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The Star Next Door
John Garrity
November 12, 2001
At the Tour Championship, somebody forgot to tell unassuming David Toms he's now among the game's elite
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November 12, 2001

The Star Next Door

At the Tour Championship, somebody forgot to tell unassuming David Toms he's now among the game's elite

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I look like I've been shooting up heroin," David Toms said, pulling up his right sleeve to show the needle marks from a doctor's visit. His three pro-am partners at the Tour Championship, in Houston, chuckled because you don't have to spend much time with Toms to learn what his real addictions are. Krispy Kreme doughnuts, for one. Toms's pulse quickens at the sight of a Krispy Kreme box, and his eyes get a faraway look when he describes how good a glazed doughnut is right off the conveyor. "When you can mash your finger in it," he says.

Toms was equally excited last week when he opened a cooler on the 3rd tee at Champions Golf Club and yanked out a can of Quick-Kick, a sports drink. "This stuff is awesome," he said. In Baton Rouge, where Toms went to college, they drink Rebel Yells and Jack Daniel's, but it's easy to picture him in a campus bar, slamming back a Quick-Kick and talking Louisiana State football. That's when you really have to check to see if Toms's pupils are dilated, because he's fanatical about sports at his alma mater. He reads Tiger Rag, the LSU sports magazine, from cover to cover. He has four season tickets to Tigers football games. His golf bag and putter headcovers sport Louisiana State logos.

He's also hooked on ducks. Get him out before sunrise, let him wade in waist-deep water putting out decoys, let him drive the amphibious vehicle, let him cradle a 12-gauge shotgun, and Toms approaches nirvana. "He's not nearly as quiet when he's duck hunting," says his father, Buster. "On a golf course nothing bothers him, but when he shoots down a greenhead, he pumps his fist."

David doesn't look obsessive. At 34 his face is wrinkle-free, his hair is thick, his movements are unhurried. Put him in a group of pro athletes, and Toms is the one whom people will mistake for a hotel desk clerk. But people must be wrong. Since 1999, Tom has won six Tour events, edged Phil Mickelson by a stroke to win the 2001 PGA Championship, played his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team, hit the shot of the year, climbed to seventh in the World Ranking and finished third on this year's money list. If we're not mistaken, that was David Toms clawing from three strokes behind on Sunday to get into a four-way playoff at the Tour Championship, the Tour's season finale. "Everybody thinks David is so laid back," says his caddie, Scott Gneiser, "but in the heat of competition he has a fire in him like Tiger or Phil. He's intense."

Who knew? Toms was just another anonymous, financially secure, pro until the afternoon of Aug. 18, when he appeared on television sets all over the world with his hands above his head and a look of astonishment on his face. He had just aced the 227-yard, par-3 15th hole during the third round of the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club, and you could see, in the few seconds it took Toms to absorb what he had done, the progression from shock to elation to something fiercer, an almost predatory opportunism. The next day, when he laid up on the 72nd hole with a one-stroke lead and a Tin Cup water hazard in front of him, Toms seized his place in history. Mickelson, the gallery favorite, watched helplessly as Toms rolled his 10-foot putt squarely into the hole for par and victory.

Nearly three months later Toms's face has become as familiar as those of his Ryder Cup teammates. He's on the cover of Golf magazine next to the headline, ACE IN THE HOLE: THE PGA CHAMPION ON HOW TO PURE A 5-WOOD. He's on TV, hitting lob wedges into a satellite dish on top of a house in one of those These Guys Are Good promos. He's got a trunkful of fan mail back home in Shreveport, La., and when LSU opened its football season at Tiger Stadium on Sept. 1, Toms was on the field as an honorary captain during the coin toss, his PGA-winning putt replaying on the big screen to the cheers of more than 90,000 fans. "I think I could have won four or five tournaments this year, and they wouldn't have been as big as that victory in the PGA," Toms said in Houston. "The hole in one, laying up, beating Mickelson—I guess it made for a pretty good story."

The PGA win certainly opened a new chapter in Toms's life. He spends more time on the phone with his agent, more time talking to reporters, more time signing autographs and contracts. "I can't just show up at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and play a practice round," he says. "I haven't had a day like that since the PGA."

On Tuesday, Oct. 30, for instance, he dragged himself out of bed at 5 a.m. and drove across Houston to film a TV spot for charity, gobbled painkillers and prescription steroids for a radiating pain and weakness in his left arm, conducted a magazine interview while playing a five-hour pro-am round with three businessmen, and agreed to do a photo shoot on Wednesday, after his practice round. "David is a pleaser," says his wife, Sonya. "It's not enough that he's happy. He wants everybody around him to be happy too."

A fan getting his autograph at Champions said, "I like your commercial." Toms smiled and said, "If that was really my house, I wouldn't have been doing it." When somebody outside the ropes asked him to pose for a picture, Toms said, "Sure," put his arm around the stranger and showed some teeth. On the 10th tee Gneiser brought Toms a doughnut and two Krispy Kreme T-shirts, causing an onlooker to ask, "Is that your workout shirt?" Toms licked his fingers and said, "When the light is on at Krispy Kreme, you've got to go."

Toms has always been a low-maintenance guy. "He was a windup doll," says Buddy Alexander, who coached Toms for two years at LSU. "You put him out there, and he played."

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