FLORENCE — Tommy Gainey has fought long odds in his golf career.
That’s why the Bishopville native isn’t too worried going into one of the biggest tournaments he has ever played.
Gainey and the other 150 or so hopefuls will tee it up Wednesday at Orange County National Golf Center in Winter Garden, Fla., in the final stage of the PGA Tour Q-School. The top 25 golfers in the six-round, 108-hole event earn full status on the PGA Tour next year. The next 50 finishers get full status on the Nationwide Tour, as well as a select number of PGA Tour events.
“There’s no pressure,” Gainey said Tuesday. “I chose this life. God has blessed me with this talent and ability, and I know I have what it takes play the game and am good at it.
“I know the better I play, the more opportunities as far as sponsorships and everything that there will be.”
This is Gainey’s seventh attempt to qualify, but the first time he’s reached the final stage. Gainey reached this point in dramatic fashion two weeks ago in Texas. Gainey, who was at even-par going into the final hole of the final round, knew he probably needed an eagle on the par-5 to be in the top 20 and advance. Facing a second shot from 256 yards out into a stiff wind, Gainey hit a 3-wood within four feet of the hole and sank his eagle putt to finish tied for 13th and earn his spot in the final stage.
“He is a great guy, and for him to make it out there would be unbelievable,” said Kevin Zemnickas, head golf pro at Dunes West Golf Club in Mount Pleasant, where Gainey worked for four years. “You need more stories about more regular guys making it the hard way. They appreciate it more.”
If Gainey makes it on the Tour, the man called “Two Gloves” for his use of two golfing gloves will bring his country flavor and different approach to the PGA, much like John Daly and Boo Weekley have done in recent years.
“I don’t sugarcoat things. I go out there and tell it like it is,” said Gainey, who wears two gloves from his baseball-playing days as a kid.
“I’m just a good ol’ boy who has come up hard.”
Gainey, whose brother calls him “a sober John Daly,” hasn’t had an easy path to get to this
point in his career. Gainey was his team’s No. 1 golfer at Bishopville High School, but was never recruited to play collegiately. Instead, he worked jobs at A.O. Smith Water Heater factory and moved furniture back in the 1990s when his parents were having health problems. His big chance came when his friend Cliff Wilson put up a $750 entry fee to play in a TearDrop Tour event where he won the $15,000 first-place check.
“I was broke and never had any money growing up,” Gainey said. “God has blessed me with a lot of good people, who have given me a good opportunity.”
It was still a few more years after that until Gainey began to get noticed. He took a job at Dunes West as a cart attendant in 2000 and began impressing members by shooting in the 60s against them on a regular basis.
And it wasn’t just the members who Gainey began to impress. Zemnickas remembers the first time he played with him.They were on the par-5, 531-yard 11th hole, and Gainey was about 250 yards out with the pin tucked near the back with a slight breeze. So Gainey used a 3-wood and stuck it on the back edge of the green.
“I thought he was the craziest person for doing that, but that’s just him,” Zemnickas said. “He’s got a lot of heart. It’s awesome, everything he has done.”
From there, Gainey labored on various mini tours such as the Hooters, Gateway and TarHeel before getting a big chance to appear on the Golf Channel’s “Big Break IV: USA vs. Europe.”
Gainey made such an impression he was asked back for the “Big Break VI: Reunion” which he won earlier this year. Since then, he finished fourth on the money list on the TarHeel Tour, appeared in two Nationwide Tour events and earned a spot in his first PGA event, The Wachovia Championships in Charlotte.
Gainey’s stints on the Big Break have increased his popularity in and outside of the Pee Dee. While playing in the Nationwide event at The Cliffs, fans spelled out “Two Gloves”on T-shirts to cheer him on.
“What they see is a down to Earth country redneck they can relate to,” Gainey said. “They see (a guy who’s) not dumb and does the right thing, doesn’t get into fights or (get) arrested and (they) can relate to me.”