ATHENS, GEORGIA | Davis Thompson graduated in May with a degree in sports management from the University of Georgia. That diploma, however, is not the one he will immediately apply to his post-collegiate career.
As a member of the inaugural top-five Class of 2021 from PGA Tour University, Thompson gains immediate status for the remainder of the season on the Korn Ferry Tour. He’ll actually skip the first eligible event next week in Greer, South Carolina, to use a sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree. He’s still figuring out how to utilize the luxury of a full-time golf schedule.
“It gets me a set schedule right out of school, so I have a job, which is great,” Thompson said. “The tour did a really good job setting that up and I think it rewards dedicated players or those guys who stay in school all four years.”
The PGA Tour set up its “University” points system to reward the top collegians who compete four years in college – or a minimum of three if they graduate early. The points are based on their last two years of eligibility and offers them immediate summer playing opportunities when the ranking is finalized upon the conclusion of the NCAA Championships.
“Any time you’re pro-education and give these guys incentive and a reason to stay and get their degrees, all the while getting better and better prepared, it’s a great thing,” said Georgia golf coach Chris Haack. “Those five guys are going to go out and represent themselves pretty well.”
Granted, Thompson and the four other top graduates from PGA Tour U – John Pak (Florida State), Austin Eckroat (Oklahoma State), Chun An Yu (Arizona State) and Garett Reband (Oklahoma) – are a little behind the eight-ball. Because of COVID forcing the Korn Ferry Tour to extend its 2020 season through 2021, the rest of the players on tour have a 35-event head start into qualifying for the three-event Korn Ferry Finals that begin in August. The PGA Tour U grads will have only eight events to make enough hay to gain top-75 access to the Finals. If they don’t make it, they are exempted into the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q School as a backup.
Ten other players, ranked sixth through 15th on the PGA Tour University points list, received membership on the newly formed Forme Tour, an eight-event U.S.-based schedule that provides a path to the Korn Ferry Tour in the wake of COVID travel restrictions to PGA Tour Canada. That schedule begins June 23-26 with the L&J Golf Championship at Jennings Mill Country Club right outside of Athens in Watkinsville, Georgia, so those players will have equal footing on the ground floor with the rest of the Forme Tour members seeking five spots on the 2021-22 Korn Ferry Tour.
Because the top-five grads are already so far behind the Korn Ferry regulars, players like Thompson have to figure out how to make the system work for them.
“It’s a unique year to approach it,” Thompson said. “All those guys have been playing close to 30 events or more … so it would be tough for me to kind of gain ground and gain top-25 status that way. So I think if I get PGA Tour starts, it will be huge for me to go play well and try to earn my card that way.
“If I get PGA Tour exemptions, I’ll definitely play in those as opposed to the Korn Ferry events,” he added, noting he’s applied for other exemptions into the Travelers and Rocket Mortgage events in June and July. “I haven’t really locked down my schedule yet, but I’ll try to play in as many Korn Ferry events as I can. … I don’t think my body can handle playing eight weeks in a row, but I’m definitely excited to start my professional career.”
“I’m kind of like a sponge and just soak in the information that they tell me. If I ever have any questions there are a bunch of Georgia Bulldogs on tour so I can pick their brains.” – Davis Thompson
Thompson’s last weeks as a collegian were already harried. He went from the SEC Championship to the Walker Cup to the NCAA Regional to U.S. Open qualifying to the NCAA Championship in a five-week stretch that included him dealing with the stomach bug that afflicted many players at the Walker Cup.
“It was a crazy month for me – I think I lost probably five pounds dealing with that, and having to play 36 holes Saturday and Sunday (at Seminole) with the heat didn’t really help,” Thompson said. “I was really tired after that. Next week I had to go play regionals and by the grace of God I was able to play well and win that tournament. Then the national championship in Arizona, it was 100 degrees, so it definitely took a lot out of me. I’m working hard to get some fuel back in my body and work out and get some strength back.”
Meanwhile his last collegiate duty included attending the Hogan Award luncheon Friday in Fort Worth, Texas, before immediately embarking on his professional journey.
“I know he’s tired … he needs a little rest but is going to jump back into playing competitive golf,” said Haack. “He needs to learn how to gear down on the days he needs to rest. … He’s been in the fast lane and he’s ready to get in the slow lane for a while, but instead he has to get right back in the fast lane.”
Thompson is one of those gifted collegians you expect to make a successful transition to the next level. He climbed as high as No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and finished runner-up to Pak for the prestigious Haskins and Hogan Awards, given to the most outstanding male collegiate golfer. “That was kind of a bummer but John Pak is an awesome player and deserves it,” Thompson said of losing out to his Walker Cup teammate.
Thompson’s promise was on display last September in the first round of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, where he held at least a share of the lead for well more than an hour, reaching 4-under par through 12 holes before a few late bogeys left him with a 1-under 69 on the vaunted Tillinghast gem.
“I came here to compete; I didn’t really come here to be a tourist,” Thompson said before narrowly missing the cut by one shot.
His veteran playing partners at Winged Foot were familiar friends and fellow Georgia Bulldogs, Brendon Todd and Harris English.
“He’s just kind of figuring out how good he is and that he can hang out here with probably the best players in the world and that’s what his future is going to be,” said Todd, who still lives in his college town and played often with Thompson in Athens, Georgia. “I don’t remember being as confident or as collected or as talented as him at that age, so he’s got a great future.”
Thompson appreciated the positive feedback: “I think anytime professionals are saying good things about you, you gain confidence from that. … I think I’ve proven that I can compete with those guys out there and I’m just excited for the start of this next journey.”
While Thompson’s father, Todd, also played golf at Georgia, it was the program’s pedigree and not his own that led him to play for Haack. The PGA Tour is well-stocked with former Bulldogs, and Thompson has become close to many of them either in Athens or his family’s home in St. Simons Island, Georgia, where his father runs the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic at Sea Island.
“I’m kind of like a sponge and just soak in the information that they tell me,” Thompson said of his professional Georgia mates like Todd, English, Chris Kirk, Keith Mitchell, Brian Harman, Joey Garber and Greyson Sigg. “If I ever have any questions there are a bunch of Georgia Bulldogs on tour so I can pick their brains. They’ve kind of taken me under their wings – especially the last year with COVID I got to play some golf with them and just hang out. We’re part of the same fraternity so they’re pulling for me.”
“He was one of those guys that just got better and better every year and more comfortable. I think he’s gonna leave here very well-positioned for success at the next level.” – Chris Haack
Sticking around for four years of college not only paid off with a diploma but further enhanced Thompson’s readiness to take the next step in his golf career with big-time experiences like playing in both the Palmer Cup and Walker Cup, competing in a couple tour events and winning the 2021 NCAA Tallahassee Regional (over Pak). He was named the SEC Golfer of the Year in 2021.
“He was one of those guys that just got better and better every year and more comfortable,” Haack said. “I think he’s gonna leave here very well-positioned for success at the next level. Playing in the U.S. Open, RSM, Walker Cup and these high-level events helped stretch his comfort zone a little bit and every time he came back a little bit smarter about it and said, ‘Here’s what I learned this week.’ He would embrace that.”
Said Thompson: “I think I have really matured in a lot of ways during my time at Georgia. I’ve worked hard the last four years now and used it to get my degree. I think trying to leave early was not really in the equation. I think it’s definitely helped me.
“From our freshman year to now the team is a lot better and I think individually I matured a lot as a player and a person. It’s crazy that it’s gone and over but I’m definitely proud of what I did at Georgia and how the team performed and how I improved.”
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