Tom Gillis entered his second season — and first full season — on the Champions Tour with lofty expectations, and things didn't exactly go as planned early in the year.
Through six events, he had three mediocre finishes and three withdraws, including one withdraw when he flew home following the second round of the Senior PGA Championship, a major, only to learn he actually had made the cut.
Now, he's coming off perhaps his best month of competitive professional golf, a September that saw him finish fourth twice, tied for seventh once and tied for 18th the other tournament. He had a share of the lead or solo lead in three of the events, and even led on the 17th tee Sunday in one of the them.
The run vaulted him all the way to 36th on the Charles Schwab Cup points list, two spots from securing complete exemption, including the majors, for next season.
"Umm, I guess I never really measured it by month, to be honest with you," Gillis said Monday, after waking up following a red eye from California to his new home in Florida following his fourth-place showing at the PURE Insurance Championship at Pebble Beach over the weekend. "But it's gotta be right up there."
Gillis, 51, who is a native of Lake Orion, still hasn't broken through for that big win — he had two runner-up showings during a long career on the PGA Tour — but he thinks his recent play means it's coming.
From March through August, he posted seven rounds in the 60s.
In September alone, he posted nine.
"I think there was some pressure and frustration starting out," Gillis said. "There was one little thing on my downswing, my club face was open and that was creating some problems and some doubt.
"Once I got that straightened out, everything has come easier ever since."
Another big difference is the putting. Nothing was falling early in the season, Gillis said. Lately, he's been pouring them in from just about everywhere.
The run began with a fourth-place finish at the Shaw Charity Classic out in Alberta, where he was leading by himself on the 17th tee on Sunday before bogey at 17 and double bogey on 18 derailed his hopes of that breakthrough victory. He took it in stride, however; a $141,100 paycheck didn't hurt. He then led early two weeks later, back in his home state at the Ally Challenge in Grand Blanc, and finished tied for seventh. Then at the Sanford International in South Dakota, he also had a share of the lead before stumbling Sunday and finishing tied for 18th.
This past week at Pebble Beach, where he always seems to play well, he didn't ever have the lead, but still took fourth thanks to a Sunday birdie at 18 to finish out a 69.
For the month, he earned $350,780; for the year, he's earned $525,485.
"I felt like this was coming," said Gillis, who said the slow start might've been attributed to a chaotic summer in which he moved his family from Lake Orion to Jupiter, Florida, where he can play year-round and work on his game.
"It'd be nice to close the deal, but the more you get in there, eventually it just happens."
Gillis now gets a week off back home with the family, including wife Jenny, who religiously follows the live updates of Gillis' play on PGATour.com every week. She joked this week that every time Gillis starts playing well, she starts shopping online — and that's when he makes a bogey.
In two weeks, the 50-and-older Champions Tour has its final regular-seven event, in Cary, N.C., followed by the first playoff event in Richmond, Va., the second in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the playoff finale Nov. 7-10 in Phoenix. Gillis has qualified for the first two playoff events, and if nobody leapfrogs him on money, he's in the final, too.