Patton Kizzire and Miguel Angel Carballo went into Sunday’s playoff for the Web.com Tour’s Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh with goals of adding to already outstanding seasons.
Kyle Thompson teed up for the sudden-death shootout with his professional golf future at stake.
Two holes later, Thompson faced a 4-foot putt to secure a career-changing victory.
Who would make the crucial stroke ... the guy who sparkled in junior golf, made All-American at South Carolina and opened the Raleigh tourney with a 63, or the player whose last fling in big-time golf included a severe case of the putting yips that chased him off the 2012 PGA Tour?
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Instead of checking the want ads – “If I hadn’t made the cut, I’d be hunting a job,” he said in looking back on his fourth Web.com win – he is in Texas this week for the Web.com’s next stop with a new lease on his professional golf life.
Thompson, 36, rolled that putt home, and his golf life changed. From no status and little hope, he secured an exemption through 2016 on the Web.com Tour with the possibility for advancing to next year’s PGA Tour if he finishes in the top 25 in earnings. He jumped from nowhere to 15th in earnings with the $112,500 winner’s check.
Thompson, who set an obscure record by winning the same Web.com tourney three times, got into the 2015 event on a former champion’s exemption. He had missed the cut after Monday qualifying for the PGA Tour’s San Diego event, and he had played in one Web.com event this year, missing the cut in the BMW Charity classic in his adopted home town of Greenville.
But a practice-round 60 in the company of Tommy Gainey suggested the week could be special.
He followed an opening-round 63 with rounds of 68 and 69, entering the final day two strokes off the lead.
Strangely, he felt more nervous during Saturday’s round. He struggled to find his rhythm, “but I kept my composure and kept grinding,” he said. “I could have been six shots back.”
Sunday, with his golf career on the line, he posted a final-round 67 and “had the most amazing feeling all day,” Thompson said. “I was so calm, really at peace with myself. I never got ahead of myself and stayed in the moment. I had a feeling I was going to win and a couple times got a little emotional. Even after a couple of bogeys, I felt very comfortable.”
Performances such as last week’s were the norm for Thompson during his climb through amateur golf. He twice earned the state’s junior player of the year award, won his first college tournament and made all-star squads. His name still is prominent in USC’s record book.
However, his pro days were plagued by inconsistency.
He twice advanced to the PGA Tour, 2008 and 2012, and made 12 cuts in 48 starts. On the Web.com Tour, he has four wins and 30 top-10s in 235 tournaments, but he almost disappeared from the high-level scene after 2012.
Meanwhile, he watched junior-golf rivals Lucas Glover and D.J. Trahan enjoy success on the PGA Tour, a positive on one hand – “I pull for everyone to do well,” he said – and frustrating on the other. “I know I can compete on that level,” he added.
He did Sunday.
He works with instructor Scott Hamilton, whose students include the winners of the past two PGA Tour events, Chris Kirk and Steven Bowditch. He hones his game at Thornblade Club and Greenville Country Club’s Chanticleer Course, and he can test his skills against the other touring pros in the Greenville area.
“Now is completely the opposite from 2012 (his forgettable PGA Tour year),” Thompson said. “Back then, I hit the ball so well and couldn’t putt. Now, putting is the best part of my game, and I can’t wait to get on the green. It’s like Puggy Blackmon (his USC coach) always said, ‘Professional golf is a marathon and not a sprint.’ I think about everything happening in God’s time, and maybe He had different plans than mine.”
With his professional life changed Sunday, Thompson looks ahead with confidence. He wants to win again and “enjoy the moment” with wife Emmi, daughter Sophie, 6, and son Sam, 3.
“They were there Sunday, and Sophie is old enough to understand,” he said.
But he will have to win again; Sam slept through dad’s big moment.