CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Talk about a Big Break. Tommy "Two Gloves" Gainey has made the most of his second shot on the PGA Tour with nearly $2 million in earnings at spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
"The next thing left is to win," Gainey said.
And, oh, has he come close. Gainey's finished third at The RBC Heritage, The Zurich Classic of New Orleans and The Wyndham Championship. Gainey held the third-round lead in Phoenix last winter and was three shots in front at the Wyndham in Greensboro, N.C., before losing out to Webb Simpson.
Gainey, always confident, knows that breakthrough will come -- and sooner rather than later. Gainey is still alive in golf's playoffs, in 54th spot heading into next week's BMW Championship at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club.
Gainey was at the Daniel Island Club promoting the Nationwide Tour Championship, which will take place here next month. A season ago, Gainey was completing a turnaround season -- he won twice on the Triple-A tour -- and regaining his PGA Tour card after losing it a year earlier.
Gainey can't place enough importance on those victories on where he is these days. It was validation he could succeed -- and not just on TV where he won Golf Channel's "Big Break" competition in 2007.
"When you have those things going for you, it's just playing golf and having fun and that's what it's about," Gainey said.
Gainey has played 29 events and said the fatigue of a long season affected him the first two playoff events as he missed the cut at The Barclays and the Deutche Bank Championship. He feels the week off and time with son Tommy III has reenergized him for a late playoff run. Gainey said he needs a top 10 finish to make the top 30 and advance to the Tour Championship. He said that was also likely to get him into next year's Masters, a dream he's had since he learned the game in Darlington growing up.
Gainey took to the game immediately after he tried it as a 15-year-old. A rising prep baseball player, Gainey kept his odd, 10-fingered grip and wore gloves on both hands, the origin of his nickname. Gainey couldn't draw attention of college golf coaches and instead went to Central Carolina Technical College and earned an industrial maintenance certificate.
That led to a place testing water heaters and working the assembly line at an A.O. Smith plant. Still, Gainey was sure he could play -- and as good as almost anyone.
Gainey finally got his big break on, well, the TV show that showcased his grit and talent. He finally made the PGA Tour in 2007 on his seventh try at Q-school. But things didn't go so well on tour for "Two Gloves."
He struggled to find his game, missing 15 of 16 cuts in one stretch during 2008. He showed signs of life late in the year when he finished second at The Children's Miracle Network Classic. But Gainey had limited playing privileges the next season and could not play his way up the money standings, finishing 191st.
Gainey used the demotion as a wakeup call and finally found his game on the Nationwide Tour in 2010. Besides the two victories, he had a pair of top-3 finishes and earned $403,000 to return to the PGA Tour. This time, Gainey didn't let it slip it away.
That's how it's been for many Nationwide Tour graduates, said tour president Bill Calfee. He said how last month's PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley was asked how he'd won a major title at 25 years old. Bradley credited his time on the Nationwide Tour and Gainey done the same with his success. "Obviously, we love to hear that," he said.
Gainey wants to give the Nationwide Tour even more to be proud of. He can't wait to play Cog Hill, which he things fits his game well. Gainey will play in the PGA Tour's fall series and then concentrate on bigger things ahead.
No matter how successful he becomes, the 35-year-old Gainey knows he won't escape his "Two Gloves" persona -- and he doesn't want to. He proudly discussed stopping for lunch at a Hardee's -- "Hardee's got a good burger and I'm all about that" -- and hearing his nickname from galleries across the country. "The best compliment you can get is when the fans scream out your name and are really pulling for you because they've got better things to do with their lives," Gainey said. "It's really humbling for me."