Davis-and-Goliath showdown on tap Sunday at The American ExpressJon Rahm, rookie Davis Thompson four clear of field in the Coachella Valley
January 21, 2023
By Kevin Prise , PGATOUR.COM
Davis Thompson’s Round 3 highlights from The American Express
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Davis Thompson doesn’t hesitate when the question is posed.
The PGA TOUR rookie is still in the prove-it stage of his career at the highest level. It’s his seventh start as a TOUR member, and although his accomplishments are bountiful on the amateur and pathway circuits, the wider golf world reserves final judgment until a resume is built on TOUR. He might share the lead with Jon Rahm into the final round at The American Express, but he’s perfectly OK with the consensus that he’s seen as the underdog.
Does he feel like the underdog?
“For sure,” Thompson said. “I’m playing against Jon Rahm. I feel like everybody would pick me as the underdog. But I mean, I kind of relish that label. I just try to go out and do my own thing and try to not let anything bother me.”
Think of it as a Davis-and-Goliath showdown of sorts. Rahm has won three of his past four starts worldwide, including the Sentry Tournament of Champions two weeks ago where he made up a six-stroke deficit in his final seven holes. He’s laser-focused on stacking up wins and regaining the No. 1 spot on the Official World Golf Ranking; he’s currently No. 4.
Thompson is mere months into his PGA TOUR career, having earned his card via the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List. He hadn’t even played a full nine holes at PGA West’s Stadium Course until Saturday afternoon, whereas Rahm has abundant experience at this event, with three top-15s in four starts including a 2018 victory.
But the PGA TOUR works in a clear way: shoot the scores and earn the spotlight. Thompson equaled Rahm at 23-under through 54 holes at The American Express. The event utilizes a three-course rotation, with all players competing at PGA West’s Stadium Course, Nicklaus Tournament Course and La Quinta CC across the first three days.
Sunday’s final round will take place at the Stadium Course, with Thompson and Rahm together in the final grouping alongside J.T. Poston.
Thompson and Rahm will begin the day four strokes clear of Poston. If both co-leaders start fast, a proverbial duel in the desert could take shape.
The golf world might be more familiar with Rahm, but the eight-time TOUR winner knows better than to assume his playing partner will fade away. Rahm, an avid consumer of golf broadcast coverage, knows everyone gets their first win somewhere.
“I always tell people, when they ask me the difference between what you would think are the greatest players in the world and the rest, skill-wise, it’s not that big,” Rahm said. “It really isn’t that big. It’s a few moments here and there that make a difference. One-stroke difference on scoring average for the whole year, it truly doesn’t boil down to that much. That’s usually the difference.
“A lot of people could have said that (a veteran had the advantage) the first time Jordan Spieth won, the first time I won, the first time a lot of people won. So do you have an advantage? I don’t know. I mean, I have the experience of being there, if it goes down to the wire. But he’s no slouch, obviously. He’s done what he’s done.”
Thompson has indeed done plenty. He represented the United States in the 2020 Palmer Cup and 2021 Walker Cup, and he finished No. 2 on the inaugural PGA TOUR University Velocity Global Ranking in 2021 to earn automatic Korn Ferry Tour membership upon turning pro that summer. He won the Korn Ferry Tour’s UNC Health Championship presented by STITCH last spring en route to comfortably earning his TOUR card via the season-long points race.
Back in his college days, Thompson was described by a fellow Georgia Bulldog, Keith Mitchell, as pulling off the seemingly impossible feat of acting like a TOUR pro as a college kid in Athens, Georgia. In a way, he’s been building toward this moment for a long time.
“I guess I kind of sacrificed some things in college,” Thompson said Saturday in the Coachella Valley. “I wasn’t the most social guy. I really just focused on my schoolwork and my golf. Just got better and better every year. Really tried to emulate what these guys do out here on TOUR.”
As Thompson completed his post-round interview Saturday in the gloaming, music could be heard in the background. A Darius Rucker concert was about to start, adjacent to the range, and the golf vibe was gradually morphing into a nightlife scene.
Would Thompson be attending the concert? Nope. He had some business to prepare for, the final round of The American Express. Alongside one of the golf world’s household names.
“I remember when he came out of college and he was just playing really well right out of the gate,” Thompson said of Rahm. “I thought that was very impressive to do that at such a young age. Then obviously watched him win the U.S. Open in 2021 … those putts he made on 17 and 18 (at Torrey Pines) were pretty special.”
Now Thompson enters that arena – and Rahm knows the rookie has no intention of going away.
“The level of talent on the TOUR is only increasing,” Rahm added. “(Davis) is doing a phenomenal job and he’s playing amazing golf and showing it.”