Greg Hansen: Tucson's Thompson, coach stay grounded after first PGA Tour win

Tucson native, coach work patiently for 1st tour win, bright future
2013-03-06T00:00:00Z 2013-03-06T13:09:37Z Greg Hansen: Tucson's Thompson, coach stay grounded after first PGA Tour winGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Before he got to the PGA Tour, Michael Thompson won the Raising Cane Classic, the Moe O'Brien Invitational, the Timacuan Showdown and the Michelob Ultra Hooters Tour championship.

What couldn't he do with a golf club in his hands?

After he finished second in the 2007 U.S. Amateur and was the low amateur at the 2008 U.S. Open, Thompson was loaded up and truckin' for the PGA Tour.

He wanted it now, but yesterday would be preferable.

Wouldn't you, too?

He told his golf instructor, Ventana Canyon pro Susie Meyers, that he was ready for the Big Guns, itchin' to play the Blue Monster and Amen Corner. He asked: What else do I have to do?

This is what Meyers told her rising star after the '08 Open at Torrey Pines: "You made tons of mistakes. You hit into the hazard twice with a wedge. You shanked a 7-iron on a par-3. You snap-hooked two drives."

It was tough love, but it was also Meyers' way of telling Thompson not to rush the process.

"The beauty of Michael is that he isn't defined by his mistakes, but what he does after making a mistake," Meyers said. "I think every single step he has taken as a golfer, from the time I started working with him 14 years ago, prepared him for what he did Sunday."

On Sunday, Tucson native Michael Thompson won the Honda Classic. It was like starting in center field for the Yankees, in the World Series, only better.

Hall of Famer Gary Player sent him a Twitter message, calling him "blessed."

When Thompson and his wife, Rachel, awoke on Monday morning, after pinching themselves, they did what almost no one in the Top 50 of the World Golf rankings would do: They drove to a coin-operated laundromat and washed their clothes.

There's a word for that: grounded.

"This is a smart guy," former PGA Tour player Charlie Rymer said on Golf Channel. "He's not going to let distractions get to him. He'll ride the wave well."

Winning on the PGA Tour isn't necessarily a life-changer, it's what you do after winning on the PGA Tour that changes your life. This is probably where the University High grad has an edge on most of the field.

If he wasn't 27, you'd call him old-school.

"I don't think anything's going to change," he said in his post-tournament press conference. "I'm not a flashy player. I'm not dramatic or anything like that. I just kind of plod along, make my pars, eliminate the big mistakes and make a few birdies here and there. If I keep doing that and I stick to that game plan, I'm going to have a great career."

The relationship between Thompson and Meyers is probably one-of-a-kind in pro golf. Who else believes in himself so much that rather than hire Hank Haney or one of the Harmon boys, he stays loyal to the teacher who began instructing him when he was a 3-handicapper at Forty Niner Country Club?

Meyers, a former UA and LPGA golfer, weighs 103 pounds but carries a big stick. She instructs female golfers on the Symetra Tour and she instructs 6-year-olds and 60-year-olds. She is large and in charge, wielding a big hand in what she calls "Team Thompson," as if it is America's Team.

Do you realize she also coaches Thompson's caddy, Matty Bednarski, who had caddied for Camilo Villegas and defending Masters champ Bubba Watson?

In the lead-up to the Honda Classic, Meyers saw Thompson miss the cut in Phoenix and in San Diego.

"He was really bad," she remembers. "In Phoenix I told him, 'Michael, you didn't hit one shot you wanted.' But then we said, 'Hey, we've been here before. We'll figure it out. Let's get back to work.'"

Meyers suggested that rather than practice in his hometown, Birmingham, Ala., he fly to Florida and spend five days at Doral before the Honda Classic .

And then he played the best golf of his life, one clutch recovery after another. Have you ever noticed how Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar smile their way around the course? Thompson was in lock-step.

"In that type of pressure, for the first time, you don't know how anyone will handle it," says Meyers. "But you could see that Michael was in a comfort zone. He would say, 'Hi, mom,' and give a thumb's-up. He looked happy."

He is happy.

On Sunday night, when the coach and the golfer spoke on the phone, there were no tears, and that was a surprise.

When Thompson hit his first shot at the 2009 Masters, Meyers wept. When he won the semifinals at the 2007 U.S. Amateur, Meyers says she was "bawling."

But this time they went beyond tears. They talked about the future. They will be together next week at the Tampa Bay Championship and again at the Masters next month. There is work to do.

Team Thompson is rolling.

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