Thompson applies major lessons in breakthrough victory at PGA National

March 03, 2013
Brian Wacker

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Finishing second sometimes has its benefits.

“The U.S. Open, the big lesson I learned was just not to look at the leaderboard,” Michael Thompson said of his runner-up finish a year ago at The Olympic Club.

If he had looked Sunday at The Honda Classic, he might not have liked what he would have seen: A plethora of major champions lurking behind him, and a wild front nine on another windswept day at PGA National.

In the end, however, Thompson withstood the weather and a bevy of challengers that included a fistful of proven winners to get his first career victory on the PGA TOUR.

“I think I looked at a leaderboard one time today, and even then I just kind of blocked it out of my mind,” said Thompson, who shot a final-round 69 to finish two shots clear of runner-up Geoff Ogilvy. “I didn't even give it any credit.”

Thompson, on the other hand, deserves plenty of credit for how he stood up to Ogilvy, Lucas Glover, Keegan Bradley, Charl Schwartzel and Graeme McDowell. All have won a major. None were able to beat Thompson on Sunday, even though the final round of The Honda Classic felt a little like a major.

PGA National played its most difficult when it mattered the most, averaging more than three strokes over par on Sunday. No one went without making a bogey and only five players broke par.

Thompson was one of them, but even his scorecard wasn’t immune -- his front nine included three bogeys, two birdies and an eagle.

The latter was an important buoy early in the day, but his run of six straight pars to open the back nine were moreso -- especially with Ogilvy having chipped in for birdie on the 16th to pull within one of the lead as Thompson watched from the fairway.

It was a shot that was eerily reminiscent of Ogilvy’s chip-in on the 17th hole during the final round of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Only this time, the guy playing behind him didn’t make any mistakes.

“The (par) on 10 was big to get some momentum again after kind of a bad bogey on 9,” said Thompson, whose approach shot sailed well right of the green before he got up and down to save par on what was the toughest hole of the week.

The 11th was the second-toughest, but Thompson’s rock-solid short game saved him again when he got up and down after barely clearing the water short of the green.

Ditto on No. 14, where he 3-iron from 210 yards got caught in a gust and came up short of the green. Again, Thompson got up and down for par.

“You don't have to do much wrong to be making a bogey out there,” Ogilvy said. “There are a lot of golf courses on TOUR that it might be easy to close out a golf tournament, or easier, but this is not one of them. This is probably one of the hardest.”

After Thompson’s performance at The Olympic Club last year, maybe we should have seen this coming. Then again, how could we have?

Thompson’s road to this point wasn’t exactly traditional. He attended Tulane University for two years ... until the school disbanded its golf team following Hurricane Katrina.

He spent the next two seasons at Alabama, where he hit the fewest fairways and greens of any player on the team, only to lead the Crimson Tide in birdies.

“That's a perfect example of just who I am,” Thompson said. “I'm not a great ball-striker. I think I'm pretty good. I was pretty good this week.”

It just took until now to discover that.

In 2008, Thompson was the top-ranked amateur in the world. But he didn’t reach the PGA TOUR until 2011.

Save for a stint on the NGA Tour in between, most of his results, or a lack thereof, left Thompson searching for answers.

On the TOUR, however, Thompson was doubting himself after missing three of his first four cuts this season, which included a last-place finish at the Northern Trust Open after rounds of 78-80. A rap session with his swing coach, Susie Meyers, and his wife helped.

“I was having thoughts of ‘I’m going to miss every cut this year,’” Thompson said. “I’m not going to play great at all; I’m going to lose my card and then what?”

Thompson majored in accounting in college, so he could've always fallen back on that.

Here are a couple of numbers that will ensure Thompson might not ever have to use that degree: He’s now 11th in the FedExCup standings and 45th in the Official World Golf Ranking, which gets him into the field for next week’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.

As for the $1.08 million he won, Thompson says he’ll let his wife deal with that. Maybe she can put some of it toward the honeymoon they haven’t taken since getting married 2 1/2 years ago.

Don’t let Thompson fool you, though. Numbers suit his personality.

“I'm very slow, methodical, and I guess smart in the sense of the way I approach each hole,” he said. “I want to play smart golf. I want to have good course management. On a course like this, you have to.”

Just like in a major, too.