I was at Pebble Beach one year, I walked into a restaurant and Craig Stadler and somebody else were sitting at a table behind me and I sat down with my wife and a couple of friends of mine, he recalled. We were having dinner and the waitress says, Sir, can you please refrain from getting any autographs tonight? because Craig Stadler was sitting behind me and I said, Don't worry, I will leave him alone.
At 510 and just 160lbs, Toms could easily be mistaken as a run-of-the-mill patron. A khaki, collared-shirt, soft-spike wearing wannabe.
At least until last year.
Now, the 35-year-old Louisianan is one of the more recognizable figures in the sport.
Toms is the reigning PGA Champion. Hes one of many to deny Phil Mickelson his first major championship, and one of only a few to win a major in the Tiger Woods era.
Toms won the 83rd PGA Championship by being the best player over 72 holes at the Atlantic Athletic Club. He officially used his clubs 265 times that sweltering week, but it was a swing he made ' and a swing he didnt ' that defined his victory.
Toms used a 5-wood to ace the 243-yard, par-5 15th Saturday; that gave him the lead. He carried that advantage into the final hole Sunday when he faced what appeared to be the most difficult decision of his professional life. But it wasnt.
I told my caddie on Tuesday, I said, If I dont feel good about my second shot on this hole I wont be afraid to lay up no matter what the situation, Toms said.
The situation couldnt have been more compelling. Leading Mickelson by one, with his ball nestled in the rough, 213 yards from the hole, Toms was true to his word. He laid up short of the water guarding the green.
I was prepared for it. I knew it was the right play, he said.
The cautious route proved to be the proper one, as he wedged his third shot to 12 feet and made the victorious par.
Toms name was etched onto the Wanamaker Trophy, alongside Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. He had accomplished something that players like Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson never could.
And like many before him, his major success wasnt born in one week.
When I turned pro it was like starting all over again, said the two-time All-American at Louisiana State University. I played the (Buy.Com) Tour back in the first year they had that, in 91. I was over playing the Asian Tour, to places I never want to go again.
So, you know, it is one of those things where I paid my dues and it was like ' it was a reward for all that time and effort and frustration, heartachefor all this suffering, this is your reward, and it was fantastic.
Toms confidence also received a major boost. He successfully defended his title in the Michelob Championship. And though he hasnt won since last October, he has recorded nine top-10s, including a trio of runner-up finishes.
'Knowing I have been able to (win) against the best players in the worldI wont be scared to win coming down the stretch if I have the chance, he said.
Defending the PGA Championship is one of the more difficult tasks in golf. Two years ago, Woods became the first player since Denny Shute, in 1936 and 37, to win in back-to-back years.
Toms also has more recent history he has to offset in order to retain his title. He hasnt fared well in any of the majors this year. In fact, his results keep getting worse. He tied for 36th in the Masters and tied for 45th in the U.S. Open.
He then finished alone in last place at the British Open ' this after leading after an opening 67.
Hoping to reverse the trend, he played Hazeltine National Golf Club for the first time in July. This is the sixth time the venue has hosted a major championship. Tony Jacklin won the 1970 U.S. Open at Hazeltine, while Payne Stewart did the same in 1991.
Sandra Spuzich won the first major title at this site, in the 1966 U.S. Women's Open, while Hollis Stacy triumphed when the Open returned in '77.
Billy Casper prevailed in the 1983 U.S. Senior Open at Hazeltine.
This year, however, the par-72 layout will extend to 7,360 yards. The par-5 third hole will be a tournament record 636 yards.
I dont think you have to be a long hitter (to contend), Toms said after shooting 3-under 69 in his practice round. I was shocked. I had heard how long it was going to be and everything.
It has some long holes on it, but still some variety. You have some scoring opportunities if you are able to keep it in play.
Toms recorded six birdies and three bogeys in his practice round. One of his red numbers came at the third, where he hit driver, 3-wood and 9-iron to reach the green.
I know its going to be different, Toms said of the course conditions once the event starts, the greens were not very fast, the rough wasnt up like its going to be and there were no grandstands ' no people.
His first visit to Hazeltine will be his last until the week of the championship. Hell then start to fully focus on his defense.
I will get here on Sunday night and start preparing probably Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, he said.
We (my caddie and I) will be prepared so that we wont have a situation that we wont know what to do.
Practice does have a way of making things perfect.
Full Coverage of the 84th PGA Championship