Gary Woodland is the only former Kansas University golfer this season to win a PGA Tour event, finish in the top 30 in all three major golf tournaments and amass more than $2 million in earnings, but not the only one whose game has taken a big step forward.
Quietly, Chris Thompson has had a big year playing in professional mini-tour events, with a victory, a third-place tie and two fourth-place finishes. He has earned $61,000 and counting.
Thompson, who resides in Lawrence, collected $35,000 for winning the Columbia Open in Blythewood, S.C., in April.
Watching Woodland’s career take off after he moved to an Orlando, Fla., neighborhood packed with PGA Tour pros hasn’t led Thompson to consider moving.
“Gary is so talented I think he would have had success no matter where he lived,” Thompson said. “More importantly for him, he’s got a good swing coach and a good short-game coach, and he’s improved his putting. He’s got a lot of talent.”
Thompson, 35, did take a lead from Woodland, 27.
“Instead of relocating, I tried to kind of go his route and get instruction from a different guy from where I got instruction in the past,” he said.
Thompson twice has flown to Las Vegas to get feedback from Greg Labelle of the Butch Harmon School of Golf. Via his blackberry, Thompson also has sent Labelle videos of various swings.
“He’s helped me out tremendously,” Thompson said. “For two or three months this year, I feel like I’ve been playing as well as I’ve played in my life.”
Thompson played on the Nationwide Tour, the next step down from the PGA Tour, in 2007 and 2008.
“I’m playing better now,” Thompson said. “I’d give anything to go back and play with as much confidence as I have now both in ball striking and putting.”
Thompson never has played in a PGA Tour event, but came the closest he ever has this summer, when he came within one stroke of qualifying for the Byron Nelson Classic.
Thompson, who will play in a mini-tour event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this weekend, will attempt to qualify for the Midwest Classic, a Nationwide event at LionsGate in Overland Park. The qualifier will be Aug. 15 at both Alvamar courses. An estimated 150 golfers will vie for seven spots.
“I’ll probably play the private,” Thompson said. “The public’s pretty straight-forward. The private has a few tricky holes. I’ve played it enough I can kind of maneuver my way around the trickier holes better than someone who hasn’t played it.”
He guessed it will take a 66 on the public and 67 on the private to qualify.
Thompson didn’t earn money for setting the Lawrence Country Club course record on April 3, 2009, from the 6,510-yard back tees. His score card, framed in the pro shop, reads: 424 433 244 334 434 433, or 30-31—61. Nine birdies. Nine pars. He didn’t go more than two holes without a birdie until holes 14 through 16.
As a professional, Thompson isn’t eligible to play in the Lawrence Amateur Golf Association’s City Tournament, scheduled for Eagle Bend on Saturday and LCC on Sunday. Neither is anyone else who doesn’t sign up by 6 p.m. today at Golf USA.