I never quite found the appropriate time to ask Tom Gillis if he could remember how many times he’d seen the inside of a media center before this week, but given his candor and realistic view of his good yet unspectacular career, I doubt he would have minded. Gillis is a self-described prototypical journeyman — a guy who bounced back-and-forth from the Nationwide Tour and the PGA Tour, along with just about every other international circuit.
The 43-year-old who finished tied for second with Tiger Woods on Sunday played in 26 different countries and he has the greatest stories about his experiences (that he actually doesn’t mind sharing). Like the time he won the Jamaican Open in 1993 and he almost fired his local caddie after the practice round because the guy stole his tennis shoes, but kept him on since he was a brilliant at reading the greens that had seen better days. With the expertise of this caddie, Gillis dropped long bombs, helping him to the winner’s circle.
“The greens were awful (at the event in 1993),” said Gillis, bringing up the entertaining anecdote on Saturday in his post-round presser. “I remember playing a practice round with my college roommate and I made about three or four 30‑ and 40‑footers like I did today on these awful greens.
“When I got done, (the caddie) gave me my bag and said, ‘I’ll see you Thursday.’ So I got down to the lobby of the hotel and my shoes were gone. So I’m thinking, geez, the guy stole my tennis shoes; I mean, who else had the bag. So I was all mad, I’m like, that’s it, I’m firing this guy, he’s done.
“My buddy, my roommate, Trevor, he’s like:, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. You’ve got to be the stupidest guy I know if you’re going to fire this guy.’
“I said, ‘Why?’
“He said, ‘You made three or four 40‑footers in the practice round on the worst greens you’ve ever putted on; the guy can read them great.’
“Well, I win the tournament; I won by about five shots, beat Jim Thorpe and some other guys. So I’m kind of glad I didn’t fire him.”
Gillis, laughing, said the Jamaican caddie now lives in the U.S. and they’ve remained pretty good friends. In fact, he was in Gillis’ gallery watching and rooting for him on Saturday at PGA National.
“He was from Kingston, and it was a very tough area and it was more of a survival thing,” Gillis said of the (alleged) theft. “He needed them worse than I needed them.”
Gillis was around 24 or 25 when he won the ’93 Jamaican Open, which is a few years older than the current age of his playing partners on Sunday in the final round of the Honda Classic. Rory McIlroy and Harris English are both 22 and their combined age is almost equal to Gillis’ 43 years. While the two young stars will likely (well, Rory probably already has) have more illustrious careers than Gillis, don’t underestimate the journeyman’s game or his wisdom.
I made a tongue-in-cheek comment in this week’s PGA Tour Confidential (which you should check out if you haven’t already!), and jokingly said, “I was super impressed with Tom Gillis. I thought for sure he would remember he was Tom Gillis for at least one round this weekend.”
Now that was no disrespect to Tom Gillis. In fact, just the opposite and I’d imagine Tom would have a laugh at it, too. I thought Gillis’ T2 finish and fine ballstriking, along with his scrambling, should have deserved more attention than it did. And it would have, but Rory’s win and coronation, along with Tiger’s 62 was going to overshadow just about any other storyline.
Well, here’s me giving props to the veteran (who is a profile waiting to be written). He also shared some words of wisdom for Q-school grad and rookie Harris English, who became the third amateur to win a NWT event last May, but struggled playing in the last group on Sunday on the biggest stage in golf.
“It’s just like Harris English today,” said Gillis on Sunday, referring to McIlroy’s bounce back after his Masters final-round collapse. “I said to (Harris) on 18, ‘You just have to get this out of the way. You’re going to be in this situation, you gotta expect to be in this situation for the next 20 years. Some days are going to be good, some days are going to bad — that’s the way it is.'”
He’s right. It sounds so cliche, but I think Sunday was a huge learning experience for Harris and he’ll take a lot away from it. I don’t think he expected to shoot 77 (well, who does?), but he’s so composed, and every time he’s been in contention going into the final round, he’s never blown up like he did at the Honda. Welcome to the bigs, kid!
Regardless, Harris has a lot of positives to take away from the week and he’ll be better prepared the next time he’s in contention on a Sunday. Trust me, the kid is going to win sooner rather than later. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him in the winner’s circle this season and he’s crowned rookie of the year. (I’ll get back to you in a few months, obviously, but this kid is the real deal.)
From getting to know Harris since Q-school, he looked a little shell-shocked after signing his scorecard on Sunday, but of course, he still stuck around and spoke to reporters politely and patiently, not to mention graciously.
“(Rory) definitely has a lot more experience even though we’re the same age,” said English, who graduated from the University of Georgia last spring. “He’s been pro for 4-plus years and I”m just getting out here. He’s a heck of a player. I enjoyed playing alongside him today. It was awesome.”
Despite posting the highest round of his rookie season, he had a good time playing in the lead group and seeing Tiger Woods climb the ‘board. He said, “It was good to be in contention and get that feeling — that’s what we play for.”
Harris also confirmed Rory’s poise after Tiger made eagle on 18 to get within a shot of the lead.
“I know (Rory) knew what had happened and he kind of collected himself and ended up making a great shot and putt (on 13),” said English, who has made six cuts in six starts in 2012. “It showed a lot about him as a person and his poise. He didn’t let (what Tiger was doing) affect him and he kept doing what he was doing and kept hitting great shots. It was fun to watch.”
As for his own game, Harris was still trying to process the strange day, but all things considered, he was composed and the consummate professional.
“Not really,” he said when asked if he’d experienced anything similar to Sunday. “It’s a lot different (than the Nationwide Tour and the top college and amateur ranks), this is the best caliber of golf in the world. It’s good for me to match up my game and see what I need to work on the next couple of weeks. It was a good experience for me.
“The last three days I played real well. There are only four-five shots today — usually iron shots — that I need to hit differently and not spin the ball so much and just work on stuff like that. i feel like I drove the ball and putted real well. It’s just the little stuff.”
Was he nervous?
He said he wasn’t, but he might have been pumped up on adrenaline or just not realized he had some nerves rushing through him.
“I thought I’d be more nervous,” said English, who will make his next start at the Transitions Championship, held at Innisbrook’s Cooperhead course, where he won the Southern Amateur last year. “Looking back, I probably hit some shots I wouldn’t have normally hit. I’m trying to curve the ball with the wind instead of holding it opposite the wind. The change in the direction of the wind kind of hurt me today — some of the lines were different and I just wasn’t’ comfortable with it. You just have to learn from it.”
Indeed. Like I said, welcome to the bigs, kid. You’ve got a bright future ahead of you.
Oh, I got to play this tiny track called Medalist Golf Club while I was in the Palm Beach area last week. I’ll post about it soon, but boy, it was a treat and just as spectacular and sadistic as everyone says. Stay tuned.
And in case you haven’t seen enough of Sunday’s highlights, here’s the reel from the PGATour.com:
Good news: You don’t have to hear anyone utter the words “Bear Trap” for another year.
(AP Photo/Rainier Earnhardt)