DAVID Toms says he goes out of his way to avoid conflict, but he’ll engage if provoked. Years ago, at a Nike Tour event in Mexico, he got into a heated dispute with his caddie over which club to hit.
The bag-toter pushed the 6-iron, Toms wanted his 5. Toms won out, and made a hole-in-one. He fired the caddie three holes later. Toms went on to become one of the fiercest competitors on the PGA Tour, climbing to seventh on the all-time earnings list (although he was completely unaware of that fact when asked about it). He’s also thrived in the game’s most combative arena — match play — with 18 wins and just 5 losses in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, a record bettered only by Tiger Woods.
In May 2005, Toms showed his grit off the course when, after a financial dispute over his endorsement money, he sued his agent, David K. Parker, and Links Sports Management Group. The suit was scheduled to go to trial in April, but was settled with a confidentiality agreement in the offseason. And so Toms rolls on, winning nearly every year whether he needs it or not. Here, the devout duck hunter talks about his health scare, the U.S. team’s Ryder Cup woes and his ugly run-in with a Fred Couples fan.
It’s been almost a year since you suffered a rapid heartbeat and paramedics rushed you off the golf course. What were your thoughts as you were being loaded into the ambulance?
I was really scared. I was looking at [my caddie Scott Gneiser] thinking, “Am I going to die? Am I having a heart attack?” I think they gave me some morphine to settle everything down and then they airlifted me. That was the neatest part — they wheeled me on a stretcher right up the tail of this medical helicopter.
Did you think about your wife, Sonya, and your two kids?
Oh, sure, because I’m thinking, “What are they thinking? I’m OK, we’ve just got to figure out what’s wrong.” But they didn’t know what was going on at all. After I saw it [on TV] I was like, geez, that would have been spooky to watch.
You had surgery…
I’d call it a “procedure.”
Were you awake for the procedure?
At points. It’s weird. They want you to be awake enough to where you can control your breathing because they go in and make your heart race, because they’re looking for all the bad spots. They do what’s called mapping the heart, where they go in and burn off all the bad areas. You have to be awake enough to hold your breath or control your breathing.
The procedure was a success, but then you started having back trouble. You saw [back specialist] Dr. Tom Boers this morning, right?
I did. He helped me at Denver this year. I was still struggling a little bit with my back. He has his own ideas and he’s very helpful. Golf is not good for the body.
I guess not. You missed seven weeks over the summer. Are you as bad off as Fred Couples?
I don’t think so. If I do what I’m supposed to do my back shouldn’t keep me from playing golf. It’s a maintenance issue more than anything else. No more jumping out of the car and throwing on my shoes and hitting off the first tee.
The U.S. Ryder Cup team got waxed again last year. What happened this time?
I think at least for the first two days it was a lot closer than what the score showed. A lot of matches went the distance; I know because I watched a lot of golf on that 18th hole. And it seemed every one of them went the other team’s way. Why? I don’t know. I don’t have a theory. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We just didn’t get the points from the people we expected to get points from, including myself.
What did you think when you found out you were going off first on Sunday against Colin Montgomerie?
It showed that Tom [Lehman] had confidence in me. I knew I needed to get our team off to a good start. I . didn’t request anything; he just made the pairings and he thought Montgomerie would go out first. We started in some awful weather. It was raining and windy and nasty, and [Montgomerie] got off to a good start, birdied 3 and 4. Still, I thought I had a chance for a half-point, and he just made an awesome up-and-down on 18.
Everybody harps on the Americans’ inability to bond. Did the U.S. team’s pre- Ryder Cup trip to Ireland pay dividends?
I think it was good for the team, good for bonding. A lot was made of Phil and Tiger breaking commitments to be there, but what about the other guys who might have had things going on? I hadn’t been home one day in a month. And then I was gone for what, three more days? I mean, everybody had his own little story but made a commitment.
Switching to happier subjects, everyone remembers the hole-in-one you made with a 5-wood at the 2001 PGA Championship, but didn’t you make an ace during a Nike Tour event in Mexico after a fight with your caddie?
It was one of those things where he’d never worked for me before — I’d gone down there without a caddie. I think he was from Houston. He was a nice guy but one of those guys who try to be a little too helpful. During the course of that argument, after I’d said something, he said, “If you listened to me you’d be winning this tournament.” Needless to say he wasn’t around for the next day.
Where is the famed 5-wood today?
It’s still in my bag. Same shaft, same everything. Cleveland QuadPro, it’s called. Still hitting it.
You’ve got 12 victories and one major — numbers very similar to those of Paul Azinger, Fred Couples, Jim Furyk and some others. Do you feel you need to win another major to set yourself apart for Hall of Fame consideration.
Yeah, I think so. Either that or hit the 20- win plateau. I would like to someday be considered for the Hall of Fame. I know I still have a lot of tournaments to win and majors to contend in before I’d ever be considered.
You love to duck hunt. When’s the season kick off?
The second week of November. My dad has the hunting dog. My wife won’t let me have one. My son, I can’t go without him. He’s 9. He shoots, and he loves it. He falls asleep on the way home but he doesn’t have a problem getting up early.
How old was your son when you got him started with a shotgun?
He was 6 or 7 years old when he killed his first duck, and he’s been going with me since before then.
How many shotguns do you own?
Let’s see. [Pauses.] Six.
Speaking of taking dead aim, is it true that for the PGA Tour TV spot in which you hit lob shots into a rooftop satellite dish, the producers had planned to lob balls into the dish from off-camera?
The idea was they would show me hitting a shot and then show the ball hitting the dish. I said, “No, I can do it.” I started with someone else’s wedge and Pinnacle golf balls, and after about five or six shots it wasn’t working. So I pulled out my wedge and some Titleist golf balls and started to hit it every once in a while. It was fun.
How many shots did it take you to hit it?
I was 4-for-19 total, but for the first five or six I didn’t have my own club. So I wasn’t bad with my own club, about 4-for-13 or -14.
It’s great that you’re not sure where you are on the all-time money list, but you know you were 4-for-19 in hitting golf balls into a satellite dish.
[Laughs.] I remember the important things!
How have you shortchanged yourself during your career?
From a commitment standpoint. You can’t imagine the requests that I get through my office. It could be anything from signing a picture to going to do a junior clinic in Wyoming. I don’t get that much personal time as it is. I can’t remember waking up and thinking, “You know, I don’t have anything I have to do today.” It doesn’t happen. Saying no is tough for me.
Isn’t that your agent’s job?
Yeah, but that’s another subject — we split ways about two years ago. [Toms sued his management firm because of a financial dispute over endorsements. The suit was settled out of court.]
Messy breakup, right?
Right. That’s been a tough thing. I mean that’s somebody who I trusted for a long time and we parted ways and it’s been somewhat ugly for the last year and a half. I’d like that situation to be better.
Has it affected your play?
No, I’ve been able to get past it. It’s amazing, whatever sidetracks you in your life, when you’re playing good golf you’re focused shot-to-shot. That’s what amazes me about Tiger, who has so much going on, so many people pulling at him. He’s still able to do it.
Your caddie has said you’re just as intense as Tiger. When was the last time you really lost it?
At the Memorial in 2005, when I got into it with a fan. But you know, that guy deserved everything that anyone could possibly do to him, because [heckling] is just not called for in golf. It’s not the Ryder Cup. I mean guys are out there trying to do their best. On Saturday I’d played a great round of golf and the crowd was behind me, but on Sunday, because I get paired with [Fred] Couples, they wanted him to win, so all of the sudden they’re pulling against me. And I think that’s uncalled for, anytime you miss putts and someone is clapping. There’s no place for that.
And you flipped the guy off.
Well, I casually rubbed my face with one of my fingers. It was very unfortunate that the camera happened to be on me at the time. It was my mistake, but it wasn’t a single incident. I’d been putting up with his clapping every time I missed a putt for about four holes. There was a little group of them. I was in the heat of battle, and I went from playing great — I’d played with [Jack] Nicklaus the first two days — to not making putts, missing a lot of opportunities.
Was the guy in your head?
Oh, sure he was. I mean that’s all I was thinking about even before I hit the putt. I’d just three-putted. I had about an eight-footer for birdie and ran it by four feet and missed it for par coming back, and I lost it.
Which major are you most likely to win for your second?
The way they’re making Augusta so long, it’s going to be tough unless it gets really firm and I putt well. I feel good about the U.S. Open. I had to withdraw [with a bad back] at Winged Foot last year, but I’m getting better at playing one shot at a time, and I’ve started putting myself there more and more in the U.S. Open. I had the lead multiple times at Pinehurst [in ’05]. I just didn’t have the good round on Sunday.
How many times have you told people that you struckout Albert Belle in Little League?
[Laughs.] Any time people will ask me.
Your middle name is Wayne — were your parents big John Wayne fans?
Yeah, they were. That’s how I got my middle name. I watched a lot of Westerns growing up.
What do you watch on TV now?
All the CSI shows. That fascinates me, that stuff.
Is that what you’d be doing if you weren’t playing golf for a living, out solving murders?
No, I don’t have the stomach for that. What would I be doing? I don’t know. I try not to think about that.
Weight: 160 lbs.
Residence: Monroe, La.
College: Louisiana State University
Turned pro: 1989
PGA Tour wins: 12
Major wins: 1 (2001 PGA Championship)
World Golf Ranking: 19
Career earnings: $25,816,115
In 2006: Finished in the top 15 on the Tour money list for the seventh time in eight years.