Gainey was playing on the biggest of stages, but just not very well. At one point, he had missed 13 straight cuts and thought about giving up. Maybe he just couldn't hack it out here.
"Yeah," Gainey said, "I thought about quitting."
Sometime on Sunday -- after he shot a final-round, 10-under 60 to rally past multiple Hall of Fame-type golfers, including one of his idols to win The McGladrey Classic -- Gainey probably took a second to stop and thank himself for not giving up. Or at least he should have.
Gainey, 37, is no longer just a PGA TOUR golfer; he's a successful one and a champion to boot.
"It feels like I'm in a dream," Gainey said from Sea Island Golf Club, where he finished at 16-under 264, one shot ahead of David Toms and two in front of Jim Furyk. "I'm just waiting for somebody to slap me upside the head or pinch me or something to wake me up."
When he teed off on Sunday morning, Gainey was certainly wide awake. He had to be, as he trailed 54-hole leaders Furyk and tournament host Davis Love III by seven shots.
Birdie by birdie, Gainey -- nicknamed "Two Gloves" because he plays with two when he swings and putts -- climbed closer. After an outward 31, he drained a 10-footer on the 11th for another birdie. Then an 11-footer went home on the 13th and a 20-footer fell on No. 14. "I was just trying to make birdies all day," Gainey said of the mentality he learned while successfully playing the mini tours.
For once, Gainey appeared to get into some trouble on the par-5 15th, as his second shot found the greenside bunker. No problem. Gainey landed his sand shot softly on the fringe and watched it roll into the cup for an eagle 3. It moved him to 9 under for his round and gave him the outright lead by two shots."Actually, I wasn't thinking about 59," Gainey said. "All I did all day was just try to make birdies and a lot of birdies because when you're seven shots back, your chances of winning a PGA TOUR tournament, especially with the leaders, Davis Love III and Jim Furyk, it don't bide in your favor, man."
After another birdie on the 16th, Gainey just needed to birdie one of the final two holes to become just the sixth player in PGA TOUR history to shoot a 59.
His tee shot on the par-3 17th landed 44 feet away and he two-putted for a par. On the 18th, Gainey wrapped his two black gloves around his driver and ripped a drive 325 yards down the middle -- so far that it rolled through the fairway into the rough.
Gainey played a nice approach, though, and it came to rest 19 feet, 3 inches from the hole. That was all that stood between him and history. And Gainey, who finished with only 24 putts, left it an inch short.
Afterward, his caddie Marvin King told Gainey, "Of all the people on TOUR that could have shot 59, I didn't think you'd be the one that would leave it short."
Gainey's story has been told before: A South Carolina native, he played well in high school but wasn't recruited by colleges. He went to technical school and eventually landed a full-time position with A.O. Smith, where he wrapped insulation on water heaters on an assembly line, making $8.25 an hour. On the weekends is where the legend of "Two Gloves" began to grow. Gainey became known as a hustler -- his unconventional swing only added to the persona -- and he eventually began a career playing the mini tours. He won Golf Channel's "Big Break" in 2007, netting him $25,000. He would also qualify for the PGA TOUR that year through q school.
He had gone through all of that, and yet still thought about quitting in 2008. Gainey lost his card in 2009, but stayed with it and played the Web.com Tour in 2010 -- winning twice.
Last season, Gainey enjoyed a solid season, collecting a handful of top-five finishes. Still, he had doubts.
It was at the 2011 PGA Championship where Gainey said Furyk requested to play a practice round with him and told Gainey to believe in himself. Furyk is a 16-time winner on TOUR, but perhaps that message carried even more weight because Furyk doesn't possess a cookie cutter-type swing, either.
"He said, 'You got the game to be out here and to win. Just keep your head up and just keep trying, and sooner or later it's going to happen.
"And you know, who knows what would have happened if we didn't play nine holes together or even had a talk."
Now, Gainey talks as a champion, holding off Furyk and one of his childhood idols Love down the stretch. He had to wait some 2 hours before both third-round leaders finished.
"You got Hall-of-Famers chasing me, you got future Hall-of-Famers chasing me now," Gainey said. "I'm Tommy Gainey. I'm 'Two Gloves.' ... I mean, I was nervous."
From now on, Tommy "Two Gloves" might make more than a few others nervous on Sundays. A good golfer can do that, especially one that has won before.