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WELCOME TO the last stop on the Hail Mary Tour, also known as the Children's Miracle Network Classic, the final official event of the PGA Tour season and a place where desperate golfers fighting for their jobs take desperate measures. � The Disney, as most of the players call the tournament because it's held on the Magnolia and Palm courses at Disney World, is the final chance for players to earn partial or fully exempt status for 2009. Yet although the Disney is the most pressure-packed regular Tour event of the year, it is also on the must-play list for every pro whose wife and kids want to kick back at the Magic Kingdom. � "It's really a paradox," says Joe Durant, who won the Disney in 2006 but left Orlando last week a disappointing 128th on the money list and with only conditional status for '09. "It should be the most relaxed atmosphere on Tour, but a bunch of guys are in agony. We're all grinding hard because nobody wants to go back to Q school." � Boo Weekley, the Ryder Cup hero and backwoods philosopher, was among the lucky vacationer types. Asked if he 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 in a headlock." � At the other extreme was Tommy (Two Gloves) Gainey, who nearly completed one of the Tour's alltime Hail Marys. A 33-year-old rookie who had 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, a thriller that wasn't decided until the last stroke on the last hole of the last round, when Davis Love III made a clutch par save from a greenside bunker to edge Gainey by a shot, 25 under to 24 under.
"I had nothing to lose," said Gainey after shooting 30 on the back nine for the second straight day. All Love did was fire back-to-back 64s on the weekend.
It was a heck of a shootout for two players who couldn't get any Mutt and Jeffier. Love is of the country 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 titles such as the Players and the PGA Championship.
Gainey used to wrap insulation around water heaters on an assembly line in McBee, S.C., and is a latecomer to professional golf. His homemade game, highlighted by an exaggerated grip, with a right hand underneath the club and a bent-over stance, looks more suitable for ditchdigging. The shiniest things on his r�sum�, until now, are star turns on Golf Channel's Big Break, a reality show, and successfully running the gantlet at last year's qualifying school. He's called Two Gloves because he wears a glove on each hand, usually a black one. It's a habit he brought from his baseball days, and why not—he uses a 10-finger baseball grip to play golf. Noting their differences, Gainey, who lives in Bishopville, 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 Two Gloves wind up as the last man standing in a shootout with Love? By turning around his game. Gainey made the cut in four of his last six starts, including one on the Nationwide tour, with caddie Don Donatello on the bag. Donatello, a fellow Big Break contestant, helped Gainey focus on his weak short game, taking him to Rife's studio in Orlando to get fitted for a new putter. Gainey discovered there that he had been aiming left of the target, as Donatello had suspected, and that he needed a shorter putter—34 inches instead of 35. The studio 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 complain about a 66," he said, "but I left a couple out there or that could've been something around 59." Earlier this year Gainey would've given anything for 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 the field. "He has plenty enough skills to play out here," Donatello says. "He has the talent; he needs polish."
The big finish was big 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 been running a deficit in '08, he said, "I'll say this: I wasn't making much."
His winnings lifted him inside the top 150 on the money list (148th), which gives him conditional status for next year—he can play in any tournament he can get in with his low standing. It also gives him a pass to the final stage of Q school in December, but even if he doesn't make it through Q school, he'll tee it up in the first full-field event of '09, the Sony Open in Hawaii, by virtue of his top 10 finish in Orlando.
Skipping the second qualifying stage, a top 150 perk Gainey wasn't aware of, meant he suddenly got this week off, so he planned to drive home to Bishopsville on Sunday night, a seven-hour trip. "I'm not going to sleep tonight anyway," he said.
The Disney was his seventh straight tournament, which means it has been seven weeks since he's seen his six-month-old son, Tommy Gainey III. Gainey says that he's no longer with the woman who bore his son, an emotional distraction that didn't help his mental focus during his difficult rookie season. "I'm playing for him now," Gainey says. "I miss him a lot. I can't wait to see him."