The harsh realities that followed Hurricane Katrina’s rampage through New Orleans in 2005 left Michael Thompson with an unwanted choice to make: If he were to keep playing college golf, he would have to do it somewhere else.
The storm nearly broke the Tulane athletic program, and men’s golf was one of many teams that were shuttered, its players in a quite literal sense scattered on the wind. Thompson landed at Alabama, where he played his final two college seasons and graduated in 2008 before turning pro.
Now when it comes to college teams, Thompson is a Crimson Tide fan to the marrow. (Stifle your groans, you out there.) For the love of Bear Bryant, the Tucson, Ariz., native lives in Birmingham.
But New Orleans still holds a fond fascination for him. He pulls for the Saints as much as he does the Tide when it comes to football. And the Crescent City is where he met his wife, Rachel, when she was also attending Tulane. It’s even where he won one of his collegiate golf titles: the Tulane Invitational at English Turn, the former home of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
“It’s great to see the culture come back,” he said. “It’s awesome to hear all the music walking down the street in the French Quarter. You can’t beat the food here, too.”
The path to a golfer’s heart is through his stomach, too, just like the rest of us. Friday, Thompson was wearing a green shirt, not some houndstooth-checked fabric, during the second round of the Zurich Classic.
“I like the color,” the former Green Wave star said. “It kinds of makes sense to wear it here.”
Daydreams of stacking the Zurich Classic trophy on top of the one he won at English Turn seeped into his brain as he worked his way across TPC Louisiana’s fairways and greens.
He immediately tried to shut them out.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, you’re getting way too ahead of yourself,” Thompson told himself.
He said the self-generated distraction set off red (crimson?) flags waving in his mind. In golf, it’s OK to try to self-actualize your own story by dreaming big. But when it comes to an actual round of golf, it’s like a movie that must be shot frame by painstaking frame, lest it all come apart in your hands.
So Thompson got back inside his zone and fashioned a reasonably efficient second-round 71 to follow his first-round 66. That puts him at 7-under-par through two rounds. He’s eight daunting strokes back of 36-hole leader Ben Martin, yes, but with only 11 players separating him from the lead.
“The first two days have been really good,” Thompson said. “I’ve been striking the ball really well. Today I just had a few putts that didn’t go in. All in all, I can’t complain. I’m doing really well staying composed and staying within myself, not trying to over-swing or get too fancy with certain shots.
“I feel this week has gone well so far, and I have a game plan going into the weekend. You’re always happy to play the weekend.”
That’s a first for Thompson in the Zurich. He missed the cut here in 2011 and 2013 and skipped the event in 2012.
There will be less time for daydreaming, less time for a languid dinner at one of New Orleans’ superb restaurants, certainly no time for checking out JazzFest.
More time for trying to win his second PGA Tour title. (He captured the 2013 Honda Classic.)
Think green, not red.
“It would be really special to win, but there’s still golf to be played,” Thompson said. “Ben’s playing really well, and I’m going to have to go out and make some putts this weekend.”
The Zurich is a factory producing first-time PGA Tour winners — 10 in the past 16 years alone — but experience in winning has to count for something around here at some point, doesn’t it? If it does, give Thompson at least a slight edge. Only three men ahead of him — Charlie Hoffman, Keegan Bradley and J.B. Holmes — have won PGA Tour titles.
Golf is fickle, and sometimes wanting a win too much is the surest way not to get it.
But the heart wants what it wants, and Thompson wants this one badly. He has 36 holes left to go get it.