A small-town golfer hailing from small-town USA, the South Carolina drawl hangs on Tommy Gainey’s lips like Spanish moss on a live oak. His approach is straightforward, a philosophy about life that mirrors his take on golf – a kind of Yogi Bera-esque approach that tells him to just trust it and hit it. This self-made golfer, better known as “Two Gloves”, has got game, having once shot a 59 during a friendly round with some Nationwide Tour buddies. He missed a 12-footer for birdie that would have given him a score of 58, but he was more concerned about not making that birdie.
Having lived in the small town of Bishopville all his life, Tommy had to find ways to keep playing the game he loves while also trying to make a living. He wasn’t recruited out of high school because he had no connections of his own and, as he says, “Small towns get overlooked.” He spent years working as an assembly line worker in an A. O. Smith factory to keep money in his pocket and earn enough to play a round of golf when he could. It finally took a friend willing to risk $600 of the $750 entry fee so Tommy could play in his first professional event. Fortunately, Tommy was able to make that money back – and then some – by winning the event and $15,000.
He feels success in life is all about getting the right “break” at the right time. In 2005, he was chosen to fly to Carnoustie, Scotland to be a contestant on Big Break IV. “I told the producers that I would happily wipe out that 59 for a chance to be on the show,” Tommy said. “I’m shocked I got the chance.”
Tommy considers 2007 to be his own Big Break year. He won Big Break VII and qualified for the PGA TOUR’s Wachovia Championship. In his Nationwide Tour debut, Tommy finished just shy of the Top 25 in the BMW Charity Classic, but did manage an 8th place finish in the Cox Classic. The end of 2007 proved to be the icing on the cake as Tommy finished T19 at Q school, earning his 2008 PGA TOUR card.
While Tommy left a less than memorable showing in 2008, he did manage to excite the world with a dazzling final round 64 at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic, finishing 2nd to Davis Love III. “I gave it everything” says Tommy, “Losing to a childhood idol was alright by me.”
At the start of 2009, Tommy split time between the PGA TOUR and Nationwide Tour. He made the cut in eight of 15 starts on the PGA TOUR, with a season-best T21 at the Puerto Rico Open. Tommy also made the cut in 11 of 13 starts on the Nationwide Tour, with season-best finishes in his last two starts of the year, finishing T11 at the Chattanooga Classic and T12 at the Miccosukee Championship but it wasn’t quite the year Tommy had expected. Ultimately, he had to make the dreaded journey back to Q school and played just good enough to keep is Nationwide Tour card.
In 2010, Tommy proved he truly belonged. Not only did he prove it to his fellow players and golf fans, but to himself. Let’s call it his “Break Out” year. Tommy made 27 starts, collected two wins, a second- and a third-place finish and had six top-10s. “Previous seasons were not what I had hoped for, but people kept telling me I could do it. This was the year that I proved to myself, I really could do it,” said Tommy. He was one of a Tour-record four players to go over the $400,000 mark, finishing with $403,957, to wind up # 4 on the money list. He also finished No. 3 in the All-Around ranking for the year.
After missing the cut in his first three starts of the 2011 season, Tommy rallied with a pair of top-10s in two of his ensuing five starts. He followed up his good play just a few weeks later with back to back third-place finishes at The Heritage and the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. This dream year continued and overall he recorded a total of seven top-10 finishes and four 3rd-place finishes in 34 starts, including making it to the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Tommy was truly excited about the possibilities that awaited him for the 2012 season and although things did not go as planned, the year ended with a bang. The highlight of the season had been at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial where Tommy put on a putting exhibition and finished 3rd. The year was fairly steady after that but no one expected the fireworks that were about to explode in Sea Island, Georgia.
Tommy started the final round at The McGladrey Classic seven strokes behind Jim Furyk and Davis Love III. In true Tommy fashion and an all or nothing attitude, rolled off 8 birdies and a dramatic eagle after a holed out bunker shot on the par-5 15th hole and shot a course record 60 to take the lead. Tommy sat in the clubhouse for two hours before being declared the champion. His final round 60 was the 3rd in PGA TOUR history and the 1st that lead to a victory.
Tommy has high expectations for his future playing professional golf and hopes to continue his rising career. He still enjoys living a simple life style even with his unexpected fame. “I may have more money in the bank, but that’s the only thing that’s changed.” In keeping touch with his roots, Tommy proudly represents A. O. Smith, the same company where he wrapped insulation round water heaters all those years ago.