Toms growing into one of PGA's big guns

What is the most recognizable thing about LSU? <br><br> One can consider an assortment of things – or people – when Louisiana State University is mentioned.

While the school is widely regarded as one of the top academic institutions in the country as well as one of the most popular party schools in the nation, a school is associated with famous alumni, most notably is sports alumnus, most of the time.


Sure enough, LSU has a wide array of notable alumni including Academy Award-winning actress Joanne Woodward, world renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews and Miami Dolphins president Eddie Jones. LSU can claim the Ragin' Cajun himself, James Carville, and even former vice president Hubert Humphrey attended LSU.


But when you think LSU alumni, you think of sports. Now you may ask, who is the most notable LSU sports alumnus, well that's easy – Shaq.


Shaquille O'neal towers over (pardon the pun) the rest of former Tiger greats, but is Shaq the most famous LSU grad. Probably – right now at least. Owning three NBA World Championship rings is a big deal and rightly so, but New England Patriot running back Kevin Faulk just picked up his third Super Bowl ring and will probably add another soon.


You can also toss in Pete Maravich, Bob Pettit, Billy Cannon and Todd Walker and plenty more as the most notable alums as well.


However, one former Tiger is on the raise (and rapidly we might add) and is quickly becoming LSU's most recognizable product. Literally a walking LSU advertisement, you can help but notice the Tiger logo embroidered on the side of David Toms' golf bag. When the former LSU all-American does an interview, there is almost always a mention of his connection with the Tigers.


A fixture on the sideline of LSU home games, Toms was seen in the midst of LSU players celebrating the SEC championship in Atlanta two years ago as well as on the turf of the Superdome when the Tigers raised that crystal football.


Toms has been spotted with wife Sonya and son Carter at a number of LSU baseball games – heck, the 2001 PGA Champion is such a fan he gets Tiger Rag Magazine forwarded to wherever he may while traveling on the PGA Tour.


The site of Toms and former Florida Gator Chris DiMarco exchanging a "Tiger Bait" and "Gator Chomp" at last year's HP Classic in New Orleans proof enough that Toms (and DiMarco) are truly devoted to their respective alma maters.


There is no more visible or rabid an LSU fan than David Toms. However, the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Shreveport native downplayed his growing popularity among the Tiger fan base and the comparisons to Shaquille O'neal as the most popular LSU alum.


"I am not right up there with Shaquille O'neal, he is about a foot and a half taller than me," Toms said.

Toms may only stand at 5 foot 10 inches, but his accomplishments on the golf course measure even taller than Shaq himself. The winner of 11 PGA events, Toms has won at least one tour event in seven of the last nine years.


His first victory was in 1997 at the Quad City Classic. Toms did not win again until the 1999 Sprint International, but won twice that season claiming the title at the Buick Challenge. At Kingsmill in 2000, Toms captured his only win of the year at the Michelob Championship setting the stage for what was to be his best year as a pro.


In 2001, the former Tiger great set the tone with an emotional and rousing victory at the Compaq Classic in New Orleans. With thousands of LSU fans lining the fairway, Toms made a triumphant march up the 18th hole at English Turn as the adoring masses chanted L-S-U. Toms made it back-to-back titles winning again at Kingsmill claiming the Michelob Championship.


Finally in August, he capped off the monumental season winning the first major championship of his career claiming the 2001 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. En route to that title, Toms swung his way into PGA Championship history recording a hole-in-one with a 5-wood.


While winning that major was a victory many figure is the crowning moment of his career, Toms will say otherwise.


"No, not at all," Toms said when asked about the 2001 PGA. "Obviously, that was neat with the setting and everything with it being a major championship. That whole tournament was pretty stressful trying to win my first major. But the way that New Orleans thing went down, I don't think I'll ever experience anything like that again, unless I do it again at that tournament."


Enduring surgery on his left wrist in 2002, Toms failed to record a victory that season, but came back in 2003 to capture a pair of wins at the Wachovia Championship and the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Toms went to the 18th hole on Sunday leading by what seemed to be an insurmountable six strokes. However, a quadruple bogey on the tournament's 72nd hole gave Toms the win by a slim two strokes, but still a win is a win.


He double-dipped at the FedEx St. Jude repeating as champion in 2004. It was the second time in his career he had defended a tournament title.


Earlier this year, Toms recorded what many call his most impressive victory outlasting the field at the grueling Accenture World Match Play Championships. Toms slayed defending Master's champion Phil Mickelson en route to a meeting with DiMarco in the finals. As the Lady Tigers wrapped up their first SEC title in school history defeating (who else) the Florida Gators on the hardwood in Baton Rouge, Toms made it look easy slashing through DiMarco as he raced out to a 9-hole advantage on the back nine.


With all that Toms has accomplished, he has moved closer and closer to the forefront of the PGA Tour. Entering last weekend's Master's Tournament, national experts referred to Toms as being just outside the Big Four – Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. The thing is, though, he has done so very quietly.


"I think everyone kind of forgets about him a little bit," DiMarco told the Baton Rouge Advocate. "But you don't forget about David Toms because he's a good player. He's definitely a top five player."


Toms doesn't quite have the length of Woods or Mickelson, but he makes up for what he lacks in distance in precision.


"It's tough to go behind the eight ball so to speak with players like that," Toms told the Advocate. "But at the same time my record speaks for itself. I need to concentrate more on that, knowing that if I play my game I'll be okay."


Toms said having the ability to hit the long ball is an advantage, but doing the other things well is equally important.


"It is always an advantage if you can hit it long and straight," Toms said. "That is a great combination to have. But you still have to be consistent with the short game. You still have to manage your game around the course in different conditions. But obviously to have the strength to overpower courses and especially the ones these days that are getting so long that it makes it almost a necessity. But there are other ways to win."


More and more courses these days are trying to "Tiger-proof" their layouts, lengthening holes and toughening up conditions to try and challenge the world's best golfers. Augusta National began this practice and the trend is spreading around the PGA Tour.


"They're limiting the number of guys who can win, making things hard for the moderate to short hitter," Toms told Sports Illustrated concerning Augusta.


"I consistently hit it in the fairway and on the greens and made a few putts," Toms said. "I methodically make my way around the golf course. That is still the way you can win, especially on the tougher golf courses. I think with myself and (players like) Mike Weir (winning the Master's in 2003), we have proven that you can win tournaments without overpowering them."


Since winning the Accenture and having a string of solid showings early in the season, Toms is on the hot list right now and would have to be a favorite when the Tour stops in New Orleans at the Zurich Classic of Louisiana at the newly unveiled TPC of Louisiana at the end of the month.


"I feel really good about where I am right now," Toms said. "Hopefully that will be a sign of things to come."

Toms said while he isn't a bomber off the tee, he credits his ability to remain consistent as his strength.


"I just think overall consistency," Toms said. "I don't think I do anything extremely well. But when I am playing well, I don't think that I have a whole lot of weaknesses either. I just think being able to do everything pretty well is what keeps me up there."


With the Accenture being his only title this year, Toms has come close several times. He opened the season tied for eighth at the Mercedes Championship. After finishing tied for 13th and 29th respectively at the Sony Open and Bob Hope Chrysler Classic respectively, Toms came in fourth at the FBR Open a week before his victory at the Accenture, which brought with it a $1.3 million purse. Toms put together back-to-back fifth place finishes at the Ford Championship and Honda Classic, but finished a disappointing 68th at The Players Championship.


Heading into the Master's last week, Toms was ranked eighth in the world rankings and was fourth on the money list having already earned $2,256,643 (as of March 27).


As a previous major championship winner, going into last week's Master's Tournament, Toms had his eye on what many people revere as the top prize in all of golf.


"It's probably one of the few old southern clubs left that has tradition, the rules," he said of Augusta National. "You walk around and you are always going to obey what's going on. It's a yes sir and yes ma'am kind of place and there aren't many of those left. Combine that with the fact this is The Masters and it's pretty special."

When Toms is not on Tour or cheering on the Tigers, he, wife Sonya and son Carter make their home in Shreveport. Toms dabbles in course design having recently opened Carter Plantation in Springfield, La. He also works with underprivileged children through the David Toms Foundation, an organization he established a couple of years ago.

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