LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

If Tom Gillis sounds like a man a bit conflicted, well, he kind of is.

He desperately wants to win a Champions Tour tournament — not that he needs that to validate more than half a lifetime spent in professional golf, but it wouldn't hurt, either.

But Gillis also wants to make sure he does enough to get into the next tournament, and the next one, and eventually earn full-time status on the tour for the 2019 season.

This is his livelihood, after all.

"Overall, any time you finish top 10, it's good," Gillis said Sunday night, over the phone from San Jose, where he was to catch a flight home the next morning. "But I would've liked to obviously win. Believe me, it doesn't bother anybody more than me."

Gillis, 50, of Lake Orion, is coming off his fifth Champions Tour appearance — and his fourth top-10 finish on the Champions Tour.

He tied for fifth at the PURE Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach, to go with two ties for third and a tie for sixth. The only outlier was a 73rd-place showing at his hometown tournament, the inaugural Ally Championship last month in Grand Blanc — a rough finish that might be attributed to the frantic nature of keeping up with scores of friends and family all week.

More: Michigan's Tom Gillis, now 50, takes aim at Champions Tour

The showing at Pebble Beach earned him a spot in next week's SAS Championship in Cary, N.C., and at 43rd on the money list, he's a near-lock to get into the first two events of the Charles Schwab Cub playoffs, which start the following week in Richmond, Va.

But, still, it's a bit bittersweet, as Gillis had a great opportunity to win Sunday. He began the day two shots back, and got as close as one later in the round. Despite a double-bogey at No. 10, he bounced back with four birdies in a six-hole span to get within two shots as he stood on the tee at No. 17 — a famously tough par 3 on the Pacific Ocean.

Birdie and he's right there, but he found the greenside bunker, took bogey, and that was that. Or at least, he thought that was that.

"I didn't even hit driver on 18 at that point," Gillis said of the legendary par-5 finishing hole, with the Pacific running all along the left all the way to the green. "At that point, I need to get into the next tournament. I'm not going to be a hero hero. But it bugged me in a way. Your pride wants you to go down there and hit driver.

"But I've gotta get into the next tournament. There's a lot going on."

Truth is, it didn't end up mattering. Ken Tanigawa, like Gillis a Champions Tour rookie, would roll in a 35-foot putt for eagle to win the tournament. Gillis wouldn't have had a chance, even if he had eagled.

But that just illustrates the inner tug-of-war Gillis often is facing in this new chapter of his professional golfing life, which dates to the early 1990s, after he got out of Oakland Community College.

If you don't have the status, your goals — and, thus, the way you approach a round of golf, particularly on a Sunday payday — often are different from those who do. You do what you can to get into the next tournament, and avoid the Tuesday qualifiers.

Gillis didn't start the round that way, though. He was aggressive early, perhaps even haphazardly so, going after some tough pins. It led to bogeys at Nos. 8 and 9, and then the double at 10. That dropped him back to six back. But showing grit, he rebounded with birdies at 11, 13, 15 and 16 to make a game of it again. He was one back.

No surprise he got hot at Pebble, one of his favorite courses in the country — and one where he's had success, on the PGA Tour, in the AT&T Pro-Am. He played that event six times, making the cut five times, with his best finishes third and a tie for eighth. That's a whole different tournament, though, being played in February, when course conditions are soft. They were much more firm for this tournament, in September.

"It's so different," Gillis said. "All I felt like I did all week was log notes in my yardage book for next week. Geesh, this was like a study session here. But it's beautiful.

"I love this place. It would've been a special place to win."

You get the sense that a win is coming, and perhaps soon. An offseason of committed gym sessions has him healthier and stronger than in many years, and the results on the course are showing that — particularly his length off the tee, an advantage, given he's now the "rookie" on the 50-and-older circuit.

And that first win sure would be special, considering it eluded him all those years on the PGA Tour, albeit just barely on a couple occasions, most notably his loss in a playoff to Jordan Spieth in the 2015 John Deere Classic.

But, again, winning isn't the only objective. Golf isn't a team sport and it can be a lonely arena. If you don't get into tournaments, you don't get paid. And while Gillis has some loyal and supportive sponsors to, Midland's Dow the big one, to ease the burden, there also are a lot of expenses with being a professional golfer, like travel and hotels, for him and his caddie.

In August, Gillis flew to Washington state for a Tuesday qualifier, and missed out. Then he flew to Calgary for another qualifier, and he missed out again. That adds up, in the pocket book and blood-pressure meter. It can make you question if it's all worth it, especially with a wife and young kids back home.

That's why status is so darn huge, especially on the 50-and-older Champions Tour, where outside of the majors, there are no cuts — meaning if you get into a 54-hole tournament, you're guaranteed a paycheck, and so does your caddie.

Top 54 on the money list at the conclusion the Charles Schwab Cup championship in Phoenix in November will him avoid qualifying school, and get him that coveted card. He's trending in that direction. Of course, a win would certainly seal the deal.

"Oh yeah, I do, for sure," Gillis said when asked if he believes that win is only a matter of team. "I certainly feel that way. We just have to keep at it. We'll get into a groove and a rhythm, but there's a lot going on trying to keep a job, get into the next event. You're playing for more than the average guy that's in the top 35 or whatever.

"It'd be really easy to get down on yourself over a day like today when you think this is it. But that doesn't do anybody any good.

"You take the positives out of it and run with it."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE