On Grand Strand Golf: Gainey getting back to roots with Swing Thought Tour start

S.C. native Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey won the PGA Tour’s McGladrey Classic in October 2012.
S.C. native Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey won the PGA Tour’s McGladrey Classic in October 2012. The Associated Press

When Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey won the PGA Tour’s McGladrey Classic in October 2012, he won $720,000.

The Bishopville native and Hartsville resident will be playing for a winner’s check of $5,000 this week at Long Bay Club as he gets back to his roots with a start in a Grand Strand-based Swing Thought Tour Carolina Winter Series event.

Gainey, 40, is trying to avoid a period of inactivity as he waits for the start of the 2016 Tour season in late January and resumption of the 2015-16 PGA Tour schedule in early January.

“He’s trying to get some rounds in while the weather is good,” said Gainey’s agent, Paul Graham of Empire Sports Management in Columbia. “This is nothing but, ‘Hey, I’m sitting around for eight weeks before the tour starts so let’s go play an event in my home state.’ If the tour gets something out of Tommy Gainey playing in one of its events, then great.”

Prior to his PGA Tour notoriety, one of the tour’s more appreciated personalities played numerous times on the Strand, at least dating back to three wins on the Gateway Tour Beach Series in 2003 and ’04. He also won multiple times on both the Hooters and eGolf Tours, which have been merged into the Swing Thought Tour.

The event at Long Bay Club on Wednesday and Thursday has an entry fee of $650 for tour members and $850 for non-members and has 21 players registered.

Others in the tournament include recent Coastal Carolina graduate Andrew Dorn, who played in the 2014 U.S. Open, and Thaddeus Wier of Myrtle Beach, who played the 2015 season on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada.

The series has just three more events remaining on the Strand including next Wednesday-Thursday at Farmstead Golf Links and Dec. 15-17 at Crow Creek Golf Club before moving to Georgia and Florida after the new year for five more events through mid-February.

Gainey hasn’t committed to the other two Strand events but may consider it, Graham said.

Gainey is fully exempt on the 2016 Tour and has minimal status on the PGA Tour. He was a full member of the Tour this year and finished 35th on the money list with four top-10s in 20 starts. He also made four cuts in nine events on the 2014-15 PGA Tour with a tie for 32nd in the McGladrey Classic his best finish.

Gainey will have to once again balance an unlimited schedule with an expected handful of opportunities on the PGA Tour based on his status as a recent past champion who finished 215th in FedExCup points in 2015. He’ll also be a candidate for several sponsor exemptions if he chooses to request them.

One good week on the PGA Tour could lead to an automatic start the next week, and continued good play could lead to a full season on tour after status reshuffles. But the top 25 on the Tour money list earn PGA Tour status for the next season, and players finishing in the top 75 are entered in a four-event playoff with an additional 25 PGA Tour cards up for grabs. So if Gainey doesn’t play well in his PGA Tour opportunities, the missed starts on the could hurt him.

“He will probably play a few [PGA Tour events] as he did this year, but most likely will probably concentrate on the,” Graham said. “But when you’re kind of stuck in the middle it’s difficult to turn away PGA Tour events.”

Gainey has already played twice on the PGA Tour this 2015-16 season, finishing 74th in the Sanderson Farms Championship and missing the cut in the RSM Classic (formerly the McGladrey Classic).

Gainey has one of the more inspiring stories in pro golf.

He wrapped insulation around water heaters at the A.O. Smith plant in McBee and never gave up on his dream of playing pro golf at the highest level despite an unorthodox home-grown swing and the anomaly of wearing two gloves.

Gainey was a contestant on Golf Channel’s Big Break IV competition and was invited to participate in Big Break VII, the Reunion at Reunion, which he won.

He got through the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament in December 2007 with a 19th-place finish and finished second to Davis Love III at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic at Disney late in 2008, though it wasn’t enough for him to retain his PGA Tour card. He split time between the PGA and tours in 2009 and got back on the PGA Tour in 2011 after a pair of wins in 2010.

His McGladrey Classic win In 2012, which included a Sea Island Golf Club course-record 60, secured PGA Tour exempt status through 2014.

An elbow injury has hampered Gainey for the past couple years and still bothers him at times, though Graham said he’s doing well physically. Gainey has earned nearly $5.5 million on the PGA Tour with his win and seven top-three finishes.

Dorn back in area

Dorn headed back to the Myrtle Beach area Monday following Thanksgiving with his family outside Cincinnati in West Chester, Ohio, and he expects to remain a resident of the Strand for at least the next year as he embarks on a pro golf career.

Dorn, a three-time All-Big South Conference selection who graduated from CCU in May, plans to play in the three Swing Thought Carolina Series events over the next three weeks. “I’m trying to finish the year on some positive notes and get some momentum going into next year,” Dorn said.

Dorn did not advance through the Second Stage of Tour Q-School and now hopes to qualify for the Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada in 2016.

He moved back to Ohio after graduation and played a strong amateur schedule that included the Southern Amateur and Northeast Amateur, where he finished 34th, then returned to Myrtle Beach late in the summer to continue working with swing coach and former college coach Allen Terrell of the Dustin Johnson Golf School at TPC Myrtle Beach.

“I’ve been playing really good and I think we’ve done a lot of good work,” Dorn said. “I’m very pleased with the way I’ve been playing and started my professional career off.”

Following the Swing Thought events, Dorn plans to put his clubs down for about a month. “I haven’t done that for about five years so that will be nice,” Dorn said.

After working on his game for a month or more he’ll try to find regional events to play in leading up to the Mackenzie Tour Q-School in April. The level of play was high on the tour in 2015, with 36-hole cuts often under par.

“It’s tough because they say you have to shoot it out up there, but it’s one of those steps you have to take,” Dorn said. “There are a lot of good players out there that don’t have a lot of options on where to play. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. I’m looking forward to it if the opportunity comes my way.”

Mini golf, big coverage

Sports Illustrated gave the U.S. ProMiniGolf Master’s and miniature golf in Myrtle Beach some big publicity in its Nov. 27 issue as senior golf writer John Garrity visited the October tournament for a feature story in versions of SI Golf Plus.

The annual tournament hosted by Hawaiian Rumble and Hawaiian Village mini course owner Bob Detwiler had a $12,000 purse, attracted players from around the world and drew additional media attention from SiriusXM’s PGA Tour Radio and other outlets.

Garrity wrote of competitor hole notes that included aiming to a “blue stain on middle brick” or “just left of cigarette burn,” both the fun and intenseness of the competition, tournament tradition that includes the awarding a green windbreaker, and winner Matt Male, who handles client correspondence for J.P. Morgan Chase and earned $4,000 while shooting 72 under over 12 rounds.