The golf ball in the pine needles belongs to Tommy Gainey, but this is not where Two Gloves wants to be on cut day at Quail Hollow. His father, the original Tommy Gainey, who worked for 39 years in the textile industry, has come up from Bishopville, S.C. Gloves's younger brother, Allen, a transportation manager with Coca-Cola, has come from across town. There are assorted Gaineys and friends of Gaineys all over the gallery. They're rooting hard.
In Carolina golfing circles—the fancy clubs, the ragged munis, it doesn't matter which—almost everybody has heard of the legend of Two Gloves. They know of the big-money games at dusk, where Gloves was usually the last man standing, a wad of crumpled bills in his mitts. The 59 he shot at Northwoods Golf Club in Columbia, S.C. (He missed a 12-footer for 58.) The 400-yard drive he hit at Bishopville Country Club. ("It bounced one time and hit one of the players on the green on the shoulder," says James Medlin, the club's general manger. "And Tommy walks right up to the green and goes, 'I didn't know I could do that. I apologize.'") These are the stories that follow Gainey like a shadow—the latest mythical figure from Bishopville. There is Felix Anthony (Doc) Blanchard, a bruising fullback who won the Heisman while playing at Army in 1945. There is the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp, a reptilian humanoid said to terrorize locals with red eyes, green skin and sharp, black fingernails. And there is Two Gloves.
Gainey slashes his ball off the pine needles at the par-5 5th hole, and it flies a bunker, skids across the green and settles into the rough, leaving a tricky birdie chip, which he runs about six feet by. "A par on a par-5," he mutters as he walks off the green. Gainey spots a young girl with a purple ribbon in her hair. He walks over and hands her the ball, eliciting applause and shouts of "Tommy" and "Gloves." He plays his last four holes in even par, slapping at a large watercooler after failing to birdie the par-5 7th.
After back-to-back third-place finishes at Hilton Head and New Orleans, Gainey would miss the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship by three shots, but the big picture still looks good. He also was in the top 10 at Phoenix and the Honda. In 15 events this season he has pocketed $1,250,497, and he is 92nd in the World Golf Ranking. Outside the ropes at Quail Hollow were tons of friends and family—his wife, Erin, whom he married in December, and his three-year-old son, Tommy III (his granddaddy calls him Trey), who lives with a former girlfriend. There are folks from the Low Country and Clemson and Charlotte and everywhere, it seems. The $9.5 million Players is next up, and Gloves is in the field.
His second stint on the PGA Tour is going miles better than his first, which was in 2008, when, despite a runner-up finish at the Tour's season finale, the Children's Miracle Network Classic in Orlando, he lost his card, missing the cut in 17 of 24 events. Two wins on the Nationwide tour last year helped get him back this season, but that is only a fraction of the story.
"It's been a long, hard road," the 35-year-old Gainey says. He is standing in the practice area at Quail Hollow, minutes after missing the cut. He is half in the sun, half in the shade.
He's just a plain ol' country boy," says Tommy Gainey Sr. "He ain't gonna change. He can be in a roomful of movie stars and he's going to talk the same way."
This is the man who taught his boys the game, the man who wore two gloves long before anybody in the family did. "I grip the club real hard," the father says. "I was getting callouses."
By age nine his oldest son was becoming a regular at Bishopville Country Club, "coming here with no shoes on him with his little brother and his best friend," says Medlin, the general manager. "They'd come out here and play and then go in the woods looking for balls."
Like his father, Gainey wore two gloves for comfort (depending on the climate, sometimes opting for an all-weather variety) but played with a 10-finger grip. ("I'm swinging like I swing a baseball bat," Gainey says of his idiosyncratic, hunched-over move.) Though he became the No. 1 player on the Bishopville High team, no college recruited him.