KINGSPORT — This is big week for Ernie Els and Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey, a pair of PGA professionals whose respective FedEx Cup narratives are compelling for strikingly different reasons.
Their week began in Kingsport for exactly the same reason.
Els and Gainey were among 16 of PGA pro Cliff Kresge’s player colleagues who turned out for Monday’s Kresge’s Krew Pro-Am at the Club at Ridgefields.
The event was created three years ago as a fund-raiser for the Kresge’s Krew Foundation. The foundation provides financial assistance to various organizations involved in autism research, education and service.
“We’ve got a nice mixture of some veterans and some young guys who are going to be on tour next year,” said Kresge, who, like Els, is the parent of a child with autism and an avid advocate for the cause.
“(The foundation) hopes to keep doing more. We’re going to continue to support the beneficiaries that we have and we just want to be as big an influence as we can on these kids’ lives.”
In addition to Els and Gainey, Monday’s pros included Chris Stroud, Bryan DeCorso, Scott Brown, Doug Barron, Philip Pettit, Omar Uresti, Robert Gamez, Matt Bettencourt, Rahil Gangjee, Vaughn Taylor, Andrew McLardy, Garrett Willis and Will McGirt.
Last but not least was Josh Broadaway, whose crazy cross-handed grip was a source of amusement — and apparently unwinnable side bets — on the driving range before the start.
Els, a former No. 1 and World Golf Hall of Famer, hasn’t missed a Tour Championship since the FedEx Cup was established, but it’s been a hard season for “The Big Easy.” He’s had to battle tooth and nail to advance during the last two playoff events.
Gainey is a working-class hero from South Carolina who fought his way in, out and back in again after winning the Golf Channel’s “Big Break” competition in 2007. He’s hoping to cap what could prove his breakout PGA Tour season by earning his first Tour Championship appearance.
Despite missing the cut in both the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship, Gainey remains alive at the 54th spot headed into Thursday’s BMW Championship at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club. Els fought his way in at 68th.
Kresge was deeply appreciative that Els and Gainey sacrificed precious time off for his charity event despite the looming pressure of the BMW. This also applied to Stroud, a longtime Kresge pal who clawed his way into Thursday’s field at No. 70.
It’s the kind of support Kresge has come to expect from his fellow professionals.
“It really says a lot about our guys and our game and what they do and how they give back. How much a brotherhood it is, everybody helping everybody out for different causes,” said Kresge, who lost his PGA Tour card after a rugged 2010 season but is on the verge of regaining with a top-25 finish on the Nationwide Tour.
Gainey, whose nickname derives from his idiosyncratic two-gloved grip, worked on a water-heater assembly line previous to his present career. For him, showing up at Monday’s charity event wasn’t noblesse oblige. It was clearly a privilege.
“It’s all about finding a cure for autism. Cliff has a son that has it. Ernie has a son that has it. I’m friends with both and this is my way of helping out friends,” Gainey said. “I love doing things like this. I’m a very fortunate person to play golf for a living. It is the best job it the world.
“I’ve had the worst jobs in the world. You wrap insulation over water heater tanks, that ain’t no fun. When you move furniture, that ain’t no fun. I have the best job in the world and I really appreciate every moment I’m out here because I know how fast it can be taken away.”
Els, one of the established greats of the sport, may be playing some of his most meaningful golf in quite some time.
“I put myself in a pretty awkward situation by not playing well through the regular season,” he said. “Now obviously with the playoffs you need to advance every week and I’ve just been scraping through. I’ve come all the way from 130th to where I am now just getting through each and every week. Really experiencing what the playoffs are all about. Trying to survive.
“I think being on the other side of the spectrum for such a long time, now being on the bottom half it’s really a lot of hard work. It’s really been quite interesting.”
Els, whose Ernie Els Foundation is building a $30 million Center For Excellence in Florida for autism support, education and research, hasn’t missed a Kresge’s Krew Pro-Am since the Kingsport event was inaugurated.
Kresge would love to see Els keep another streak going.
“We’ve been pulling for him hard here. We’re real excited about him picking his game up a little bit,” Kresge said. “I don’t think Ernie will be down for long. He’s too good.”