Straight Shooter A driving tip helped David Toms win the FedEx and primed him for the U.S. Open

June 06, 2004

When one thinks of the Hamptons, a gallery of Page Six
celebrities and Wall Street swells springs to mind. It's a crowd,
in other words, in which you'd least expect to find mild-mannered
David Toms, a guy whose idea of a big vacation is duck hunting in
Arkansas and who lives in Shreveport, La., where he passionately
roots for the LSU Tigers. In two weeks, though, Toms could be the
center of attention on the East End of Long Island. His laserlike
ability to find the fairway off the tee, which was the key to his
runaway win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, makes him a player to
watch at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y.
"There's always a premium on driving the ball at the Open," says
Toms, 37. "I feel much better about my chances at Shinnecock
after this week."

Before last week no one would have given Toms much of a chance.
Yes, he had been a star. Beginning in 1997 he won nine Tour
events, including the 2001 PGA Championship. He was also the best
player on the losing U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2002 with a 3-1-1
record, and he rose to fifth in the World Ranking.

But last summer Toms's left wrist began to ache, and by the end
of the season he couldn't swing without wincing. Doctors told
Toms that he needed surgery to remove bone spurs from the wrist,
and on Dec. 9 he had the operation. When Toms returned to action
this February, at the Nissan Open, the wrist felt fine, but his
game had vanished. In 11 starts before the FedEx, Toms missed the
cut six times and ranked a dismal 143rd in total driving.

On Tuesday of last week, however, he had a eureka moment. While
Toms was practicing at the TPC at Southwind, his longtime coach,
Rob Akins, noticed that his hands were too low at address. "I
suggested a very slight change that got David back to the
position he had as a kid," says Akins, a friend of Toms's since
they were teenagers in Monroe, La.

Akins's tip worked miracles. In the first round Toms hit 10 of 14
fairways and shot a four-under 67. The following day he improved
to 12 fairways en route to a 63, giving him a lead he would never
relinquish. Leading by seven shots entering the final round, Toms
shot 73 on Sunday, but his victory was never in doubt. He ended
at 16-under 268, six shots ahead of runner-up Bob Estes, and was
third in the field in fairways hit, at 76.8%.

After his final putt Toms teared up while being interviewed by
CBS. He was overcome by relief as much as by happiness. "This
means the world to me," he said. "I had started to wonder, Will I
ever get back to where I was? But I knew I could do it, and I'm
back."

After taking this week off, Toms will fine-tune his newly
restored driving game on the tight and undulating fairways of
Westchester Country Club in the Buick Classic before heading to
the Hamptons, where Akins especially likes his chances. "Corey
Pavin won the Open the last time it was at Shinnecock, and he
plays like David," he said. "They're control players who put the
ball in the fairway and can putt. If he goes to Shinnecock
swinging as well as he did here, David will be a serious
contender."

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL (TOMS) DRIVER'S SEAT Toms hit 43 of 56 fairways in the kind of wind he'll likely face at the Open. COLOR PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES (DRUMMOND) COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG (HARRINGTON) COLOR PHOTO: TODD BIGELOW/AURORA (SORENSTAM) COLOR PHOTO: AL MESSERSCHMIDT/WIREIMAGE.COM (LUNKE)

TRUST ME

Don't believe Jack Nicklaus when he says he's going to hang 'em
up. He's finally healthy and even at 64 has a lot of game. A few
good rounds will get him going again.

UP & DOWN

[Up]

Scott Drummond

The fourth alternate, ranked 435th, rides a Sunday 64 to a
Daly-esque Euro PGA win.

Annika Sorenstam

An opening 65 plus three more rounds under par add up to win
number 51, at Corning.

Stewart Cink

A tie for fifth at the FedEx moves him to 10th on the money list,
and into the U.S. Open.

[Down]

Padraig Harrington

Using Wentworth's greens as an excuse, the Irish star skips the
PGA and gets heat for it.

Hilary Lunke

An opening 67 plus a 79 add up to another MC for the foundering
2003 U.S. Open champ.

John Daly

A 42nd in Memphis leaves him at 15th in earnings, and into U.S.
Open qualifying.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)