Though Michael Thompson has scant experience in the U.S. Open – just three appearances – it has not been without its highlights. He finished tied for 29th and was low amateur in his debut in 2008 at Torrey Pines’ South Course, and he finished tied for second behind Webb Simpson in 2012 at The Olympic Club.
“If I’m disappointed in anything as it relates to the U.S. Open, it’s that I haven’t done a better job getting into it,” the Arizona native said wryly. “I feel like my game sets up well for this championship. You know, plod along, kind of a steady Eddie is how I like to play. It’s definitely how you have to play this week. It could be pretty brutal. And I can’t wait.”
Thompson, 35, has been pointing toward qualifying for this week’s 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y., for some time, and he did a bang-up job getting into it by winning the 3M Open in late July in Minneapolis. He considers Winged Foot his favorite venue after falling in love with the storied club while playing in his first U.S. Amateur in 2004. Thompson reached match play but was eliminated in the first round by Madalitso Muthiya of Zambia in 20 holes.
After playing nine-hole practice rounds on Sunday and Monday on Winged Foot’s West Course, the two-time PGA Tour winner loves the place even more, even though it is much longer and more difficult than the course he encountered 16 years ago.
“It’s still a very fair test and right in front of you,” Thompson said. “And, really, with the rough and the difficulty of the greens, I don’t see how anyone is going to have a bogey-free round. It would take something unbelievable. So knowing everyone is going to make bogeys, I pair that with my mindset of just keeping it in play and putting well and I think that sets up well for me.”
That formula worked well for him in the 112th U.S. Open on Olympic’s Lake Course, where he had a little history, having finished runner-up to Colt Knost in the 2007 U.S. Amateur. “I was pretty proud of that,” he said of his performance in the 2012 Open, where he closed with a 3-under 67, the low round of the day, to share second place with Graeme McDowell, one stroke behind Simpson.
Though the Sea Island, Ga., resident hasn’t followed up on his strong performance in the 3M Open, where he posted a career-low 19-under 265 score, Thompson is confident in the status of his game. That’s mostly due to retooling his swing with the help of instructor Justin Parsons, a process that began before the PGA Tour was forced to cancel a series of events because of the COVID-19 pandemic – which also caused the rescheduling of this championship from its traditional mid-June staging.
Thompson ranks 32nd on Tour in driving accuracy, down slightly from a year ago, but still vastly improved from most other seasons. It’s no wonder he has enjoyed seeing more difficult setups in the latter part of the year, including at the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields, which hosted the 2003 U.S. Open. Dustin Johnson and eventual winner Jon Rahm played off at 4 under par.
“It’s nice to see accuracy playing a bigger role in the last couple of months in tournaments,” Thompson said. “I think we've gotten away from that as a tour and as a game and there hasn't been as much pressure on hitting it straight. So it's good to see that kind of coming back into play a little bit, making it so that just hitting it long isn’t all you need to do out there. Keeping it in play, working the ball and hitting shots, that should be rewarded more, I think.”
It certainly should be the case this week on Winged Foot’s vaunted par-70 West Course, which measures 7,477 yards and is flanked by what Thompson regards as the most penal rough he’s seen in some time. “They’ve done a great job with the graduated rough, but even that first cut of rough, that’s about 3-4 inches, because the course is so long you might have to try to hit a longer iron but the ball doesn’t want to come out.”
Sounds like trouble, especially for a shorter hitter like Thompson.
“No, I love it,” he said. “Since the restart I’ve been hitting a lot of fairways. I didn’t score that well, but I was second in driving accuracy at Olympia Fields. I’m excited for the challenge.”
Indeed, nothing is going to dissuade Thompson from enjoying his first U.S. Open in seven years and just his 12th start in a major championship – especially at a historic layout that gets his pulse rate higher.
“Just being back here, it has that big-time tournament feel to it,” he said with palpable excitement in his voice. “Just the history of the club and kind of the simple way you have to play the golf course, just knowing it’s going to be hard. It just makes it fun. And then what’s at stake … yeah, this is going to be a special week. It’s going to be memorable no matter what happens.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to usopen.com and usga.org.