Column: Golfer Chris Thompson putting on quite a show

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The PGA Tour keeps stats for everything these days. One of them is called “strokes gained putting.” The player ranked No. 1 in this category at the Byron Nelson Championship has gained 3.275 putts two rounds into the tournament.

He is 37, twice earned All-American honors as a collegiate golfer and has spent what must seem like half his life in his car making trip after trip from Kansas to North Carolina and other outposts to play in mini-tour events. He did so well at Q school once in 2006 he came within a stroke of qualifying for the PGA Tour. He played on the Nationwide Tour that year, but has improved his game since then.

His name is Chris Thompson, his alma mater Kansas University, his home course Lawrence Country Club.

That’s right, the hottest putter in the world is a Lawrence resident, and his name is not Gary Woodland, although Woodland (tied for 10th) is three strokes out of the lead and three strokes ahead of Thompson (tied for 25th).

Lawrence golfers, frustrated by lousy spring weather, have had their moods improved by the recent hot play of Woodland, a friendly guy with one of the loudest drivers in the world. Thompson earning a spot in the tournament via the Monday-qualifier path has brightened all those smiles to a new level.

The fact they both made the cut and are within striking distance has turned the local golf community downright giddy.

Toby Eastland, whose playing partner caught fire with his putter at LCC Friday afternoon but whose name shall remain anonymous for modesty-motivated reasons, expressed a sentiment shared by so many golfers from LCC to Alvamar to Eagle Bend, regarding Thompson.

“I love it when good things happen to good people,” said Eastland, who said he bumps into Thompson, “all the time when we’re dropping our kids off for school at Corpus Christi.”

Thompson, the classic laid-back good guy, has been at it for so long, playing well enough on the mini-tours to make a living, but never getting quite hot enough to earn his PGA Tour card at grueling Q school, from which Woodland twice earned his card.

So far, according to statistics, Thompson has 24 pars, seven birdies and five bogeys. He’s averaging 285.5 yards (62nd-best in the tournament) off the tee with a longest drive of 317 yards.

“He knows more about his swing. He’s been getting good help from a teacher in Las Vegas (Greg LaBelle). He’s pretty on target with his game. He’s not going to be nervous as a cat,” Ross Randall, his college coach, predicted in advance of the tournament. “He’s ready to go.”

Eagle Bend pro Jon Zylstra also predicted a strong showing from Thompson and said he would not be surprised to see him make the cut. Zylstra noted he thought recent weight training and flexibility training had put Thompson in the best shape he’s been in in years.

Thompson will need to finish in the top 10 to qualify automatically for next week’s PGA event, so he’s not happy just to make the cut.

Thompson is scheduled to tee off No. 1 at 10:10 a.m. today with Greg Herman and Greg Chalmers for the third round. Woodland is scheduled to tee off at 11:30 a.m. and is playing with Retief Goosen and Ryan Palmer.

All of Lawrence is rooting for both of them to catch fire the way Paul Casey did Friday when he fired an 8-under 27 on the back nine.