Tour’s Oldest Rookie Fulfills His Dream At Age 42
HONOLULU, HAWAII | All those years on back roads, the shared car rides through the night, the paychecks that couldn’t cover expenses and those evenings wondering if playing mini-tour golf could ever be the highway to heaven were still with 42-year-old Chris Thompson as he stood on the edge of Waikiki Beach this week and looked around.
At an age when the arc of a professional golf career tends to bend down, Thompson is at the top of his personal rainbow, having arrived as a rookie on golf’s biggest stage when he’s almost twice the age of many of the players he’ll be trying to beat.
Long after many would have surrendered the dream, Thompson finally finds himself living it as the Tour’s oldest rookie, 19 years down the road.
“It is a profession that not many good players get out of but there are always good players getting into it,” said Thompson, who earned his 2019 Tour card via the Web.com Tour. “It does get harder. I think the more you do anything, you get better, too.
“I certainly feel even though I’m older than most of the people in this field, especially last year I was playing some of the best golf I’ve ever played. So age is important, and I’m probably not going to get any fitter or any better, but I still know how to play.”
Just ask Gary Woodland, who has been playing golf with Thompson for years through their Kansas roots. They still play regular weekend games together at Lawrence Country Club during the summer.
“I always told him you have the game. You just have to believe in it,” Woodland said. “He can go low and he loves going low. I see it at home. I’m glad he stuck with it.
“You’ve been doing it for 19, 20 years, it’s easy to stop, especially when you haven’t made it. It was never a question of his game, it was a matter of him believing in himself and I’m glad he stayed with it.”
Name a mini-tour and chances are Thompson played it. The Golden Bear Tour. The Adams Tour. The Gateway Tour. The eGolf Tour.
Twenty hours in a car to get to an event? Thompson did that, a U.S. Open qualifier at Old Memorial in Tampa, Fla., only to be asked to wait a few minutes before going to the practice tee while Greg Norman’s helicopter landed.
He tried the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour qualifying schools “17 or 18 times” but never earned full status on either tour until last year. There were near misses, the kind that leave scars on the inside, but Thompson wore them like tattoos.
Sundown meant sunrise was coming and there would be another day to play, another chance to get better.
It wasn’t until the end of the Web.com Tour season last year that Thompson finally accomplished his goal of becoming a PGA Tour player. He’d played a couple of Tour events in 2014 – the Byron Nelson Classic as a Monday qualifier, where he finished T64, and the U.S. Open, where he missed the cut – but three consecutive top-four finishes late last season brought him full circle.
How did it feel?
As much as Thompson thought about where he was going, he made it because of where he had been.
“He’s set a tremendous example for our children to keep trying and to not let your dreams pass you by.” – Jessica Thompson
He and his wife, Jessica, have two children. She has a good job with the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America based in Lawrence and their livelihood was not based solely on Thompson’s golf career. But when a $35,000 check for winning a mini-tour event a few years back still twinkles in his memory, stepping into the Tour’s wealthy world has the potential to be life-altering.
There were moments when the question hung over Thompson – was he doing the right thing continuing to play given his limited success?
At times, job opportunities came along but the last “real job” Thompson held was as a cart boy at his home club of Independence (Kan.) Country Club as a teenager. The club had six carts.
“It took maybe 45 seconds in the morning, and if that at night,” Thompson said.
Three times, Thompson said, he and his wife sat down at the end of a year and talked about whether he should surrender the chase.
“He’s set a tremendous example for our children to keep trying and to not let your dreams pass you by,” Jessica Thompson said.
“He’s been doing this a long time and there have been ups and downs. You never know what could be around the corner.
“I always told him not to quit. We had enough input from his friends whose input we trusted and they always said don’t let him give up. I heard their voices in the back of my head.”
After earning his card, Thompson played three Tour events last fall, missing the cut twice and finishing T45 in the Sanderson Farms Championship, earning him $12,883.
But this week brought him to Waikiki, missing his family back in Kansas but teeing it up at the Sony Open in Hawaii along with players such as Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau.
Looking out at the Pacific Ocean, shin-high waves lapping at the beach a few feet away, Thompson soaked in the view.
“Everybody says it’s good,” Thompson said of his new workplace. “Then when you get here, it’s even better.”
Chris Thompson watches a shot during Round 1 of the Sony Open in Hawaii. Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
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