Q&A with Curtis Thompson on returning to Louisiana, his golf comeback and more
March 17, 2021
By Nick Parker , PGATOUR.COM
- March 17, 2021
- Curtis Thompson earned his first victory on the Korn Ferry Tour at the 2020 Evans Scholars Invitational. (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR)
Curtis Thompson, a former LSU Tiger, is back in Louisiana this week for the Chitimacha Louisiana Open presented by MIstras, holding down the No. 15 spot in the Korn Ferry Tour Points Standings. It’s a spot he never could have imagined he’d be two years ago as he caddied for his sister, Lexi Thompson, thinking his competitive days were finished and contemplating his next career move.
But Thompson was convinced to give it another go, medaling at 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament, and his 2020 campaign was perhaps the Korn Ferry Tour’s best redemption story as the 28-year-old went from quitting the game after losing status in 2018, to posting his first victory on the Korn Ferry Tour at the 2020 Evans Scholars Invitational.
The PGA TOUR set down with Thompson this week to chat through his comeback, his favorite Bayou eats, his Christmas present for his dad, and his recently acquired LSU diploma.
What made you pick LSU?
I was home schooled for middle school and high school, and although Buddy Alexander ran a really great program at Florida, I just wanted to get away from home and get a little more culture in the system for myself and just get away from home. That’s really why I went to LSU. It actually turned out to be a pretty good decision because my reason to go to Florida would have been Buddy Alexander, and I think he would have ended up leaving my freshman year. So pretty happy about that decision.
Favorite Louisiana-based food?
Walk-Ons and get the catfish atchaflaya or crawfish etouffee. That’s pretty tough to beat those two. Obviously, those are restaurant based, but If you go to a tailgate and get that, it’s going to be a little better in my personal opinion.
Favorite LSU game?
It’s hard to pick. I think the LSU-Florida game no matter where it’s at is my favorite game because those were the two schools it came down to me to go. It’s just the camaraderie of those games every year no matter where it is. It’s the most fun game to go to I think. The Alabama game is craziness, but I don’t have much attachment to Alabama, but Florida I kind of do.
What did the breakthrough last year feel like to have to go back to Q-School after quitting the game for a stretch then medal and then win on the Korn Ferry Tour last year?
It’s been crazy. If you would have told me that year happened in 2015, that’s what my expectations looked like, what last year looked like. Then I obviously had some issues and so expectations went down. I righted a few wrongs, not really wrongs but things that bugged me in life in general. Quitting golf was never really OK with me. Not getting my degree was never really ok with me. And I was always looking forward to getting married. Really those three things really came together, and I got those crossed off the bucket list. Then it was just golf. You obviously have a marriage to maintain and a house to maintain, but all the things that were on my mind and bugging me were gone. Obviously, it was a huge breakthrough year. I’ve got goals for this year that look a lot similar to last year. It means a lot and be great to be in this position to be able to come out here and play some golf and enjoy where I’m at and just hopefully be patient enough where I can get another win or some more top-5s.
How much did you have left to graduate at LSU when you went back and when did you graduate?
I had 18 credits left when I left in 2014. I graduated middle of last year. That was the only good thing that came out of COVID was my last couple classes I was going to have to take at LSU. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to do it with travel. I was going to somehow make it work. I was already contacting the instructors that taught the classes that I was going to have to be there for and trying to explain my situation. But then COVID hit, and they found ways to offer the classes online, so I was able to do them as I traveled. So I finished middle of last year. I think it took me about a year and half. Beginning of 2019 was when I went back.
What was it like to graduate after juggling pro golf and finishing your degree?
When I went to LSU, it was my No. 1 goal. I wanted to do all four years and get that degree and get something that means something. So I just wanted something that meant something, and after my third year of college, I was sitting very stagnant. I felt like I was playing better golf than I was getting my results and I just, I don’t know, I split. The school aspect has always been easy for me because I’m a pretty self-driven person in the first place. So it wasn’t anything for me to go back, but it was just really taking the initiative to start it. Because once you leave, no one wants to go back. You’re like you know what I don’t really need it, whatever, whatever, but it’s always something. Maybe I played really nice golf 5-7 years and I want to go work somewhere and get a job. So once golf is over, what else do you really have when you’ve been playing for 25 years?
Tell me more about quitting golf…how long did you quit for and what made you come back?
John Peterson and I have done it multiple times. We retire and come back. When you’ve played golf for that long, you just want to play. As much as you tell yourself, it doesn’t make sense to play anymore, you’re not playing great, you’re not providing for your family and all that. That’s what got me to quit. I was playing horrendous. I was shooting low 80s, high 80s, I’m like I just got to go. I started caddying for Lexi, and I’d say that was the low point there in 2018. Just because the game is not there doesn’t mean the golf brain is not there. So that was my low point. Right before I caddied for Lexi, we were trying to figure out what I was going to do. Was I going to go back to school? Or was I going to try and start selling myself to people at golf courses? Do you need somebody to do this for you? Without a degree, it’s tough to find something. So I started caddying for Lexi and caddying at Pine Tree, and something just flipped.
I had a lot of people, very successful people in general in different parts of the world, saying, ‘Hey go get your degree, tackle that first. You got to start that. Then that way golf’s just a backburner, and you always have that degree and no one can ever take that from you.’ So I started that. Then I started playing golf with some members at different golf courses, and they said the same thing, ‘You got to try again with this much talent and this much work.’ And really it turns out that a 2-4 month break from grinding and banging my head in the ground was what I needed, to just watch some golf and turn it off for a little bit.
How long did you caddie for Lexi?
Not many. I did the end of the year in 2018 and beginning two events in 2019. It was only like four events. But it was nice, we got a win, and we played the Diamond Resorts, which is automatic money. I think I made $70K in those 2-4 events. So that money right there kind of got me back into it. And from there, 2019 was a pretty good year. Did Monday Qualifying and all that, never made it through unfortunately, but then got to Q School and it was like a new golfer came out.Lexi Thompson celebrates with her caddie and brother, Curtis, after winning the LPGA CME Group Tour Championship in 2018. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
What did you take away from caddying for Lexi?
Well, I mean there’s no one that hits a golf ball like she does. I mean even the guys that I play with out on the Korn Ferry Tour, there’s no one that hits it like she does. So you have to give yourself a little leeway when it comes to that, but the game is just a lot easier than people make it. It really just comes down to keeping your ball in play off the tee and having good lag putting because at the end of the day, we’re probably going to have once maybe twice a round where we can two putt for a birdie. And then the rest of the holes you can play a little more conservative and still get around the golf course. So that’s what I learned. It sounds dumb, but the less mistakes you make the better. It’s not about how much firepower you have. Obviously it’s better to have a machine with six gears as opposed to three. It’s nice to have if you’re four back with nine to play, and you don’t care about where you finish except for a win. It’s nice to be like ‘Ok, well now I’m going to turn it up a little bit.’ It’s nice to have that, but it’s not what golf’s about is what I learned.
How are you a different golfer than you were during your first run on the Korn Ferry Tour?
In my eyes, just my mental ability to play golf is much better now. When I came out, I was a much better ball-striker and driver of the golf ball in 2015. I was much better tee-to-green, but I was much more sputtered. No doubt about that. But almost I was such a good ball striker in my mind that it didn’t allow me to play smarter in some areas where I could have. To where now that I’ve seen that a ball can go way off-line on any swing, I’ve changed how I play golf.
Last year, for example, looking at my par-5 play, I averaged 4.5. I noticed that at the beginning of the year and said every time we play golf we’re 2-under-par based off the stats every time we play. So then from there all you have to do is find a couple birdies and some pars to shoot in the 60s or 70,71. And a high 60s or low 70s average is all you need to be one of the best players in the world and one of the best players on the Korn Ferry Tour. So I noticed that and that’s something I didn’t notice back in 2015. Now, I try to hit it in spots where I go out and make less bogeys. I don’t make as many birdies, but I don’t make quite as many bogeys and my bad days are much better.
When you were shooting in the 80s, who helped you get out of that funk?
I had started doing it on my own, but there’s a guy named Horatio out at the Dye Preserve that started getting me out of it. But two weeks before Q-School, I’m like ‘OK, I’m hitting it good enough, but I know I can only do one thing with the golf ball, and it’s going to be very difficult to control on certain holes.’ So two weeks before Q School I went to Martin Hall and said, ‘OK we gotta fix this shit. This is not quite right. Let’s get it right.’ He turned me upside down for about a week and I started to get it and then right before showtime it really started to click. Without him, there’s no way that I could have been where I am now. I could have made it through Q-School with what I had going to him, but there’s no way I would have run thru Q-School like I did and then had the year I had last year.
How much more prepared do you feel for the PGA TOUR now than you did back then? You’re still only 28 and have a lot of golf in front of you?
I’ve always thought that my game suits the PGA TOUR more than the Korn Ferry Tour. I hit it decently far. My ball striking has different gears to it where I can turn it up to where I can make a lot of pars or turn it to where I make more birdies. Putting does seem to be my sore spot, but it’s getting stronger by the day. I just feel like out on the PGA TOUR the better the ball-strikers are the ones that make it a little further. Obviously, the guys that putt well every week are always at the top, but I feel like it makes it easier if you give yourself more opportunities with your ball striking.
Who were your favorite players growing up?
Fred Couples is one of my favorite players and swings like that, I just really enjoy watching very natural players, and I think he’s one of the best at it. Ernie Els is another one of my favorites. Pretty feel oriented players, that’s who I look at for my game.
What’s the most nervous you’ve ever been on the golf course?
I would say was when I Monday qualified into the 2015 Sony Open, and that first hole, I started on No. 10, it was my first tee shot as a pro and first TOUR event, and I’m trying to drive the green. I’m like, ‘So your first shot, you’re going to try to drive the green?’ No. 10 is drivable there. It’s like 320. So I don’t know why I was so nervous there, maybe because the jitters of your first PGA TOUR golf shot or that your first PGA TOUR golf shot was trying to drive the green. I’m not sure.
What’s one thing you’d buy or do if you won a PGA TOUR event?
I have no idea. I’ve got a house, I’ve got two nice cars, and just bought my dad a car in December. So really the first thing that came to mind is I’d buy a 1970 Charger is probably what I’d go and buy.
What’d you buy your dad in December?
It was a Christmas present. It was one of my goals by the time he was 60. He had two 1987 Grand Nationals when we were little, and those cars, they break especially when they’re fast. So as we started playing golf, he was spending a lot of money on the cars and eh was trying to keep us in golf and so he sold the two cars and went with us for golf. He just said I’ve gotta get rid of these things. They cost me too much money. So that was one of my goals as I came out of the slump. I said lets make sure that we do something good when it comes down to this to get him a 1986 black Grand National, and it’s got probably 650-700 horsepower. He loves the car. There’s no way to hide that. He was upset at first, because he thought I went out and blew all the money on it just myself, but my brother and sister all chipped in to pay for it.
What would you consider a successful career when you’re done?
Honestly if the career somehow ended right now with an injury, I’ve proven to myself that anybody can come out of anything. I went for a year, year and half there thinking that I’d never play golf competitively ever again. And here I am. Obviously I’d like to spend a bunch of time on the PGA TOUR and when I do have kids, I’d like to not miss their entire life. I don’t really want to play until I’m 60 years old. I’d like to think that this year is my year and I go up to and I can play 5-7-10 years on the PGA TOUR, be successful at it and then be done with it and watch my kids grow up and enjoy the second half of my life. That would be successful for me.
What would you do in the second half?
I’d probably open some sort of golf shop with simulators, kind of like a bowling alley, topgolf kind of deal with simulators, bar, and just have it down by my house and run it.