Thursday, February 22, 2007

At 5-10 and 160 pounds, David Toms doesn't appear all that imposing oN TV. But in person he looks, well, the same. Nothing much. Slight. Average. "But I'm not a small person," he says. "I don't let people walk all over me." The 38-year-old from Louisiana proved as much when he shredded the field at this year's WGC-Accenture Match Play, and his fairways-and-greens style should work well this month at Pinehurst. In a conversation at his home in Shreveport, Toms spoke candidly about the Goliaths he's slain, the painful arthritis that runs in his family, and the reason he'll be one jittery player at the U.S. Open.

You once said, "I wear a medium shirt and I'm a medium person." What did you mean?

I'm noncontroversial — not a big ego, or in your face.

This year at the Match Play at La Costa, you blew everyone away yet insisted you'd never be a top-five player. But you're ranked eighth in the world. Why couldn't you be No. 1?

It has to do with physical limitation. Who was the last guy under six feet that was No. 1? I can't remember. And that's certainly not the direction that the game is headed.

Has the power game ruled that out?

Take what happened this year at Doral. Tiger and Phil were up there at the end, with Vijay right behind them. Then you've got Zach Johnson and myself. If the wind was blowing, and there was deep rough, maybe we would have had a chance. I was 7-under through 12 holes on Sunday, and I wasn't gaining any ground. We had no chance. If you play 7,400-yard courses, and you don't have any rough and no penalty off the tee, those guys just wail on it. The power player will win every time. It happens a lot. It happened all last year and the year before. And I don't see it changing.

So are there Tour events that a guy like you — a control player who hits it 280 off the tee — can't win? [Pauses.] Yes. Unless they change things.



Like course setup? Some say that if you set up courses as hard as you can, then the best player in the world isn't a member of the Fab Four but someone like Retief Goosen or you.



You've done pretty well for a shorter hitter. You're sixth in all-time earnings.

Last year, Billy Andrade asked me to talk at his club in Atlanta. He introduces me, looks at some stats, and says, "Holy smokes! David's the No. 9 all-time money winner on Tour — $18 million!" All I can say is, I'm in golf at a good time. When other guys don't even realize [how much I've won], I guess I'm doing it quietly.



You had surgery on your left wrist at the end of 2003. Did you fear your career was over?



Your recovery wasn't easy. What was the low point?



How's the wrist now?

What I have is called "carpal bossing." It starts with arthritis in the joints, and then bone spurs build up. Then the tendons rub on it, and it gives you a kind of tendinitis. When I had the surgery, they cut off the spurs. Now the tendon's not rubbing on it. See all this scar tissue? [He points to a spot on the back of his left hand, about two inches in diameter.] Right now all of this is numb. You could stick me with a pin and I couldn't feel it. Not a bit.



How does the condition affect you?

You cried after winning in Memphis last year, when you were coming off the injury.

That was huge, to find out I could still play like that. During the [2001] PGA, I was playing so good that Fred Funk said to me, "I'd better buy pom-poms." We were paired together again last year in Memphis. I was lapping the field, and he reaches into his bag and grabs a pair of pom-poms and starts shaking them and doing a cheerleader routine. I don't remember what cheers he did — I was too busy laughing.



After you won, you said you were back to 100 percent. But you really weren't.




Who taught you the game growing up in Louisiana?



You got good very fast. You were in high school and you shot a 67 at a charity tournament that Hal Sutton staged.



Things got even better when you met your wife, Sonya, in 1991. Do you feel like an overachiever in the looks department?

[Laughs] Definitely. A lot of guys on Tour have overachieved. But she knew me when I was driving a Honda.



What's the long-term prognosis? Could arthritis cut short your career?

You've got one child, your son, Carter...



So our June cover will read: "David Toms: Why he's not playing the Open."


[Laughs.] No, I'm definitely playing.



Will you wear a baby beeper, like Phil Mickelson in 1999?



So you'd leave if called, but she might not call?



You watch a lot of golf on TV. How do you feel about Johnny Miller?

I don't have a problem with him. He calls it like he sees it. If he says I screwed up or choked, it's probably the truth. You know, I played with him the last time he won a Tour event at Pebble Beach [in 1994]. It was great. He'd use the claw grip one hole, go cross-handed the next. He chipped in three or four times. We played right behind Bill Murray, who was pulling people out of the crowd, taking pictures with them on the greens. It's like playing behind the state fair, but Johnny was in his own little world. He just went out and won it.



Good thing Johnny didn't call the Wachovia Championship in 2003, when you four-putted the last hole, but still won. What happened?

That was strange, because I was totally in control for 71 holes. Then [on the green] I was thinking, How big a fool am I going to make of myself? It just shows you how powerful the mind is. All of a sudden, I couldn't execute. I just wanted to get the heck out of town. Collect, and get out.



What's your most memorable win? Is it the 2001 PGA Championship?

Actually, winning in New Orleans [at the 2001 Compaq Classic]. I got into the zone there and shot something like 17-under on the weekend. The fans were into it. I was into it. It was magical. It was almost like I had a Tiger Woods gallery. I think that's one reason he does so well. The fans are pulling so hard, you feed off it. Every time you hit the green, you think, I've got to make this putt because these people are excited.



You and Sonya posed for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. Was that a difficult decision?



You said your Match Play win was the best you've ever played. Can anyone beat you at your best?



You're gaining a reputation as a match-play specialist — you're 18-5 at the Match Play and 4-3-1 in the Ryder Cup. What happened to the team at Oakland Hills?



Mickelson and Woods were paired together on the first day. What's the conflict between those two?



How would you handle the team if you were Ryder Cup captain?



Take it more seriously?



Speaking of Mickelson, it's been almost four years since your PGA Championship victory. Did you feel guilty about stealing if from poor, majorless Phil Mickelson?


[Laughs] Absolutely not. I knew his time would come. I could tell the crowd wanted him to win. But [the win] did a lot more for me than it would have for him. It put me on the map. He was already on it. Here was a guy who'd won a ton of tournaments, made zillions of dollars, had his own airplane. The only thing he hadn't done was win a major.



Most people remember your ace on Saturday, at the 227-yard par-3 15th. And your layup on the 72nd hole on Sunday.



You know, your humility can be really annoying sometimes.



You laid up on the 490-yard 18th.




Then you gave Mickelson, who you were playing with, a little fist-pump.



Was the win a life-altering experience?



Are you saying guys like Rich Beem, Todd Hamilton and Ben Curtis shouldn't be doing that sort of thing?



You've done well enough to give yourself a few presents, like that 500-acre hunting reserve in Arkansas.



You also like to pass the time fishing. I know at the HP Classic, they helicopter players out to go deep-sea fishing. Do you think Tour perks are a little out of control?



Speaking of cars, I hear you like to tailgate before LSU football games.

My wife doesn't let us sit out there for very long. Before every home game, for the last two years, I've gone into the locker room before the game. But you can't get hammered and then go to the locker room reeking of Budweiser and talk to the coach about the plays he's gonna run. That wouldn't go over very well.

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