Before Michael Thompson won the Honda Classic last weekend, earning $1.08 million, he planned to spend this weekend in Tampa, visiting his wife's brother.
The Tucson native entered the Florida tournament with just $10,919 in earnings and had been playing, he told me, "at rock bottom" after missing three of four cuts.
But it didn't shake his determination, or lead him to some deep-dish worrying about his growing responsibilities. "Team Thompson," as he calls it, now has five employees: a caddie, an instructor, a financial guy, an agent and a trainer.
"I knew that even if I lost, my card (for 2014) I would be able to play on the Web.com tour or even go back to the Hooters tour," he said. "I never thought this wouldn't work out. So much of this game is in your attitude."
Because he won the Honda, Thompson automatically qualified for the ongoing WGC-Cadillac Championship, which guarantees $40,000, minimum, and has no cut. Opportunities abound. Thompson, who turns 28 next month, is now fully exempt on tour for two years. The British Open is the only major he is not guaranteed to play.
On Wednesday, a busy day in which he spent the morning on a media blitz for the PGA Tour, Thompson phoned for a brief Q&A session. Here are his answers:
His No. 2 sport: "I was a decent soccer player at (Rincon/University), not the fastest but smart. We lost in the state playoffs and it was brutal. It still stings. We lost in a shootout."
His most feared opponent: "(Palo Verde's) Ben Kern was the guy I wanted to beat every time, but it didn't always come out that way. He was excellent." (Kern won the 2004 Arizona Amateur.)
Best round ever in Tucson: "I shot a 63 at Forty Niner Country Club. I remember hitting it to about 5 feet on every hole. I had nine birdies and chipped in at No. 14 from 30 yards."
How he met his wife, Rachel, at Tulane: "I met her at a frat party and we became friends. I asked her out about two weeks later and she said no. I was too much of a dork. We kind of went our separate ways. A year and a half later I asked her again, and she said yes. We had a long-distance relationship for quite a while; she graduated from Emory University and I was at Alabama."
Was there ever a time golf wasn't fun? "My first year on the Hooters Tour, 2009, I played absolutely awful. At the end of the season I was questioning why I even played golf. And then this year when I shot 78-80 at (the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in Los Angeles) and finished last. I had never finished last before."
Who were your golf role models? "I basically looked up to everybody, but I wanted to conduct myself like David Toms or Davis Love III. I thought they had a lot of class."
Was it more difficult to become an Eagle Scout or to be an honor roll student? "Being a Boy Scout growing up wasn't the most popular thing to do but I wouldn't change it for anything. I learned how to lead people, how to survive in the wilderness, how to do first aid, many things very applicable to our lives. Just great memories. I went sailing on a 1904 two-masted schooner off the coast of L.A. Loved it all."
Did you ever sit in one of your mom Beth's English classes at Sabino High School? "When I graduated from college, I went back and watched her teach. I was so proud. She makes learning fun and keeps the student's attention. She's very creative and commands respect. I learned so much from her."
Byrne says he will keep Butts; Bonvicini shines
UA athletic director Greg Byrne told me last week he will not make a change in the school's women's basketball program. Niya Butts, 74-83 in five seasons, will return in 2013-14. More worrisome, Butts' teams are 27-63 in the Pac-12 in that term and the club's one star player, Davellyn Whyte, has exhausted her eligibility. … Joan Bonvicini, who was Butts' predecessor, coached Seattle University into first place in the WAC entering Saturday's regular-season finale against Idaho, at 14-3 and 17-9 overall. This is Seattle's second year as a Division I program; Bonvicini is 37-21 in that period. In an interview with the Seattle Times last week, Bonvicini wept while discussing her Arizona years. It has been seven years since Bonvicini's star player, Shawntinice Polk, died of blood clot in her lungs while on campus. … Salpointe Catholic grad Sara Brown was hired last week by Golf Digest to work in its GolfWRX.com program. She'll be an on-course reporter and deliver a "What's in the Bag?" segment with PGA Tour players. Brown will work around her schedule on the LPGA's Symetra tour, the minor league of women's pro golf. … Sabino grad Nathan Tyler has earned $38,700 and is the No. 1 money winner on the Gateway Tour, a golf mini-tour played in the Phoenix area. In five tournaments, Tyler has a first, a pair of seconds and a fourth-place finish. … One of Mark Stoops' first moves as the new football coach at Kentucky was to hire ex-UA strength and conditioning coach Corey Edmond to a similar spot at UK. Edmond spent last year at North Carolina State. … Sad to learn that Carl Thomas, an All-America pitcher at Arizona from 1954 to 1956, died last week in Phoenix. He was 80. I talked to Thomas before last year's College World Series and he admitted he was happy his school-record 422 strikeout total had not been broken. Thomas pitched back-to-back no-hitters in 1956 against UCLA and ASU. His 35 victories are second all-time at Arizona, trailing his former teammate Donnie Lee's 36. … UA's point guard from the 2011 Elite Eight, MoMo Jones, was selected the MAAC Player of the Year last week. Think his former team could use him this month?
More Short Stuff
Younger Leverenz making her own headlines in pool
Brianna Leverenz, younger sister of Olympic bronze medalist and 2012 NCAA women's Swimmer of the Year Caitlin Leverenz, had a breakout performance last week. Brianna, 15, of Rincon/University High, scored 90 points, a meet high, as Tucson Ford Aquatics won the Arizona Senior State championships in Goodyear. Leverenz won the 100 freestyle and 500 freestyle and was second in the 200 freestyle and 1,000 freestyle. Her teammate, Ironwood Ridge senior Sara Borendame, who will swim at the UA, won three events and scored 80 points. The Ford Aquatics men's team was led by Olympians Matt Grevers and Darian Townsend and by ex-UA All-American Austen Thompson. Ford Aquatics coach Johno Fergusson was named the state's Coach of the Year as his team beat runner-up Phoenix Swim Club 773-748 in the 20-team field. … Jordan Hill, Arizona' s center on a 2009 Sweet 16 team, has returned to McKale Center to rehab and get treatment for an injured hip that ended his season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Hill is making $3.5 million this year and next season; his contract expires after the 2013-14 season. … If you visited the Reid Park Annex, behind Hi Corbett Field on Saturday morning, you would have witnessed former major-league ballplayers John Butcher and Sammy Khalifa of Sahuaro, Paul Moskau and Pat Darcy of Rincon and Tucsonan Tom Spencer, former manager of the Sidewinders, operating a clinic for Major League Baseball Alumni Association. About 100 Southern Arizona players participated. … Luke Walton, who has moved into the Cleveland Cavaliers' eight-man rotation since December, had a career-high 12 assists Monday against the Knicks. He is on a salary drive: Walton is being paid $6.1 million this year, the final year of his contract.
Pima hoops coach leaves after 1-21 league season
After two seasons and a 10-49 record, Pima College men's basketball coach Gabriel Van Guse has left the program. The Aztecs were 1-21 in the ACCAC this season. The school might pursue Ironwood Ridge High School coach Brian Peabody, who won the 2008 state title with the Nighthawks and was twice the state runner-up at Salpointe, 1997 and 1999. Peabody was Pima's head coach in 2003-04 (he finished 7-23) but left when meddling former chancellor Roy Flores scuttled the program by eliminating out-of-state players and creating a negative work environment. … Former Mountain View High School All-Southern Arizona basketball standout Aaron Anderson completed his college career at Division I Kennesaw State with a record last week. Anderson pulled down 22 rebounds in KSU's game against NCAA tournament-bound Florida Gulf Coast, a school record. He finished the season averaging 9.6 points and 9.0 rebounds and had nine double-doubles. Anderson, who will graduate in May with a communications degree, led the Atlantic Sun Conference in rebounding. … Sunnyside grad Stefen Romero, a second baseman/outfielder bidding to win a job with the Seattle Mariners, hit a grand slam, a two-run homer and a run-scoring double Thursday - he had seven RBIs - in a victory over Kansas City. Romero was hitting .500 through Friday. … Salpointe grad Joe Serrano hit a walk-off home run Friday as Arkansas beat San Diego State 4-3. In 12 starts, Serrano was hitting .302 through Friday.
My Two Cents
Baseball in town: Going, going, gone?
Tucson's spring training baseball "season" will be two games at Kino Stadium this year and already 12,000 tickets have been sold.
The Diamondbacks and Padres will play next Sunday, on St. Patrick's Day, and about 5,000 tickets have been sold. The Padres plan to wear green hats.
The Dodgers and Cubs will play March 21, in the Christina Taylor-Green memorial game. About 7,000 tickets have been sold to that game.
It's proof that Tucson still cares about baseball even though it has been folded, spindled and punched in the gut by the industry over the last five years.
And who knows if this will be the last year any MLB teams will play a spring game in Tucson? With the Tucson Padres departing after this Pacific Coast League season, the uncertainty of future field conditions for baseball at Kino Stadium could be problematic.
Enjoy the big-leaguers while you can.