour in 2008-09 before slipping back to the Nationwide Tour in 2010, won twice there last year, and since then, "it's like I'm a different person, a different player," he said. "I really feel that I'm about ready to knock the door down."
At Hilton Head, Gainey's 3-year-old son Tommy III, wife Erin, his parents and a host of Pee Dee friends and fans followed him around Harbour Town. Most planned to be in Charlotte, too, for the Wells Fargo Championship, when the self-described "good ol' country boy and redneck" figured to try to "knock the door down" once more.
Bio: Worked wrapping insulation around water heaters in a factory while playing multiple mini-tours in the 1990s. Appeared on two "Big Break" reality series shows on Golf Channel, winning the second to earn a shot at the Nationwide Tour; last year, earned a second trip to the PGA Tour, and has earned $917,697 so far in 2011.
Highlights: Won twice on the Nationwide Tour in 2010 to finish in the tour's top 25 money list and return to the PGA Tour. In contention at this year's Phoenix Open before a triple bogey on the next-to-last hole dropped him to a tie for eighth. Placed fifth at the Honda Classic, and had year's best finish of third at The Heritage.
Where I play: "You know, you've got to start with this course (Harbour Town), because the tournament's here, and it's got a lot of tradition, been here forever. They get the big names, guys like Graeme McDowell, who could go overseas, but they stayed here after Augusta. And you've got to say the Ocean Course; when you say South Carolina, you say Ocean Course, Harbour Town, the Dye Course at Barefoot Landing in Myrtle Beach (site of the annual Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters Pro-Am). There's Dunes West, Bulls Bay, Patriots Point (all Mount Pleasant area). Sage Valley (Graniteville) is one of the most underrated courses, (it's) exclusive and very good."
Where I eat: "I like Wild Wing Café, but you only find those in the South. I like to eat at Outback or Bonefish Grill on the road, and Firehouse Subs when I eat healthy. Locally, there's Watford's Barbecue in Bishopville; my father (Tommy Sr.) loves it, I'm not real big on barbecue, but I love the chicken fingers and fries. And there's my good buddy Dan Goff's place in Lydia: Mr. B's, a buffet that's open every night but Saturday. My favorite thing there is the cheese biscuits: they're unbelievable, and the fried chicken, too."
What I do for fun: "I like to spend time with my family, my son especially, and Erin gets a lot of my time, too. When I'm home, I like to play golf with my buddies because it's fun and I never get to see them. We play Bishopville Country Club, Hartsville Country Club, Northwoods (in Columbia), Florence Country Club. I'm not a hunter or a fisherman. I just golf."