The Day Michael Thompson’s Dream Came True

Michael Thompson managed to corral his first PGA Tour victory in 61 attempts at the Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

He did it by shooting 1-under on the day — 9-under for the tournament — when only 5 of the 75 players who made the cut managed to break par. And on a day when the field scoring average rose to 73.707, just short of 4-over par.

Everyone thought the wind was bad Saturday; it was worse on Sunday. Geoff Ogilvy, who finished 2nd, two strokes back at 7-under, summed it up:

Probably harder today than it was yesterday on the course.  I think the wind kind of died a tiny bit for us yesterday but it was getting stronger and stronger towards the end and it’s getting cold, too, which is not what we come to Florida for.

And in those very challenging conditions, Michael Thompson’s dream came true: 

This is everything, this is a childhood dream come true.  I dreamed of playing out here since I was seven years old and to win, it’s just unbelievable.  I just can’t put it into words.  The whole day was awesome.  My ball‑striking was way better today than it was yesterday.  I just enjoyed the ride, and you know, glory to God for the time He’s given to me and all of us out here, it’s just awesome.

And it meant a great deal to him that he did it against one of the best fields of the year; so many top-ranked players live in the North Palm Beach area:

Absolutely, guys like Tiger, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Geoff Ogilvy coming down the stretch making birdie on the last to put pressure on me, it’s just awesome.  It really kind of solidifies in my mind that I’m one of the guys now, and that’s a special feeling.

“I’m one of the guys now, and that’s a special feeling.” This is a transformative moment in a man’s life. One day you aren’t one of the guys and the next day you are.

You labor long hours over many years always with your eye on this one thing, winning a PGA Tour tournament. The vision has many shapes but one constant, winning. It doesn’t particularly matter which tournament; any Tour event will push you across the line into the winner category.

You hit balls while you’re thinking about it. You drive to and from the golf course while you’re thinking about it. When you dine alone, you’re thinking about it. And, of course, you literally dream about it.

When you’re playing well, the dreams are about winning. When you’re playing poorly, the dreams are about not being able to hit the ball…or the fairway…or the green…or, nonsensically, out of the inside of a building or over land that doesn’t even look like a golf course. Or you have no room for a backswing. Or the teeing ground turns into a hardwood floor and you can’t tee your ball up because you can’t get a tee into the wood. Oh, the tricks of the mind.

Then one day, it’s over. You’re a winner and everything you every thought about yourself as a player, all of the work you put into becoming a player, is suddenly vindicated. And even better, the victory gives you entry into the big events, so you now have something new to look forward to:

Absolutely.  I love the big events.  I’m already in the Masters and U.S. Open, but British Open hopefully, and you know, it’s just another step in my career.  I’m on a long journey, and I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but I’m here for the ride.

“I’m on a long journey, and I don’t know where it’s going to take me, but I’m here for the ride.” What a glorious thought, what a spellbinding moment. In one fell swoop, the dream is reinitialized and the chase begins again.

The chase. The love of the chase. The lure of the chase. The infatuation with the chase…the thing that keeps us up and moving forward in our lives…the thing that orders our lives…and, at its best, our very reason for being.

The day began on a great note. There are times in your life when you just know that it’s going to be your day:

No, today was unbelievable.  I woke up this morning, and I had a really good feeling.  I got some good sleep last night, and I knew what I wanted to do today.  I knew what I wanted to work on, and I knew kind of how I wanted to approach the golf course.

I don’t know, it just all really worked out.  I think the Big Man upstairs was watching over me today and allowing me to get some good lies in the rough, and you know, helped me make some of those putts.  So, I don’t know, couldn’t have gone any better.

But it didn’t just happen. Using all of the lessons of previous failures, he helped himself through the day:

Well, today I did a really good job of not thinking about all of the things that happen after a win or after I get done playing.  I just kept telling myself, even on the last hole, was just stick to what you’ve been working on.  Kept telling myself, really, go find it in the dirt.  Just go find it in the dirt.

And he really does go find it in the dirt. He does not look at video of his swing, he learns by the feel of the swing and the flight of the ball. But he may make an exception in this case:

Yeah, I think I’d like to have a record just really for memory’s sake.  It’s kind of like a photo album or something like that.  You know, it would be nice to kind of relive this tournament, and especially this round.  I’ve never felt so good on the course while in contention than I did today.  I just felt real calm, real smooth.  Was hitting the ball so well.  And I don’t know, it was just awesome.

And what he noticed about the day was how incredibly calm he was:

Well, I guess what the calmness I can attribute to is the past experiences that I’ve had being in contention.  I remember McGladrey two years ago, I got pretty nervous coming down the stretch.  And then the U.S. Open, the big lesson I learned was just to not look at the leaderboards.

I think I looked at a leaderboard one time today, and even then I just kind of blocked it out of my mind.  I didn’t even give it any credit.  I know in the fairway on 18 was the only time I asked my caddie, what do we need to do.  He went over and talked to Mark Rolfing [the on-course commentator] about what Geoff was doing up ahead, but it didn’t change our game plan, even before he hit his eagle putt, we were going for the green.

I think all of the past experiences, all of the tournaments that I’ve won in the past, playing in front of crowds and just learning how to be Michael Thompson, you know, that all kind of led to what happened today.

“Just learning how to be Michael Thompson.” That’s all any of us are trying to do, it just takes us a while to figure out that that’s the purpose behind everything we do. And it makes us more serious about our work. Particularly when things aren’t going well.

Thompson played in four events this year before the Honda Classic. He won $10,900 with a T78 at Torrey Pines, just three spots from last place and missed the other three cuts. The last at Riviera was bad, shooting 78, 80 and dead last going into the week off for the Match Play in Tucson.

The start of the year wasn’t great for me.  I thought I would come out and play great.  As a golfer, that’s what you want to believe.  But however I do believe the Lord has different plans, and the best way He can humble us is by allowing us to experience a low point; whether it’s rock bottom or just the bottom of wherever you are. To me, I’ve always had a lot of pride I guess in my game, and a strong identity in who I am as a golfer.  I wasn’t living up to those expectations that I set on myself.

My coach, my wife and I, we all just kind of put our heads together and said, what do we need to do in order to get better.  You know, I was having thoughts of, I’m going to miss every cut this year.  I’m not going to play great at all; I’m going to lose my card and then what?

We started talking, well, if that happens, I’ll play in the Tour, or I’ll even go back to the Hooters Tour or the NGA Tour.  As long as I have a place to play golf, I’m going to be happy.  And that give me a lot of comfort and allowed me to just focus on what I like to do on the range, work a lot on my chipping, work on my putting and trying to hit that low fade that I love to hit.

The Northern Trust was a good thing in my life.  It allowed me to focus on what I needed to do in order to play like I did this week.

Play like he did, indeed. And play better than anybody else. Out of a state of being absolutely nowhere. It almost makes you want to weep with joy for him.

All of that happened to Michael Thompson on Sunday. And he’ll never be the same.

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