(Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)
By Joel Beall
Tommy Gainey returned to the news on Wednesday. This time, thanks to his play.
Gainey, 44, turned in a final-round 69 to win the Korn Ferry Tour’s Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.
“This means everything,” said Gainey afterwards, holding back tears.
Even on the day through 15 holes, Gainey held a one-shot lead well into the back nine. But Gainey converted a 30-foot birdie on the 16th hole and followed with a 10-foot birdie on the 17th. John Oda, playing in the group ahead, drove into the penalty area on the 18th, his bogey granting further breathing room for Gainey. The journeyman put his approach to a few feet on the final hole and cleaned up what remained, his third straight birdie bestowing a four-shot win.
Gainey’s performance in the developmental tour’s opener is surprising on multiple fronts. Winner of the 2012 McGladrey Classic, Gainey has earned $5.6 million in 200 career starts on the PGA Tour, but he lost his Tour card in 2014 and has not held full-status since, with injuries taking a toll on his game and relegating him to the Korn Ferry Tour. He’s especially struggled over the past four years: In 60 OWGR-qualifying starts, Gainey has 40 missed cuts with zero top 10s.
“Of course I lost belief,” Gainey said, asked if he thought he’d ever return to the winner’s circle.
Of greater note, Gainey was one of 124 people arrested in a six-day, undercover sting in early December targeting prostitution, human trafficking and child predators in central Florida. According to Polk County (Fla.) records, Gainey, a married father of two, is facing a first-degree misdemeanor solicitation charge. He was booked on Dec. 8 and released after posting the $500 bail.
Gainey played that week at the final stage of the Korn Ferry qualifying tournament. Though he was among the Round 1 leaders, a 74 and 71 on the weekend ultimately dropped him to T-75.
On the 72nd hole at Emerald Bay, Gainey dedicated the victory to his family.
“My wife, I love her to death,” Gainey said. “Her and the boys mean everything.”
The Golf Channel did not mention the December arrest through the final two days of the broadcast, and Gainey only alluded to “getting his life back on track” in a post-round interview, which could have been a reference to his health. The Korn Ferry Tour told Golf Digest that Gainey was not available for additional questions, and Gainey’s team has not responded to a Golf Digest interview request.
A win doesn’t guarantee promotion to the PGA Tour the next season, but Gainey would be in line to recapture his card for the 2020-’21 campaign with two-to-three more formidable starts this year on the Korn Ferry Tour.