Toms wanted to win for his son
Carter Toms buried his head into his mother, tears in his eyes, when his dad’s 44-year-old nerves betrayed him at the moment of truth and with the world watching.
Across the pond, on the famous island green at TPC Sawgrass, David Toms’ head dropped and his eyes seemed to moisten, too, after his short putt to extend the playoff against K.J. Choi missed badly.
As any father would understand, Toms wanted to win The Players Championship for his boy.
“More than anything,” he would later admit.
This was very much a story of a golfer meandering his way toward the senior tour who has rediscovered his love for the game through his son.
“Most definitely,” Toms said when asked if he felt rejuvenated by Carter’s love of golf.
“I’m playing more golf than ever, away from tournament golf.
“It’s done me some good; it certainly has.”
When Toms was at his peak, when he held off Phil Mickelson to win the 2001 PGA Championship, his son was just 3. Now he's 13.
Toms was a staple of US Ryder and Presidents Cup teams for many years but has largely lost his way since last winning in 2006.
On Sunday he had the opportunity afforded few athletes; the chance to beat the best in the world — to beat, in essence, his son’s heroes — with Carter old enough to understand the magnitude of such an accomplishment.
“When I was really winning a lot of tournaments, he knew about golf and he was around some, but he didn’t play it and wasn’t into it,” Toms said.
“But now he is.
“It’s so funny, when I’m picking out my outfit for the next day, he’s picking out his outfit for the next day.
“(He) looks up to the young guys out here on tour, and he follows it all the time. I mean, it’s on his phone, it’s on his computer and he’s watching the Golf Channel all the time. It’s kind of neat to see.
“It would have been nice to win today for him.
“He had one of his little friends there and they were following me every step of the way.
“I’m disappointed because of that.”
Even Choi, who two-putted from 30 feet to win The Players after Toms couldn’t manage a two-putt from 18 feet, felt for him.
“When he missed that putt, as a fellow player I felt very sorry for him because I know how that feels,” Choi said. “I felt bad for him.”
Toms had held the lead for much of this longest of days — he had to play 32 holes after Saturday’s rain delays — and held his nerve until a rush of blood on the par-5 16th.
With Choi, his closest rival, forced to lay up, Toms decided to try to reach the green, guarded by water, in two shots, even though he was in the right rough. It was a risk he really didn’t need to take.
“I probably should have laid up and hit a wedge up there and made par at the worst,” he said.
“But I felt like I could get it on the green and take maybe a two-shot lead there and put a lot of pressure on him.
“I just hit a bad shot.”
His rinsed his approach and made bogey.
When Choi rolled in a curling birdie on the 17th, Toms was suddenly one shot back. He striped a drive on the last but landed in a divot. It really seemed like it wasn’t going to be his day.
But from that adversity, Toms hit one of the most clutch shots of his career, trapping a 5-iron and watching it settle 18 feet to the right of the pin. Choi, meanwhile, had missed the green and chipped to five feet.
“I figured even if I don’t make it, I still have a chance that he might miss to get in a playoff,” Toms said.
“But my caddie said, ‘Let’s give them something to cheer about.’”
And he did.
“It was the best putt I’ve hit in an awful long time,” Toms said.
It was a putt reminiscent of the one he hit after laying up 10 years ago at Atlanta Athletic Club to win his major.
Sadly, it was all for nothing when he missed a four-footer on the first playoff hole.
“I just wasn’t there on the putt,” he said.
“It was just a bad putt. No excuses, no spike marks, no ball marks, nothing.
“Maybe a lot of pressure, but other than that there was no excuse.
“It’s tough when you haven’t been there in a while.”
But while he may have lost the battle, Toms isn’t ready to give up on the war.
“I think I’m going to win again soon, and playing great here gives me that confidence,” he said.
“I look forward to the coming weeks. I’m playing next week at Colonial and it’s one of my favorite events, probably the favorite event of the year.
“If I can go in there and take some of the things I did this week, maybe get back in the hunt, maybe I’ll feel more comfortable the next time and do better.”
And his son will be by his side.
“He can take a lot of stuff away from this week,” Toms said.
“Watching his dad out there playing and seeing me under pressure, you know, it’s neat.
“The look on his face (at the end) was probably like, ‘Hey, his dad was leading all day long and then all of a sudden, he didn’t win.
“That gives me more incentive to get back and do it soon.”