Around the Globe for Michigan's Gillis
By Jack Berry
Tom Gillis has changed that old recruiting slogan "Join the Navy and see the world." The Gillis alteration: "Play golf and see the world."
From Lake Orion and Indianwood County Club in suburban Detroit, the 31-year-old Gillis has teed his ball in 23 countries, from Scotland to South Africa to Australia.
"It's amazing to think that a game could take you to so many places," Gillis said during a brief holiday stopover in Lake Orion.
Gillis is in his third season on the European PGA Tour and the European Tour embraces most of the world now. It jump-started the four continent, 21 country 2000 circuit with a tournament in Taiwan in November then played two events in South Africa in January before jumping to Australia for four more and on to Malaysia before setting down in Europe for a tournament in Portugal. Then back to Dubai, Qatar and Brazil before settling in Europe for the spring and summer.
That's a long way from home for Gillis, the 1990 Michigan Amateur runner-up and 1994 Michigan Open champion who began his golf career as a caddie at Indianwood.
"It was a big adjustment," Gillis said. "When I played the minitours in the United States (he won seven times on the Hooters Tour) I'd schedule myself so that I didn't have to play 4-5 weeks in a row. But now I have to and that was a big adjustment, especially if your game is out of sync. Consistency is the thing I've had to work hard on.
"And when I played the minitours, I pretty much hung out by myself. I'd play my round, jump in the car and go to a mall or something. I was more a loner. If something was wrong with my swing I'd come home to Indianwood, my security blanket, and talk to Dave Zink (the head professional).
"In Europe the guys hang out together more. You may play in some place in the middle of Germany and there are only two hotels and a few restaurants so everyone is together more. There's a lot more camaraderie among the players than there is on the American tour. You're together at the airports, the hotels, buses and it's a tour where everyone checks their egos at the door. There are more players from middle class backgrounds; there aren't any spoiled brats. Usually everyone meets at the hotel bar before dinner and I've had many beers with Renton Laidlaw (veteran British golf writer and commentator on the European Tour for The Golf Channel).
"I had to get used to the hotels. The rooms are smaller than were accustomed to in the States and you pay a lot of money. The competition is good and there are a lot of good guys there. I never played a round with anyone who didn't show proper etiquette -- no one walked across my line or anything like that. In the States you run into gamesmanship at times."
Gillis said he watched the Ryder Cup "with mixed feelings. I like the Europeans. Theyre good down-to-earth guys. I talked to Paul Lawrie a few weeks after the Ryder Cup and asked him how it was and he said it was terrible. He said in his match with Jeff Maggert that when he hit a shot that was headed for water, Maggert's wife stood up and said Get in the water! I told him I believed that of some of the American wives. I don't think they'll have the wives inside the gallery ropes the next time.
"I've been paired with Bernhard Langer and Ernie Els and I've played with Jean Van de Velde and he's really a good guy. I got paired a lot with Seve Ballesteros on some weekends and he took a liking to me and Craig Hainline (another of the quartet of American regulars on the European Tour).
"I thought Seve hated Americans and the first time I played with him was early Saturday morning in the Belgian Open. I was very respectful and stayed out of his way and didn't say anything for the first six holes. Everything worked out well and we were paired again on Sunday. I have the feeling that if you're his friend, you're a friend for good. Hes an artist. I saw him make some shots around the green that I'd never seen before," Gillis said.
Gilliss' main buddies are fellow Americans Hainline, Jerry Norquist and Bob May who shocked Colin Montgomerie by outdueling Europe's No. 1 player in the final round of the British Masters.
"Craig and I went out and walked the last 11 holes -- and we bet on Bob. You can do that there right at the course (the tournament was sponsored by a British bookmaker, Victor Chandler)."
While European Tour course setups are similar to American setups -- "a lot of rough, firm, fast greens," Gillis said few are as tree-lined as most American courses.
"I like tree-lined courses and I miss that. The result is that wind comes into play more and that's been my biggest adjustment, the wind, day in and day out.
"I shot 90 in the first round of the British Open at Carnoustie, was in the rough all day and strained ligaments in my wrist and withdrew. I felt if I played the second round I'd be in the rough all day again and make the wrist worse and I missed the first six weeks of the season with tendonitis. I didn't want to go through that again.
"I felt like the fans were cheated at Carnoustie; you just never heard any cheers for birdies. In the first round our group of three professionals had one birdie. And that was on the 18th hole. I played a practice round at the beginning of the week with Curtis Strange and he asked if I had played a links course before. I said I hadn't and he said the first time he did, he hated it.
"I didn't want to have a bad taste in my mouth about links golf and 4-5 weeks after the Open I went back to Scotland and played Turnberry and I loved it. I look forward to going back. My favorite course is Loch Lomond (near Glasgow). Tom Weiskopf and Jay Moorish designed it and it's as good as any course I've played anywhere.
"The fans are best in England and Scotland -- they know golf and they're good to everyone, a good shot is a good shot. But the galleries are pretty thin elsewhere.
"The practice facilities generally aren't as good as they are in America. The range might hold only 15 to 20 guys and the putting green is tiny so you cant practice as much as you'd like. But they're getting better and the European Tour is developing TPC courses the way they are in the States," Gillis said.
For scenery, its tough to beat Crans-sur-Sierre in Switzerland, a spectacular setting surrounded by the Alps.
"That's my favorite spot on tour," Gillis said. "Everyone stays in the ski village in the valley and it's one of my fondest memories.
"I led the first round last year and afterward Hainline, Norquist and Ian Hutchings, a South African, and I decided to take a cable car to the top of the mountain where there was a restaurant. We went up about 6,000 feet, got on another car and went to the top, about 9,000 to 10,000 feet, on a glacier. We were in the restaurant and Craig opened a bottle of red wine and we were just talking and Craig looked out and said he hadn't seen any cable cars move in awhile. They had stopped at 4:15 and it was about 5 o'clock.
"There was one couple left in the restaurant and the manager and he only spoke French. We finally realized we'd have to walk down. It took about an hour and our legs were very sore the next day," Gillis said.
So much for sightseeing.
"The travel gets tough, going through customs from country to country and the different languages. I can speak bits of Spanish and most places that we go someone speaks a little English. But you can get in a small town in Germany where no one speaks English and you look at the menu and pick out something you know -- wiener schnitzel."
While most of the European players can hop a plane after the final round Sunday and be home that evening, Gillis doesn't have a base there. He goes from tournament site to tournament site. Nor does he have a swing doctor handy if something goes wrong.
"From January to September I'll get home to Michigan five or six times. Sometimes I'll fly home on Monday and leave the following Sunday but I need to touch home. I've got a lot of homeboy in me. I need to get in that fishing boat."
Gillis's wife, Wendy, general manager at a local club, has joined Gillis in Europe occasionally but he admits the long separations are difficult on a marriage.
He would like to make the American tour but has been unsuccessful in eight trips to the qualifying trials and in fact had to go back to the European Q School to get his card for this season. Gillis finished 135th on the Order of Merit with $55,000 and a top finish of 11th in the Trophee Lancome in Paris. That meant returning to Q School to regain his card and he tied for sixth in the six-round finals in Spain.
"I thought if I didn't make the top 10 there I would go to Japan and try there. They play for a lot of money and the competition isn't as deep as it is in Europe."
Gillis sent in his $4,000 for the American trials and played the same Atlanta course that he played in 1998.
"It took four over par to make it through Atlanta (to the final stage) in 1998 and I told my dad that if I shot four 72s, I'd make it. So, on the same course, in the same weather, I shot 72-72-72-73 and missed by two. It used to be if you played solid golf, you'd move on but now they're playing as good in the first stage as they did in the second. There are just so many good young players coming out of college now that it is very difficult.
"But I'm encouraged about going back to Europe. I think I need one more year there," Gillis said.
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