"Butch said no, he didn't want to work with Brian, but that was O.K.," says Kimberly, picking up the story. "We're used to being told no. No you can't play in this tournament. No you can't have a logo on your shirt. There have always been so many nos, but Brian just keeps going."
His on-course disappointments were leavened by a happy home life, as the Gays welcomed daughter Makinley in 2000. Another little sweetheart, Brantley, arrived in '04. The girls have traveled to almost every tournament, thanks to a flexible curriculum at a specialized school and their parents' can-do attitude, though Kimberly is candid that she and Brian have often fretted about the cost of having the whole family travel to more than two-dozen events a year. "We still don't believe in room service," says Kimberly. In fact the Gays have always been acutely aware of the gulf between the Tour's haves and have-mores. Seven weeks before Hilton Head, Kimberly was in her husband's gallery at the Mayakoba Classic when talk turned to a player who had recently bought a new airplane. That happens often enough on Tour, but this time the player in question owns exactly one career victory and last fall had to go to Q school to save his job. "Does everyone on Tour have more money than us?" Kimberly wondered aloud.
Having young children on the road presents myriad challenges; if you need a scouting report on hospitals in Fort Worth or Reno or Los Angeles, ask the Gays. But they also work hard to make the road trips fun-filled adventures for the kids. "They're an impressive family," says Amanda Leonard. "They're always at the tournament parties, and every time you see them they always seem so happy. They have found a great balance out here, which is not easy to do. I find them inspiring, and I know a lot of the other wives do too."
Explaining the family's wearying travel schedule, Kimberly says with a Dolly Partonesque giggle, "You know what—Brian and I really like each other. We actually like being together, which I know isn't the case with every husband and wife. It's also very important that the children know their father and not feel resentment. And I don't want Brian to be torn between playing golf and being with his family. Some people, I think they get tired and frustrated with this life and they give up. Whatever the challenges, we have embraced it."
BRIAN'S CAREER trajectory began to change in December 2005, with a family trip to Park City, Utah. He didn't want to try skiing for the first time, fearing he would get hurt. Kimberly talked him into it, naturally, and on the his final day on the slopes Brian wiped out and a ski pole slammed into his ribs, giving him a deep, painful bruise. Unable to swing a club, he spent the ensuing three weeks moping around their house in Florida. (After a long stretch in Palm Beach Gardens, the Gays have lived in the Orlando area since '99.) "He was so depressed," says Kimberly. "Seriously. I felt sooo guilty."
Enter John Riegger, a Tour veteran known for a deep curiosity about the golf swing. He told his buddy Brian that since he was just sitting around, he should check out this cool website Riegger had discovered, lynnblakegolf.com. Blake is a disciple of Homer Kelly, the mad genius who wrote The Golfing Machine, and Blake's website is dense with interesting and nontraditional ideas about the swing. To that point in his career Gay had bounced around among various instructors, often chasing a mythical 15 extra yards off the tee. His swing was an inefficient amalgam of competing theories. Nursing his sore ribs, he sat in front of the computer and read Blake's manifestos and surfed the video clips. Something resonated. Blake preaches that quarter- and half-swings are the building blocks to correct mechanics, and Gay, working on his own, began doing the drills.
"It was like starting over as a beginner with a clear mind," he says. "If I hadn't been hurt, I wouldn't have had the patience, but I couldn't make a full swing anyway." Using the website as his guide, Gay overhauled his setup and alignment and straightened his right arm at address, a position not unfamiliar to Lee Trevino and Ben Hogan, among others. Almost overnight Gay's swing was simpler, more repeatable and more on-plane. His ribs still throbbed, but he made his 2006 season debut at the Hope, shooting a 64 in the fourth round. Starting to get excited, Gay contacted Blake for the first time so they could work together face-to-face.
"It was like teaching a fish to swim," Blake says of Gay's quick learning curve. "Brian has always been one of the best wedge players and putters on Tour. I'd dare say he's one of the best in the history of the game. He's an aggressive player who never backs off, with absolutely no fear of going low. What he needed was some consistency in his ball striking. Once he found that, look out!"
Gay's progress was evident in '06, as he cashed more than $1 million (88th on the money list) in checks for only the second time in his career on the strength of 10 top 25 finishes. He also benefited from a new caddie, Kip Henley, a live wire who knows how to energize his laconic boss. Kimberly had spent years beseeching her husband to hook up with Henley—"I had a premonition about him," she says, "and when I know, I know"—just as she strongly encouraged Brian to work with trainer Chris Noss, who over the last year and a half has greatly increased Gay's flexibility, which had been compromised by two incidents of dislocated ribs and other nagging injuries through the years. Brian values his wife's counsel. "I have trouble making decisions," he admits. "I ride the fence, and she helps nudge me off."
Noss has learned to triangulate between husband and wife. "Because Brian's so quiet, she helps fill in the blanks," says Noss. "Sometimes she says what he's thinking."