I look like I've been shooting up heroin," David Toms said,
pulling up his right sleeve to show the needle marks from a
doctor's visit. His three pro-am partners at the Tour
Championship, in Houston, chuckled because you don't have to
spend much time with Toms to learn what his real addictions are.
Krispy Kreme doughnuts, for one. Toms's pulse quickens at the
sight of a Krispy Kreme box, and his eyes get a faraway look
when he describes how good a glazed doughnut is right off the
conveyor. "When you can mash your finger in it," he says.
Toms was equally excited last week when he opened a cooler on the
3rd tee at Champions Golf Club and yanked out a can of QuickKick,
a sports drink. "This stuff is awesome," he said. In Baton Rouge,
where Toms went to college, they drink Rebel Yells and Jack
Daniel's, but it's easy to picture him in a campus bar, slamming
back a QuickKick and talking Louisiana State football. That's
when you really have to check to see if Toms's pupils are
dilated, because he's fanatical about sports at his alma mater.
He reads Tiger Rag, the LSU sports magazine, from cover to cover.
He has four season tickets to Tigers football games. His golf bag
and putter headcovers sport Louisiana State logos.
He's also hooked on ducks. Get him out before sunrise, let him
wade in waist-deep water putting out decoys, let him drive the
amphibious vehicle, let him cradle a 12-gauge shotgun, and Toms
approaches nirvana. "He's not nearly as quiet when he's duck
hunting," says his father, Buster. "On a golf course nothing
bothers him, but when he shoots down a greenhead, he pumps his
David doesn't look obsessive. At 34 his face is wrinkle-free, his
hair is thick, his movements are unhurried. Put him in a group of
pro athletes, and Toms is the one whom people will mistake for a
hotel desk clerk. But people must be wrong. Since 1999, Tom has
won six Tour events, edged Phil Mickelson by a stroke to win the
2001 PGA Championship, played his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup
team, hit the shot of the year, climbed to seventh in the World
Ranking and finished third on this year's money list. If we're
not mistaken, that was David Toms clawing from three strokes
behind on Sunday to get into a four-way playoff at the Tour
Championship, the Tour's season finale. "Everybody thinks David
is so laid back," says his caddie, Scott Gneiser, "but in the
heat of competition he has a fire in him like Tiger or Phil. He's
November 12, 2001
Who knew? Toms was just another anonymous, financially secure,
pro until the afternoon of Aug. 18, when he appeared on
television sets all over the world with his hands above his head
and a look of astonishment on his face. He had just aced the
227-yard, par-3 15th hole during the third round of the PGA
Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club, and you could see, in
the few seconds it took Toms to absorb what he had done, the
progression from shock to elation to something fiercer, an almost
predatory opportunism. The next day, when he laid up on the 72nd
hole with a one-stroke lead and a Tin Cup water hazard in front
of him, Toms seized his place in history. Mickelson, the gallery
favorite, watched helplessly as Toms rolled his 10-foot putt
squarely into the hole for par and victory.
Nearly three months later Toms's face has become as familiar as
those of his Ryder Cup teammates. He's on the cover of Golf
magazine next to the headline, ACE IN THE HOLE: THE PGA CHAMPION
ON HOW TO PURE A 5-WOOD. He's on TV, hitting lob wedges into a
satellite dish on top of a house in one of those These Guys Are
Good promos. He's got a trunkful of fan mail back home in
Shreveport, La., and when LSU opened its football season at Tiger
Stadium on Sept. 1, Toms was on the field as an honorary captain
during the coin toss, his PGA-winning putt replaying on the big
screen to the cheers of more than 90,000 fans. "I think I could
have won four or five tournaments this year, and they wouldn't
have been as big as that victory in the PGA," Toms said in
Houston. "The hole in one, laying up, beating Mickelson--I guess
it made for a pretty good story."
The PGA win certainly opened a new chapter in Toms's life. He
spends more time on the phone with his agent, more time talking
to reporters, more time signing autographs and contracts. "I
can't just show up at 8 a.m. on Tuesday and play a practice
round," he says. "I haven't had a day like that since the PGA."
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, for instance, he dragged himself out of bed
at 5 a.m. and drove across Houston to film a TV spot for
charity, gobbled painkillers and prescription steroids for a
radiating pain and weakness in his left arm, conducted a
magazine interview while playing a five-hour pro-am round with
three businessmen, and agreed to do a photo shoot on Wednesday,
after his practice round. "David is a pleaser," says his wife,
Sonya. "It's not enough that he's happy. He wants everybody
around him to be happy too."
A fan getting his autograph at Champions said, "I like your
commercial." Toms smiled and said, "If that was really my house,
I wouldn't have been doing it." When somebody outside the ropes
asked him to pose for a picture, Toms said, "Sure," put his arm
around the stranger and showed some teeth. On the 10th tee
Gneiser brought Toms a doughnut and two Krispy Kreme T-shirts,
causing an onlooker to ask, "Is that your workout shirt?" Toms
licked his fingers and said, "When the light is on at Krispy
Kreme, you've got to go."
Toms has always been a low-maintenance guy. "He was a windup
doll," says Buddy Alexander, who coached Toms for two years at
LSU. "You put him out there, and he played."
As a kid in Shreveport, Toms was a point guard in basketball and
played shortstop and pitched for his Little League team. He
struck out future major leaguer Albert Belle, although Belle
homered off him in the same game. ("David tried to sneak a
fastball past Albert," says Buster, "and he tattooed it.") After
turning pro in 1989, David yo-yoed on and off the PGA Tour for
eight years, winning twice on the Nike tour but never cracking
the top 100 on the big circuit. "I lacked confidence and
maturity," he says. "You tee off at 1 p.m. on the first day of a
tournament, you're already eight shots back, the wind is picking
up...." He shrugs. "It's easy to get down on yourself."
Like most touring pros, Toms had to get a whole lot better merely
to become obscure. He won his first Tour event, the 1997 Quad
City Classic, when he was 30, and he didn't garner any real
attention until '99, when he took the Sprint International and
the Buick Challenge. His record in the majors was embarrassing--he
made the 36-hole cut once in seven starts through 1999--but he did
shoot a final-round 64 to finish in a sixth-place tie at his
first Masters, in 1998. In 2000 he tied for fourth in his first
British Open, at St. Andrews.
That, along with the fact that he was winning about $2 million a
year on Tour, should have prepared folks for his 2001
performance. Toms certainly gave Mickelson, the world's
second-best player, a heads up, firing a final-round 64 last May
to beat him by two shots at the Compaq Classic of New Orleans.
Toms got the hometown treatment: Fans shouted his name and
chanted, "LSU! LSU!" At the PGA, on the other hand, Mickelson had
the galleries on his side and Toms was the spoiler. "I wouldn't
call it a hostile environment," Toms says. "It was more of a case
of them pulling for Phil, not against me." He smiles. "I was
playing so well, I kind of tuned it out."
Sonya, who met David on a blind date in 1991, treats his PGA win
more as a confirmation of his ability than as a life-altering
achievement. "It's wonderful, I'm thrilled for him," she says,
"but we didn't need for him to win a major to feel complete."
Most of the sources of his contentment can be found in and around
his house at Southern Trace, a golf course development. They
include Sonya, four-year-old son Carter, a network of pals and
neighbors, and his feathered friends, the ducks. Earlier this
year David joined Buster and three other men in the purchase of
850 acres on the Red River in Arkansas, about 50 miles north of
Shreveport. "It's strictly for duck hunting," says Buster, who is
active with the conservation group Ducks Unlimited. "It's David's
getaway from the pressure."
If the past is any guide, Toms's body will give out before the
pressure gets to him. He played last week with throbbing pain in
his left wrist and stingers down his left arm, symptoms mirroring
those that affected his right side in years past. "It's my body
telling me it's time to get some rest," said Toms, who ignored
his discomfort and instead put the hurt on the par-71 Cypress
Creek course at Champions.
"There is no give-up in David," says Gneiser, who watched his man
go three over par for the first 23 holes and 17 under the rest of
the way. "He knows he can make five birdies in a row and turn a
bad round into a decent round." Toms's 67 was the lowest Sunday
score among the contenders, and while it didn't bring home the
bacon--Mike Weir birdied the first extra hole at sunset to edge
Toms, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia--it brought Toms's 2001 earnings
to a porkish $3,791,595. "He's had an unbelievable year," said
Els. "He's playing with great confidence and making it look
"David really does have all his ducks in a row," says Sonya,
who's looking forward to having her husband home for a couple of
weeks. She won't even mind having to share him with Krispy
Kreme, QuickKick, LSU, hunting, fishing, and his latest and most
serious addiction: winning.
"On a golf course nothing bothers him," says Buster, "but when
he shoots down a greenhead, he pumps his fist."
"It's wonderful, I'm thrilled for David," says Sonya, "but we
didn't need for him to win a major to feel complete."