Former Tide Golfer Playing At Torrey Pines
Thompson returns to the site of the 2008 U.S. Open where he earned low amateur honors following a tie for 29th place after rounds of 74-73-73-72 - 292.
Since that time - some 956 days ago - Thompson earned full-time status on the PGA Tour in 2011 after finishing tied for 16th at last year's PGA Tour Qualifying School, was named 2010 Hooters Tour Player of the Year, Most Improved Player and won his first professional tournament, the Michelob Ultra Classic, in August.
"Michael Thompson is all about integrity, hard work and he does everything correctly," Alabama golf coach Jay Seawell said. "That's who he is."
How Thompson arrived on the PGA Tour wasn't without its own trials and tribulations. After a stellar career at Alabama, including one of the best senior seasons in Crimson Tide history, he struggled initially after turning pro. A rough-and-tumble rookie season in 2009 saw him miss seven-of-14 cuts on the Hooters Tour and only place inside the top 10 on two occasions. Last year, though, was different.
Thompson finished the 2010 season with six top-10 finishes, four top-5 showings and a win at the Michelob Ultra Classic at The Auburn University Club (in which his wife Rachel caddied for him). He lowered his overall stroke average by nearly a full shot and his first round average by 1.44, averaging 7.42 strokes under par per tournament in 2010. He racked up $92,853 in winnings and accumulated a tour-leading 3,865 points en route to Player of the Year.
"I've always been a player or person that never likes to take major leaps in success," Thompson said. "I'm a person who really enjoys learning through my failures and that's part of life – you have to learn how to fail in order to succeed. It's the same way for me as it is in golf. There have been times where I've struggled. In 2009, I didn't have a great year, the first full year I was a professional golfer. I struggled a lot on the Hooters Tour but I got through that and in 2010 I had my best year ever. That wouldn't have happened unless I went through those struggles."
After finishing the 2010 season, Thompson would head into the grueling six-day, 108-hole Q-School event full of confidence following his outstanding year on the Hooters Tour. During his week-long stay in Winter Garden, Fla., Thompson said he tried to create the most relaxing atmosphere possible - traveling by himself, renting a condo by himself, trying to make every day, as he put it, "like I was coming home from the golf course."
"My goal that week was to treat it as much like a regular event – at the time like a regular Hooters Tour event – as much as possible," Thompson said. "My routine for 2010 worked really, really well on the Hooters Tour, and I figured if I kept doing that I was going to be successful at Q-School too."
He struggled initially, shooting rounds of 73 and 72 over the first two days, but rebounded on day three, shooting a three-under par 69 before firing a six-under par 65 on day four that vaulted him up the leader board.
"I wasn't thinking about playing golf the way I knew how to play or the way I had played all year," Thompson said. "After the second day, I settled down and said "let's go be Michael Thompson and let's go play golf." That's when I really started to play the way I know how to play, started making a lot of birdies, and made very few mistakes and enjoyed it."
Thompson closed with rounds of 69 and 70 over the pressure-packed final two days to secure a 16th place finish and exempt status on the PGA Tour in 2011, an accomplishment that even left the Tuscon, Ariz., native a bit surprised.
"I was totally expecting to play on the Nationwide Tour this year," Thompson said. "But I'm thrilled to be out on the PGA Tour learning a lot. This year is going to be a learning experience and we'll see how it goes"
As his career begins to take flight, Thompson will lean heavily on his wife Rachel, who he calls "a whole support group just by herself who takes care of the emotional aspect of me traveling and playing," and his instructor Susie Myers.
Myers, who also served as Thompson's caddie during the 2008 U.S. Open, has been his instructor since he was just 14 years old.
"She's really my sports psychologist, golf swing instructor, life coach," Thompson said. "She's kind of all in one. We've got this relationship now we've built over the years where she knows exactly what I'm feeling when I'm talking with her about my round, what I'm experiencing and how I'm feeling."
While it's not uncommon for most PGA Tour pros to have a separate sports psychologist, fitness trainer, golf instructor, short game instructor and putting instructor, Thompson has all of that in one, which as he says, "is really nice."
"She creates the right response for me to hear so I can go out the next day and play well," Thompson said."That's unique in that I have an all-in-one coach."
Following this week's event at Torrey Pines, Thompson will play in the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach on Feb. 10-13 and the Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera Maya Cancun on Feb. 24-27. How well he fares in those tournaments, as well as the upcoming Florida swing starting in March, will determine if Thompson will get to play in such big tournaments as the World Golf Championship events, FedEx Cup events as well as major championships.
"I know what I need to do," Thompson said. "I need to have the attitude that I'm a great golfer, and I can go out there and compete against the best golfers in the world. I never had the opportunity before, so it's exciting in that sense that it's all new to me. But at the same time the golf is all the same. It's the same as when I played at Alabama, it's the same as when I played on the Hooters Tour. I just need to go out and play."
Thompson, who was born and raised in Arizona, now makes his home in Birmingham, and considers the Southeast to be his home. Since graduating from Alabama with a degree in accounting, Thompson has carried the Crimson Tide banner high, adopting the Alabama Script 'A' insignia on his golf bag in addition to carrying a Big Al headcover on his driver. He is one of four Alabama golfers currently on the PGA Tour, and the first since Jason Bohn (2004) to qualify for the Tour.
"Everywhere I go, wherever I play, I always get one or two 'Roll Tides,'" Thompson said. "To be from a different state and to now be part of a community that the University of Alabama is, I had no idea how big the support was for the University and how many people love The University of Alabama. That made it really special and I'm really proud to be part of that community. I really just pray that I can represent Alabama the way it needs to be. It's a great institution, a classy institution and a really friendly place."
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