CHARLOTTE, N.C. - David Toms, like so many PGA Tour pros, lists hunting andfishing as his hobbies of record on his ubiquitous bio page. Speaking eloquently and easy to atough crowd of over 130 media members at media day for the Wachovia Championship, one gets thefeeling there's more to this defending champ than duck blinds and artificial lures.
And there is.
Like a handful of Tour players these days, Toms is dabbling in golf course design. He recentlyhad a hand in crafting Carter Plantation outside of Baton Rouge, La. Toms teamed with Glen Hickeyon an impressive debut effort that landed in GOLF Magazine's vaunted "Top Ten You CanPlay" list for 2003. Not too shabby for a couple of guys who claim to have used no formalarchitectural blueprints.
"The people behind the project gave us the resources to build the best course we could," Tomssaid in a recent credit defying press release, the "aw-shucks" practically dripping from thepage.
Let's be clear here, though.
A guy who spends most his time either carding birdies or shooting them suddenly goes Pete Dye onus and "field builds" one of the best new public access courses of the past 12 months? Those whoknow Toms say they aren't surprised in the least. The former Louisiana State UniversityAll-American doesn't just love a challenge - he lives for it.
That may come as a shock to those who are used to his Tommy Hilfiger clad, Southern gentlemanpersona. Here at the genteel Quail Hollow Country Club in South Charlotte, it's easy to pictureToms not only as defending champion, but as a long-time member. He trades hand shakes and huntingstories with some of the Queen City's biggest movers and shakers and his slight drawl fitsperfectly with Charlotte's landed gentry.
But to paraphrase captain Curtis Strange prior to the 2002 Ryder Cup, Toms looks a lot nicer than he is.
Just ask Albert Belle. When Toms was a 12-years-young little leaguer, he gave up his first homerun to the future big league slugger. "Still going," is how Toms describes the clout to this day.Undeterred, and frankly a little pissed off, Toms vowed to strike Belle out that season - anddid.
Just ask Phil Mickelson. Lefty was nothing less than Toms' whipping boy in 2001. In May of thatyear, Toms rallied around the support of the home crowd to overcame a six-shot deficit and overtakeMickelson at the Compaq Classic of New Orleans.
In August, he held the 54-hole lead in the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Country Cluband a one stroke lead over Mickelson heading into the par-4 18th. He laid up short of the creekthen canned a 12-foot par putt to win his first major in front of an overwhelmingly pro-Mickelsongallery.
But Toms showed last year at the Wachovia Championship that he's not unflappable. After runningaway and hiding the first three days, he held a seemingly insurmountable five-stroke lead headinginto Sunday's final round. He played solidly through 17 holes, prompting one fan to shout "C'monDavid, come back to the field a little bit and make it close."
Prophetically, on the 478-yard par-4 18th, Toms hit his drive 50 yards off line and into a groveof trees. His chip back to the fairway ended up in a hazard just short of a creek. He laid up shortof the green, took four putts to get down from 45 feet and carded a quadruple bogey.
"It was an interesting finish," Toms said, reluctantly rehashing the moment again. "People keeptalking about it. My response has been I made an eight on the last hole and still kicked theirbutts, so I must have been doing OK. The other 71 holes were darn near perfect."
Toms believes the George Cobb original, Tom Fazio remodeled Quail Hollow layout sets upperfectly for him. At first blush, it's an odd marriage. Toms is one of the shorter hitters on Tour(he ranks 121 in driving distance as of this writing) and Quail Hollow stretches to a brutish 7,442yards from the championship tees. But as course officials point out, many of the longer par 4s aredownhill, two par 4s check in under 350 yards, and two of the four par 5s are reachable in two.
"So often we are playing a course where we have to cross a road eight or nine times," Toms said."This course is just golf. A lot of the courses we play now we see a lot of risk-reward holes.Here, it's just golf. No houses in the middle of the course, lots of big, old trees."
Toms has his work cut out for him in defending his championship this year. The field alreadyincludes commitments from Davis Love III, Rich Beem, Nick Price, Chris DiMarco, Charles Howell III,Peter Lonard, Bernhard Langer, Padraig Harrington, Justin Rose, Mark Brooks, Lee Janzen and ShaunMicheel. Mickelson has verbally committed and Tiger hasn't ruled it out.
In short, the second-year event isn't suffering from a lack of love.
Toms said the inaugural Wachovia was "the talk of the Tour for a while" among players last year.No doubt because of the gaudy purse ($5.6 million this year), but also because of the "littlethings" as Toms put it. All players were provided with Mercedes loaners, the pro-am was limited totwo amateurs instead of four, and players' families were treated like long lost friends.
This day was all about Toms, however, as tournament officials outfit him in the inaugural BlueJacket. When asked about his chances at adding a green one to his collection, Toms soundedpessimistic.
"I am a medium to short hitter," he said. "I love the course but it is awful difficult for amedium to short hitter to win. Last year (with Mike Weir) was an exception. I'd have to have a goodweek with the short game."
Toms' overall game is getting back to where it was this time last year. In December, he had surgery on his left wrist to remove some nagging bone spurs. He couldn't play for three months, hislongest stint on the sidelines since taking up the game competitively at age 11. So far thisseason, he's played in five tournaments, missed the cut twice, and finished in the top 10 twice. Hesaid the wrist feels fine, but he's had to cut down on practice time and increase his warm-up timebefore rounds.
"I was missing the competition," Toms said about his layoff.
If you don't believe him, just ask Belle and Mickelson.
For tickets to the Wachovia Championship, log on to wachoviachampionship.com.
Looks like: Edward Norton with blonde hair
What's in the bag:
Driver - Ping;
3 wood - Cleveland,
Irons - Cleveland;
SW(56 degrees) - Cleveland;
LW(60 Degrees) - Cleveland;
Putter - ScottyCameron;
Ball - Titleist Pro V1;
Glove - FootJoy; Shoes - FootJoy
April 2, 2004