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Chris Thompson, a rookie at 42, recalls 20-hour car ride to U.S. Open qualifier at which Greg Norman arrived via helicopter

HONOLULU, HI – JANUARY 08: Chris Thompson speaks to the media prior to the Sony Open in Hawaii at Waialae Country Club on January 8, 2019 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

By Dave Shedloski
HONOLULU – Chris Thompson, the 42-year-old rookie from Lawrence, Kan., had some travel troubles getting to Oahu for his debut in the Sony Open in Hawaii. He was supposed to arrive a day earlier, on Sunday. But after 19 years trying to reach the PGA Tour, a slight delay wasn’t a big deal.

“I’ve played a little bit of everywhere,” said Thompson, who bounced between the Tour and mini tours until he secured his status on the regular tour by finishing 20th on the Tour money list in 2018.

Mostly that bouncing around involved driving.

Which leads to one of his favorite stories about life in golf’s minor leagues.

He and a friend, Ryan Vermeer, who last year won the PGA National Professional Championship, drove together to a U.S. Open Sectional Qualifier from Kansas to Tampa, Fla. It took 20 hours plus an overnight stop to reach Old Memorial Club on the day before the qualifier.

“We get to the course, and I mean, we’re just peeling ourselves out of the car. Can’t move. Get the clubs and we’re going to the range,” Thompson said Tuesday at Waialae Country Club. “But we’re getting ready to walk across this lawn out in front of the clubhouse, and this security guy comes up and says, ‘Guys, can you hold up for a minute or two?’ We’re like, ‘I guess, yeah.’ We have been driving in the car for 20 hours, what’s another couple minutes?”

They actually waited about 10 minutes. And then they heard the sound of whirring propellers. “It’s Greg Norman,” Thompson said. “He’s coming in to land his chopper on this lawn, and he’s going to go out and play.

“We spent 20 hours in a car and Greg Norman is flying in on his chopper to play the same practice round. So that was kind of a glimpse of life on the mini tours.”

And what happened the next day in the qualifier? Playing with tour player John Huston, who finished second, Thompson shot 75-72—147, 3 over par, and didn’t advance to the championship. Meanwhile, the Shark was medalist with scores of 71-67—139.

Of course.

It’s experiences like those that make Thompson all the more grateful to finally get his break. This will be his first start at Waialae CC and fourth tournament of the season with two missed cuts and tie for 45th at the Sanderson Farms Championship.


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