Michael Thompson's winding road
Michael Thompson had exactly one FedEx Cup point going into the Honda Classic. In his only made cut of the season, the Farmers Insurance Open, he finished in a tie for 78th.
At the Northern Trust Open, his last event before the Honda, he was last in the field with rounds of 78-80.
How does a player with that track record go on to win the Honda Classic on one of the toughest courses on tour against one of the strongest fields of the year for his first career win?
The simple explanation? Thompson's putting and short game were superior in the U.S. Open-like conditions at PGA National.
The 27-year-old Tucson, Ariz., native likes tough courses. He had a tie for second last year in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. In 2008, he had a tie for 29th at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
But the answer to this mystery goes much deeper than an affinity for difficult courses or a great short game.
With the help of his swing instructor of 14 years, Susie Meyers, Thompson's approach to his career may be a bit unconventional for the typical tour player.
The former University of Alabama All-American, who, in 2005, transferred there from Tulane after Hurricane Katrina, has personal goals for his career. But he doesn't bog himself down with expectations and the desire for perfection and consistency in his game.
Even at his lowest point at the Northern Trust, when he thought that he might miss every cut the rest of the season and lose his card, he tried to focus on his game and not the consequences of good or bad play.
"Expectations kill a golfer," said Meyers, a 52-year-old former LPGA Tour player who teaches out of the Ventana Canyon Club in Tucson. "You're thinking you have to win and you put so much pressure on yourself. Michael wasn't thinking that. He was going to live with every shot no matter what happened.
"When he started making mistakes at Honda it really didn't bother him. He just focused on what he needed to do on the next shot instead of trying to be perfect."
Meyers didn't make the trip to Florida for the tournament, but she did manage to catch some of the action on TV.
Thompson was paired with Luke Guthrie on the weekend. Swing instructors are always interested to hear what the golf analysts have to say about their players' swings. Johnny Miller drew a distinction between Guthrie's technically sound move and Thompson's block fade.
"Technically sound doesn't make a golfer," Meyers said. "Knowing yourself and doing what you can do with what you have is the key. And Michael does that better than anybody. He's not trying to be perfect.
"It's funny but his golf swing can almost get too good and he can't fade the ball as much. So I'm always trying to help him work on the movements that are going to let him hit that little piercing block fade that he likes."
Thompson was the runner-up to Colt Knost in the 2007 U.S. Amateur, and it looked like he was on the fast track to the PGA Tour, but he labored on the Hooters Tour for a couple of years before earning his card at Q-School in 2010.
Meyers believes that difficult period in his career was a great learning experience and integral part of his growth as a player.
"The process is simply a developing process," Meyers said. "Michael was on a perfect path for Michael. At every level, he was going to be learning things that were going to help him in the future.
"There was no time that he was trying to fix his golf game or swing or figure out why he was playing poorly. We just tried to stick to the positives. I told him if you do a little bit every day you will be a champion."
Despite his breakout performance last year at the Olympic Club, Thompson missed 10 of 25 cuts on tour in 2012. In a little more than two full seasons, he has missed the cut in 42 percent of the tournaments he's played. But according to Meyers, consistency isn't at the top of Thompson's radar.
"Trying to get consistency is like going after a fool's errand," Meyers said. "It doesn't happen in life. If you try to be consistent you live in a frustrating world. Take everything for what it is and let it be, and at the end of the day, hopefully you can say you did the best you could. We don't try to be consistent at all.
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"Our goal is to have a new fresh beginning every shot, every tournament and see what we can do with it. We got sucked into that consistent thing when Tiger was having his long run of great golf and we thought that it was possible to do that. But what we found out was that Tiger lost his soul to do that and it's just not worth it."
On Sunday after his two-shot win over Geoff Ogilvy, Thompson said he hoped nothing would change about his life after his surprise victory.
"I'm not a flashy player," he said. "I'm not dramatic or anything like that. I just kind of plod along, made 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."
Humble, clear-headed and sure of the uncertainty and change that comes with life and being a pro golfer, Thompson just might find that elusive consistency that's been missing thus far in his short career. But that won't be his endpoint.
"Every second of every day is a brand-new beginning," Meyers said. "So whatever happens in the past, let's forget it and go forward. I know that Michael has goals in the back of his head but we never talk about them. Because the power lies within him.
"When you talk about goals everyone has expectations upon you. You have to keep that quiet within you to have your own power. We're just going to go through this one step at a time, one day at a time. And Michael is going to do the best he can do at being Michael Thompson."
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