He knew the question would come, and Davis Thompson handled it just as comfortably as he had dealt with the daunting West Course of Winged Foot Golf Club on Thursday morning.
Did Thompson understand the magnitude of the moment when he completed his first U.S. Open round at 1-under-par 69, matching the low round by an amateur in six U.S. Opens contested at Winged Foot?
“I’m not oblivious to the fact this is my first major championship,” said Thompson, 21, of St. Simons Island, Ga. “I’m going to be nervous, but that’s part of it. Just compete my tail off, just stay in my routine, just not make it bigger than it is. Just try to play golf like I do every day.”
Oh, and the players he matched with his 1-under effort? Nine-time USGA champion Bob Jones in 1929 and five-time USGA champion Jay Sigel in 1984. Getting into such heady company was no doubt made a bit easier by the company he kept in his first U.S. Open foray. (Florida State All-American John Pak also matched the mark with a 69 in the afternoon wave).
“The best thing about it was his pairing,” said Todd Thompson, Davis’ father and caddie. Davis, a rising senior at the University of Georgia, was joined by Harris English and Brendon Todd, fellow Bulldogs, Class of 2011 and 2007, respectively. “We know Brendon, we know Harris; he plays with them a good bit. Combine that with no fans out here and that made it a lot more comfortable for him.”
English and Todd both finished at 2-under 68, while Thompson got to 4 under through 11 holes – briefly holding the solo lead – before making three bogeys in his final six holes.
“I hit a lot of fairways coming out of the gate, which gave me a lot of comfort at the start,” said Thompson, who earned his spot in the all-exempt field as the No. 4 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking® as of Aug. 19. “Then I just missed a few fairways coming in and had to hack it out and try to get up and down. Unfortunately, I didn’t. But a great start.”
Thompson reeled off three birdies in a row on Holes 6-8, with none of the putts longer than 9 feet, and he got to 4 under with a 6-foot birdie on the 373-yard 11th. A key to keeping the round going came on No. 15, when his tee shot on the 422-yard par 4 ended up barely in the first cut of rough, with the 4-inch second cut affecting his second shot.
“I tried to chop down on it a little bit, and I just caught it and tugged it left,” said Thompson. “At that point, I’m just trying to not make 6. I gave myself a 10-footer, which was our goal with the [third] shot, and I was able to make the putt. That was a good momentum booster for sure.”
Knowing his son’s tenacity and his tendencies, Todd Thompson was watchful as he made his way around the West Course.
“He told me yesterday he felt comfortable,” said Todd, 56, who is the tournament director of the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club. “He likes hard golf courses; he just feels comfortable on them. I’ve noticed that when he gets going, he tends to get too quick with things. This being a new experience, I just tried to watch for that.”
Thompson, who was an All-America player and a finalist last spring for both the Jack Nicklaus Award and the Haskins Award for the top college player, describes himself as having been a “pretty average player who burst on the scene” in the past year. He also admitted to a bit of stargazing when he arrived at Winged Foot.
“I think the first guy I saw was Rory [McIlroy],” said Thompson. “That was pretty cool. As I was growing up and getting serious about golf, he was winning all of his majors. So I kind of looked up to him. I’m just very thankful to be here.”
Thankful, and yet determined to take advantage of the opportunity.
“It’s going to get tougher every day and we’ll see how he handles it,” said Todd Thompson, himself a former captain of the golf team at Georgia. “It’s an all-new experience for him, but I know he’ll compete.”
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.