Sam Burns was 10 days away from celebrating his first birthday when David Toms picked up his breakthrough win on the PGA TOUR.
Toms was 30 years old that Sunday when he won the 1997 Quad City Classic and about to become a father for the first time. His son, Carter, and Burns would go on to become good friends, playing baseball and later golf together while growing up in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“He’s spent a lot of time around the house, gone on vacations with us, played a lot of PlayStation upstairs,” Toms recalls. “Just watched them grow up -- and watched him become a great golfer.”
The two boys went to Louisiana State, Toms’ alma mater, although Burns had the most collegiate success, winning the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top collegiate golfer as a junior before turning pro that year. And even now, in his second season on TOUR, Burns has the former PGA Championship winner's ear.
“It’s great,” Burns says. “You can't put a price on that -- just having somebody who's been on here for however long he has, 20-plus years, he's had an incredible career, major winner, he's won out here 13 times or so.
“So just to be able to see it firsthand and then be able to talk to him about it, that's really a really special for me and I think it's something that he enjoys talking about. Yeah, it's been very beneficial for me.”
Ask when the two first met, and neither man is exactly sure. Toms thinks it might have been at Dixie Ball Park at a youth baseball game. Burns seems to remember attending a youth golf clinic Toms was giving when he was maybe 6 or 7 years old.
One thing Burns is clear on, though, is driving three hours from Shreveport to Fort Worth, Texas, to see Toms win the Crowne Plaza Invitational. It was his 13th – and turned out to be his last -- PGA TOUR victory and came a week after Toms lost a playoff to K.J. Choi at THE PLAYERS Championship.
Burns, who got engaged last week at the RBC Heritage, lists that win at Colonial Country Club as his favorite golf memory in his PGA TOUR bio.
“I just remember there was a big buzz about him playing,” he says. “… Everybody kind of knew he was playing well, and you knew that was good golf course for him. One of the things I remember was I was watching when he holed the wedge for eagle. That was pretty cool to see.
“And I just remember everybody was really excited to watch and, you know, as a 14-year-old kid watching any PGA TOUR player, much less a guy that you knew, in contention that it was just a really special moment.”
Toms remembers Carter and Burns coming to New Orleans to see him play in what is now known as the Zurich Classic. He took them into the locker room and introduced them to some players, including Rickie Fowler. Burns plays in the same tournament this week with his partner Cameron Champ.
“It was fun and I'm sure that's been good for Sam being around professional golf even before he was playing amateur golf,” Toms says. “So, I'm sure he feels pretty comfortable in that situation.”
Toms remains a valuable resource for Burns now that he’s in his second year on TOUR. Sometimes the questions are as specific as how to play a particular hole. Or, he might ask Toms about scheduling or whether a certain golf course would suit his game.
“I mean, anytime I have any questions about a golf course, there's probably a 99 percent chance he's played it if it's out here,” Burn says. “So yeah, I've leaned on him for stuff like that for sure.”
“He's a great kid,” Toms says. “He's comes from a good family. So, he has a lot of good advice already, but I think it's probably a good thing for him that somebody like me, that he's close to has, you know, done this for a long time.
“He's got the golf thing figured out. You know, it's more just about, you know, how to do this, how to do that. I mean, he can hit every shot, but … he's just trying to learn as much as he can.”
When Toms was growing up in Shreveport, he looked up to another of Louisiana’s favorite sons, Hal Sutton, who is eight years older. Sutton won 14 times on the PGA TOUR, including THE PLAYERS Championship and PGA in his signature 1983 season.
“What he did for me and all the guys my age, was give us something to shoot at, you know, local guy playing great,” he says. “And I think I was probably able to do the same thing for Sam and a bunch of the kids that grew up in our area.”
The 52-year-old Toms is now a regular on PGA TOUR Champions. He picked up his first victory on the circuit last year at the U.S. Senior Open – with Carter carrying his bag on Thursday and Friday after Toms’ regular caddie, Scott Gneiser, had chest pains and had to be taken to the hospital.
Burns keeps tabs on how his friend is playing on the 50-and-over circuit. And he’s grateful for all Toms’ advice – and says the best has been to trust himself.
“Just play my game and just believe in what you're doing,” Burns says. “I think you can get out here and kind of get sidetracked and wondering what everybody else is doing, how they're playing and all that.
“So, I think one of the things that he's really tried to tell me it was just be yourself and just kind of focus on what I have going on.”