Eagle Bend head pro Jon Zylstra, former pro at Lawrence Country Club, has played countless rounds with and against Chris Thompson, who makes his PGA Tour debut today in the HP Byron Nelson Championship.
“I’ve seen him shoot 61 twice at LCC, and I played against him both times,” Zylstra said. “Pretty impressive. He makes his putts, and he hits it close. He’s a really good wedge player. When he gets to that wedge distance, he can pretty much make birdies.”
Thompson, at the age of 37, realizes a dream he has chased his entire adult life for the first time today when he tees it off No. 10 at 1:50 p.m. at the TPC Four Seasons Resort Las Colinas course in Irving, Texas. He is grouped with Scott Gardiner of Great Britain and Marcel Siem of Germany. Fellow Jayhawk Gary Woodland tees off No. 1 at 12:30 and is playing with Matt Kuchar and Keegan Bradley.
Today represents a new sort of pressure Thompson faces. Asked how the low-key, even-tempered Thompson performs well in big spots when playing with his buddies, Zylstra broke into a big smile as his pockets wept.
“Oh, yeah,” Zylstra said. “He thrives on pressure. When the bet’s up, he’s going to make birdie probably, put the pressure on the other team.”
Zylstra played many rounds with Woodland and Thompson at the same time and estimated Thompson shot lower than Woodland “probably 80 percent” of the time. He attributed Thompson’s advantage to superior local knowledge because he has played the course far more and to Woodland’s distance edge being minimized by the par-70 layout that plays 6,510 yards from the back tees, compared to the 7,166-yard track they’ll play this week.
“Chris is long, as long as most of the guys out there, just not as long as Gary Woodland and the big hitters out there,” Zylstra said. “I’d say he’s equal to Jordan Spieth (off the tee), and he’s accurate, hits it straight.”
Woodland is one of 21 PGA players who average 300 yards or better off the tee. Spieth ranks 108th on the tour with an average drive of 286.9 yards.
Woodland and the only other KU golfer to win a PGA Tour event, Matt Gogel, will be on hand for Thompson’s debut. Gogel is working the tournament for NBC. Gogel’s knowledge of both golfers will enable him to get more out of both golfers than the typical interviewers.
Asked to compare the on-course personalities of Thompson and Woodland, Zylstra called them, “Very similar. They’re both quiet. They’re not fist-pumpers. They go about their job. Not a lot of chatter.”
Woodland has generated plenty of chatter at Lawrence golf courses in recent seasons. He ranks 19th on the PGA Tour money list, but for this week ranks second to Thompson in generating talk locally. Televisions all over town will be tuned to Golf Channel’s coverage, which kicks off at 2 p.m. today.