KIAWAH ISLAND — Some 10 years ago, Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey was working as a cart attendant at Dunes West Golf Club in Mount Pleasant, and living rent-free in a hotel owned by a friend.
On Monday, some of Gainey’s friends from Dunes West followed him around the Ocean Course and cheered loudly as the 36-year-old from Darlington played a practice round at the PGA Championship.
“This is pretty special for me,” Gainey said after stepping off the 18th green. “I haven’t been back to Dunes West in a long time, so it’s good to see some of those familiar faces.”
It goes without saying that Gainey has come a long way since those days at Dunes West. With nine top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour, he’s won more than $3.6 million in his career.
But this is just Gainey’s second appearance in a major. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship in 2011.
“It’s special for me to just to be part of this field,” he said. “From top to bottom, it’s pretty stout.”
Gainey played an Ocean Course practice round last week with Darius Rucker — “Hit it in the fairway” was the Hootie and the Blowfish singer’s advice — and watched his beloved Gamecocks practice football in Columbia.
“Any time I have an off week and they are practicing, I’ll be there,” he said.
But as Thursday’s opening round draws closer, this week will become less about a homecoming and more about competing for Gainey, who has been slowed this season by injuries.
“I’m healthy, and when you are healthy you have a shot,” he said. “This is glory’s last shot, and everyone here has a shot at it.”
Tiger Woods was the first player on the driving range Monday morning, getting in a quick practice round on the back nine. He finished tied for eighth in the WGC-Bridgestone on Sunday in Akron, Ohio, shooting 66-68 on the weekend. He’s the only player so far to mathematically secure a spot on the Ryder Cup team.
“I feel very good about where I’m at,” Woods said Sunday. “I’m excited about it. I was hitting it long, I was hitting it straight, and my irons I was shaping both ways in all different trajectories,with the wind blowing.”
Wofford graduate William McGirt squeezed into the 156-player field over the weekend and will play in his first major. He hadn’t played the Ocean Course since he was a Terrier golfer in 1998.
“It’s a lot different than I remember,” he said. “The fairways are more generous although there is pretty severe penalty for missing a shot off the tee or around the greens. It actually sets up pretty well for me because I can hit a lot of drivers out here and get it in play and you aren’t hitting a bunch of hybrids or 3-4-5-irons into the greens.”
Autograph seekers were all over the Ocean Course on Monday, but none more charming than the little girl in a pink dress near the 17th green. “Mr. Stott! Mr. Stott!” she called out.
Adam Scott beckoned her to come under the ropes, then signed her program to cheers from the crowd. The Australian star signed for about five minutes as he walked from the 17th green to the 18th tee in the middle of his practice round.
No attendance figures were available for Monday’s practice rounds, PGA Championship director Brett Sterba said the crowd was great and that he was very pleased. The stands behind the driving range and the 17th green were popular spots.
At 7,676 yards, the Ocean Course is officially the longest course in major championship history, edging by two yards the 2009 PGA at Hazeltine National ... Italy’s Matteo Manassero is the youngest player in the field, and PGA club pro Darrell Kestner the oldest at 59.
A surfer walks the beach along the shore at the Ocean Course on Kiawah as spectators view the first day of practice at the PGA Championship. (Grace Beahm/postandcourier.com)×
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