Tommy Tolles' timely gem moves him on in Playoffs
October 23, 2019
By Bob McClellan, PGATOUR.COM
- October 23, 2019
- Tolles finished solo second to advance to the second leg of the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs. (Stan Badz / PGA TOUR)
If ever there is a time to post one’s best result of the season on PGA TOUR Champions, the first event of the Charles Schwab Cup playoffs is a fine choice. The points are doubled, and a finish such at Tommy Tolles’ solo second can take a player from unlikely to advance to the next playoff event to the cusp of a spot in the coveted 36-man field for the Schwab Cup Championship finale in Phoenix.
Tolles did a lot right at the Dominion Energy Classic in Richmond, Virginia, en route to shooting 65-67-68 and finishing 16 under. It tied his career-best finish and vaulted him 22 spots in the standings, to 37th. That means a top-half finish at the Invesco QQQ Championship next week in Sherman Oaks, California, would virtually ensure Tolles his first chance to play in the season finale.
The problem for Tolles, 53, is he can’t tell you exactly went right. No, really, he can’t. He even has broken down the film and still is without a clue.
“I watched the telecast, recorded some swings, mirrored them up against some swings I saved earlier in the year and there’s really no difference,” Tolles said. “Everything has been missing from my game, and last week everything came together.
“Nobody is more surprised than I am.”
At least Tolles is honest. He said nothing new was in play – no ball or equipment changes. If he knew how to recapture it he’d surely have more than two top 10s to his credit in 16 starts this year.
Tolles has done two things well this season, one of which he was aware and one of which came as a surprise. He’s 11th in driving distance and 28th in putting average.
He knows he’s a big hitter. And it’s intentional.
“I'm trying to win the long-drive contest on every single tee shot,” Tolles said. “If I'm trying to squeeze it in between trees, it’s going to be a long day for me. I’m not about kicking field goals. I’m about scoring touchdowns.”
Length can be a player’s best friend, particularly on PGA TOUR Champions. Even if he’s not particularly accurate, a 9-iron or pitching wedge from the rough still can be a scoring club.
But it has been part of Tolles’ frustration in a mostly forgettable season before the Dominion Energy Charity Classic.
“I drove the ball fairly decent all year long, buy my iron game has been very abysmal,” Tolles said. “The putting … that (his rank in putting average) surprises me. It's been solid, but it's been far from good.
“Most of my year I attribute to my iron game. You know when your proximity is … when your average is 30 feet per green in regulation, that's just horrific. Don't you think about, especially if I’m 11th in driving, hiting a lot of 9-irons and wedges, and the best I can muster up is 30 feet? For every 30-footer you should have one within 3 feet of the cup. And the average should be 15-20 feet. When it’s going good everything should be 15 feet or in. I should be eating the par 5s alive. I’ve made my fair share of 4s, but I’ve also had a lot of 6s with circles around them.”
Tolles hit 10 of 14 fairways during each round in Richmond for 71.43% driving accuracy. It was T25 in the field, but well above his 60.12% for the year. He felt like the landing areas were generous, which won’t be the case at the Invesco QQQ and even less so at the tree-lined Phoenix Country Club.
Tolles made it to the second playoff event last year and finished T30.
“I was a really big fan of the golf course (Sherwood Country Club),” Tolles said. “There's a few holes out there that are, you know, they catch your attention. But for the most part, it's more like a navigator’s type of golf course. If you're going to hit it you're better off to be on the right side of the fairway, which is not really my game.”
Not even Tolles is sure if we’ll see Touchdown Tommy or Tommy Trepidation come the next event.
“I’m looking forward to next week for sure,” Tolles said. “It's just one of those things where you go out … if I can continue to put good swings on it, yeah I think I might have a slightly different attitude approaching the tournament. But, you know, I’m pretty fragile right now so all it will take is a couple swings and next thing I know I'll be back to scratching my head.”