After so many years and so many tournaments, professional golfers develop a feel for what it takes to reach the magic number.
They know the course, conditions and field well enough to predict with alarming accuracy what they need to shoot to get where they need to get. Sometimes that number means qualifying for a tournament or a tour. It even could mean winning a major.
Former Kansas University golfer Chris Thompson, who had gotten on such a roll recently, cooled off Saturday and Sunday in the final two rounds of the Midwest Classic, a Nationwide Tour event at LionsGate in Overland Park.
As he walked from the 17th green to the 18th tee box in Sunday’s final round with a tourney score of 13-under par, he figured it would take 15-under to finish in the top 25 and thereby earn a spot into this week’s Nationwide event in Knoxville, Tenn.
“I was thinking I would have to hole out from the fairway,” Thompson said Sunday night. “My drive was mediocre, and I hit my second shot to 30 feet.”
Oh well, he was finishing his fifth consecutive week of tournaments and could use a break anyway. He wasn’t going to go all the way to Knoxville to try to qualify for the News Sentinel Open. He would stay at home with wife Jessica, and they would enjoy son Henry’s first week of school.
Then Thompson made the 30-footer, which at least made him curious enough repeatedly to check the scores of golfers who finished behind him as he made the drive home to Lawrence.
“I was pretty pessimistic when I got done,” Thompson said. “I didn’t hang out at all at the course. There were going to be another hour, hour-and-a-half of tee times, and it would have been just miserable sitting there seeing if I made it. The whole ride home I was tied for 26th or 27th.”
It wasn’t until he was in Michaels, the arts-and-crafts store on 31st and Iowa, buying a tote bag for Henry and checking his phone for the final results that Thompson realized that 14-under was good enough. He had tied for 25th, good for about $3,800 and an automatic spot in the next event.
Thompson’s wild week-and-change of golf included winning the Northwest Arkansas Open, a Nationwide event, flirting with the Alvamar public course record in scoring the lowest of 14 qualifiers last Monday, finishing the first round of the Midwest Classic tied for fifth, the second round tied for fourth. He didn’t have worse than a par the first two rounds at LionsGate.
And then on Sunday he was as inconsistent as he had been consistent in the first two rounds. On the front side, he went five consecutive holes without a par, going bogey, eagle, bogey, birdie, bogey on holes No. 5 through 9. On the back, he went four in a row without a par, going birdie, birdie, double bogey, birdie on holes 11 through 14.
“I got into a few bad habits,” Thompson said of his swing. “It’s amazing how fast it can go. I was playing about as good as I can on Monday and again Thursday, and by Saturday I wasn’t hitting good shots.”
Thompson will fly to Knoxville on Tuesday, but not before taking Henry to his first day of pre-school in the morning.