David Toms didn’t just win the U.S. Senior Open – his first PGA Tour Champions victory – last week at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Shreveporter conquered a dichotomy of emotion.
Just a couple of hours before his first tee shot in the event, Toms was stunned to hear his longtime caddie and teammate was headed to the hospital with a heart problem. Then, after fighting into contention, Toms weathered a battle within — the confluence of ghosts from his past, and resulting self-doubt, and the memories of his greatest triumphs.
Toms’ one-stroke victory had it all, including the presence of the family he’s long held dear.
“(My emotions) were all over the place,” said Toms, a former LSU star. “Think about how my week started.”
Wife, Sonya, has witnessed firsthand, the ups and downs of Toms’ career, highlighted by 13 PGA Tour victories. However, son, Carter, and daughter, Anna, got a special treat in the Rocky Mountains.
Only one of Toms’ PGA Tour wins — 2011 Colonial in Fort Worth — came after Carter, a member of LSU’s golf team, turned 9 years old. Anna was 6 months old when Toms scored his 12th career win (Sony Open, 2006), and 5-years old at Colonial.
Unlike the others, this victory could be fully enjoyed – and appreciated – by Team Toms.
“It was an awesome week.” Toms told The Times on Monday.
Carter had an unexpected, but huge part in the win, as he was pressed into service on his dad’s bag for the first 36 holes after Scott Gneiser fell ill Thursday.
“Literally — I’m walking over to the clubhouse and I hear that my caddie is going to the hospital because he had a heart condition,” David Toms said. “So, I’m scrambling around. My wife says, Carter, my son, he’s ready to go, he’s going to caddie for you. He’s never caddied before in his life. That’s how my week started, not knowing what was wrong with my caddie, what was going to happen.”
While most golfers prefer tranquility prior to the biggest events, Toms felt compelled to employ damage control.
“I’m playing with Davis Love and Vijay Singh,” David said. “I go up to them before the round and I’m apologizing: ‘If he gets in your way just yell at him, whatever, he can take it.’
“I never wanted to hit it in the bunker because I didn’t want to see what he was going to do — rake job and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t want to be the bad person there.”
Not exactly the blueprint for success in terms of a championship mindset.
However, Carter Toms not only served as a decent stand-in, he excelled. Television coverage caught several laughs between father-and-son, and much-needed discussion during crucial moments.
“He did an unbelievable job,” David Toms said. “He really kept me in there, especially on Friday, where I was 3-over par early in the round. He was so positive. It was like me talking to him when he was going to play. I finished really good that round and ended up shooting only 1-over par when it could have gone way the other way.”
Gneiser returned for the final 36 holes, and offered the experience needed to claim a major championship.
“That got me over the hump,” said Toms, who needed both men to score the elusive victory on the 50-and-over circuit. “I just have to figure out now what percentage each of them gets. That ought to be interesting.”
In the moments after the par that sealed Sunday’s victory, Toms hugged Carter, and many of those who made this one of the most complete and enjoyable weeks of his career.
“You’re a part of it. You’re a part of it, bud,” an emotional father told his son.
No matter how much help he received, the member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame still had to overcome the doubt within. When Toms turned 50, many thought he’d run roughshod over the older fellas. While, he’s played some good golf, it took 35 senior events to find the Winner’s Circle.
Although he hadn’t captured a victory on the “senior tour,” Toms did not deviate from his plan to combat negative thoughts of the missed opportunities during the drought with positive vibes from past victories.
“You know, (other) guys are just playing so well — they’ve all won tournaments,” Toms said. “And the ones — like Jerry (Kelly), he’s obviously very comfortable. He’s already won quite a few times on the Champions Tour. He had been able to get it done and I hadn’t. And until you’re able to, you have that doubt.”
Sunday, Toms found himself in spots where it became impossible not to recall career-defining moments.
Ironically, one of his worst shots down the stretch Sunday triggered memories of his greatest PGA Tour accomplishment. Minutes after he took a one-stroke lead with a birdie on No. 16, Toms put his drive on the treacherous 17th – one of the longest par-4s in major championship history (at any level) — into a fairway bunker.
Toms was forced to lay up and attempted to keep the lead with his short game. He escaped the sand with a 9-iron, and hit his third shot within 19 feet of the hole.
“(The 2001 PGA Championship) was the first thing that popped into my mind after I had to hit the shot out of the bunker,” Toms said. “It’s normally a par-5, just like 18 at the (Atlanta) Athletic Club was. So, I thought, ‘I need to go make a birdie.’”
Seventeen years ago, Toms came to the 72nd hole of the PGA holding a one-stroke lead over Phil Mickelson. After his final tee shot found the rough, Toms opted to lay up short of the water hazard fronting the green. A 10-foot par putt sealed Toms’ lone major championship victory.
Sunday, he needed a 19-foot par putt on No. 17 to set the table for his first senior major.
“I try to draw on those (good) experiences all the time,” Toms said. “I’ve been trying to do that since I started on the Champions Tour. I’ve been close. I played in the last group last week on Sunday.”
Toms’ second victory of his PGA Tour career came in Colorado (1999 International at Castle Pines). Wednesday, Carter Toms happened to play that course.
“I thought about (the 1999 International) over the last putt that I had on 18 (on Sunday),” Toms said. “I had to two-putt to win and I had a downhill right-to-left breaking putt just like I had (Sunday). And I actually made it that year in ’99.”
A two-putt was as good as a make this time around, although the final 2 feet provided no bargain.
“I’ve got to make that one, and I’m shaking. It was just so hard,” Toms said. “When you haven’t done it in a while, it’s pretty brutal. And I’m just glad I got it done.”
Toms became the seventh player in history to capture his first PGA Tour Champions win at the U.S. Senior Open. He is the seventh USGA champion from Louisiana, and first since Philip Barbaree Jr. — a teammate of Carter’s at LSU — won the 2015 U.S. Junior Amateur.
“We had a great week,” Toms said. “Being here at The Broadmoor is a special place. Hopefully, it sets me up for a lot of good things moving forward.”