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My Shot

2 Gloves, 1 Mind

Continued (page 2 of 3)

Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do. On the first hole on Sunday at Mayakoba last year, I hit a terrible shot into this low jungle area with caves. My caddie told me not to go down there, that there were snakes all over the place. I've had a deathly fear of snakes my whole life and wanted to follow his advice. The problem was, I was in the top 10 and couldn't afford the penalty. Hoping for some of that good karma, I took a deep breath and crawled down into this dark place, found my ball and slashed it out. Now it was time to get out of there. I turn to climb out, and there, sitting on a ledge, is a huge iguana, staring me in the face. I became almost paralyzed with fear, and the fact I was sick and lightheaded from food poisoning the night before just made it worse. I was too scared to scream. What adrenaline I had left kicked in, and I flew out of that jungle. When I get out, there's my ball on the green, close to the hole, and spectators are cheering. In the space of a minute, I went from the PGA Tour to my vision of hell, and back to the PGA Tour again.

I played on 'the Big Break' twice. What makes the show successful isn't the golf competition. It's the way they put all the guys into a house where you're pretty much forced to interact, and what that leads to on the course. At "The Big Break IV" there were days where they'd start filming at 6:30 a.m. and go until 10 p.m., so we never got a break from each other. There's a lot of bluster, insecurity and fear among the contestants, every type of human emotion. The producers loved that stuff and tried to promote it. Guys would get scared. Off camera you'd hear whispers. "I'm not as good as so-and-so," or "I hope I don't have to play this guy one-on-one," stuff like that. I didn't say anything, but all the time I'm thinking, I sure hope I get to play you, because you're beaten already.

With the girls on the show, all it took was one of them saying something about another one, and it was on. Pam and Ashley, the two girls who went at it on "The Big Break VII," the dislike was real. One little knock set it off, and from there they never forgot and they never forgave. It went on the whole show. It was fun to watch, but I was glad not to be in the middle of that.

Tommy Gainey

Photo: J.D. Cuban

The thing about "The Big Break" is, one shot can make or break you. I'd say I felt as much pressure on that show as I do on the PGA Tour, because on tour there's always tomorrow. On "The Big Break" it often comes down to one shot, usually in one of those challenges, and if you blow it you're gone. The best player doesn't necessarily win. When I was on "The Big Break IV," I thought I was the best player, but I didn't win. On "The Big Break VII" I felt I was the best player, and I did win.

I grew up idolizing Fred Couples. He's the ultimate smooth operator. He swings smooth, moves around smooth, never gets ruffled, makes things look so easy. The first time I met Fred, I was real nervous. I think he noticed, because he went out of his way to make me feel at ease. The thing about reaching the tour later than most players is, it's hard to put yourself on the same level as your heroes. Convincing yourself you can belong on the same stage with people you've held in awe for so long is a big challenge. But you have to do it to survive.

The great ball-strikers get most of the attention, but it's the good short games I admire the most. The best I've seen on tour is Fredrik Jacobson. His swing isn't a whole lot prettier than mine, but he can do things around the greens that are amazing. At the Texas Open last year, it seemed like he got up and down every time he missed a green. He tied for fifth that week hitting shots around the green I couldn't believe. I played with him again at the Travelers, where he won, and it was the same thing. There isn't a tour player who can't hit it great. But it's the wedge and putter that win.

There are a lot of kids out there who think they have a chance of getting to the PGA Tour who probably won't make it. The average player doesn't realize how hard it is or how good you have to be. But my advice is, try. If you don't give it a shot you'll spend the rest of your life wondering, and you'll never forgive yourself.

I love Little League baseball. The big rivalry was Payne & Williams versus First Citizens Bank, and it was fierce. I played for First Citizens, and when I was 10, 11 and 12 we won the regular season. We had no problem with Payne & Williams, and we knew we were better. But in the playoffs, Payne & Williams beat us all three years. Even as a kid, I could feel the momentum going against us, our confidence slipping away. The kids from Payne & Williams played like they knew it was their destiny to win. That was my first lesson in never taking anything for granted.

Baseball is where I started wearing two gloves. I never changed when I started playing golf. It's no gimmick. I've tried every combination of playing with only one, the other or both, and it doesn't work. My hands sweat easily, they also get cold, and the gloves help me hold on to the club better.

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