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January 8, 2019
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with Chris Thompson here at the 2019 Sony Open in Hawaii. Chris is a PGA TOUR rookie making his sixth career start and fourth of the season.
Chris, if we can just get an opening comment before you start play at the Sony Open.
CHRIS THOMPSON: Well that sounds pretty good, doesn't it? It's great to be here. I've been to Hawaii before. Played here in college. This is the first time on this island. I had a few travel issues to get down here, but got in yesterday afternoon and getting ready to go out and play 18 holes today, practice round, and do the off-site pro-am Wednesday and hopefully be ready to go on Thursday.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Can you walk us through your career as far as when you left Kansas? Where have you played along the way?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Well, it's been 19 years, so how much time you got?
Q. All day.
CHRIS THOMPSON: (Laughter.) I've played a little bit of everywhere. I started in the Golden Bear Tour down in Florida. Played the Gateway Tour in Arizona. I played the Adams Tour. Kind of in and out of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, that area, Louisiana.
I've had status on the Web.com Tour for probably seven of the last ten years, but six of those years were conditional where you are kind of piecing together a schedule.
So I've been floating back and forth between mini tours and the Web.com until last year. I finally secured full status. Got into the first eight events and played well in Panama early. That got me status for the rest of the year. I was able to set a schedule last year and played in 23 or 24 events.
I was having a decent year but kind of caught a heater down the stretch and finished third, fourth, third, the last three regular season events; secured my TOUR card.
Q. What kind of feeling was that?
CHRIS THOMPSON: I get asked that a lot. It was some relief but obviously a lot of joy. I've been trying for a long time to do this. There wasn't one emotion. It was a mix of a lot.
But there was a pretty stressful time. I'm 42. I wasn't probably going to get a better opportunity than I had towards the end of last year. Those are some pretty stressful rounds, but I was playing good golf. I was back in the Midwest where I've been my whole life. I felt pretty comfortable with the courses, the surroundings. It's close to home; made travel easier. You combine all those things and it was a great month.
Looking back, they were stressful rounds, but they were important rounds. If you want to do this for a living it's better to play those important rounds. When you can succeed and when you can play well in those rounds that matter the most, that's the most gratifying.
Q. Has that road you spoke of, the experience road, do you think that will help you this season in terms of being more relaxed?
CHRIS THOMPSON: I think the longer you do it and the older you get you have more life experience. You start to have a family and kids you realize there are more important things than golf. This is incredibly important, but there is also real life. You got to separate the golf world from the real world.
I do think you get better perspective, big picture stuff. I've played all over the U.S. and the world, so I do think playing different types of golf will prepare me for this.
Whether I can do it or not, I don't know. I'm going to try hard. I think I'm prepared this week. I've been back in Kansas for six weeks so I may not have my best coming out of chute, but I am going to work pretty hard these next 48 hours and hopefully be ready to go by Thursday.
Q. We had a little laugh about rookie mistake a second ago. Have there been any others? Can you avoid those?
CHRIS THOMPSON: I don't know about mistakes. I get to these tournaments and I literally have no idea where I'm going. I've played on and off the Web for, like I say, seven or eight of the past ten years and you play the same courses generally. You know where you're going and it makes it pretty easy.
These are -- the stakes bigger out here, the courses are bigger, clubhouses are bigger. I hate asking for directions, but I get here and I just get lost. So I usually spend the first morning or first hour just trying to figure out where everything is. Whether that's a rookie mistake, I don't know.
You have to learn on the fly, and that's fine. These are small details. But it's pretty funny to walk into these clubhouses and I literally have no idea where to go.
Q. Given how long it took to get here, how many times along the way did you think, Am I really doing the right thing, should I just go do something else?
CHRIS THOMPSON: There were certainly a few, especially when you start to have family. Makes the travel more difficult; makes leaving more difficult.
The years where you have Web status it's easier to continue, but there were a couple years in there where I didn't. Just the way Q-School is structured now you always know you're two years away from getting to the PGA TOUR. When you're 36 years old with two kids, it's like, do I really want to wait two more years to get there?
So there were some years where you have to sit back and reflect and you have to rely on the people that you trust and make the best decision that you can. I'm not saying I made the right decision. Ended up being right. There is no answer key. You trying to figure it out as you go.
My wife and I assessed it at the end of every year. Do we shut it down and do something else or do we keep going? She's always leaned on the side of keep going. I was probably that way, too, but there were a couple years we had to make a tough decision. I'm glad we stuck it out. This is pretty cool for me.
Q. What would you say was one moment where you were closest to doing what? What would you have done?
CHRIS THOMPSON: (Laughter.) Well, I don't know if I would've stayed in the golf business or moved outside of it. I honestly don't. There are a lot of things I enjoy doing. In this game and this profession you get to meet a lot of people, a lot of successful people. I've been offered a couple different things along the way. Most in the golf business. I'm not positive I would've wanted to do that.
I'm experimented with a few things in the off-seasons. I love coaching basketball. I did a little short game camp, short game school. Stuff like that for things to do in the off-season.
But never got down to the point where I was like sending out resumes or had to make a decision like that. I don't know what I would've done, but I think I would've had a few options.
Q. What's the last job you had?
CHRIS THOMPSON: (Laughter.) I did an interview for Golf Digest and he asked me the exact same question. Last real job I had I was the cart boy in my home course in Independence Country Club. We had like six carts that were available. Like the members could have their own carts and we had a big parking golf cart facility. They just parked them in there. It took maybe 45 seconds in the morning, and if that at night. But I did that every day for a summer. It wasn't a real tough childhood.
Q. How old were you?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Senior in high school, probably 16, 17.
Q. Minimum wage?
CHRIS THOMPSON: (Laughter.) Yeah. May have even been off the books. Yeah, it wasn't a well-paying job. It was more about the responsibility.
Q. What would be I guess I would say maybe your worst, but I guess as you look back it might be your favorite travel story from back on mini tours in terms of grinding getting here?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Well, I remember one. That same Golf Digest interview I told the same story. A friend of mine sure Ryan Vermeer, who just won the club pro championship last year, we were going down to play the Golden Bear Tour in Florida. We had both advanced through the local site of the U.S. Open, and so we knew we were heading down there.
So played the sectional at Old Memorial in Tampa. We we're going to be down there for the next three or four months after that, so we just drove. We took off in Kansas and drove as far as we could, slept in a hotel, and got up and drove to Tampa the next afternoon.
It was, God, I don't know, maybe 20 hours in the car. We get to the course, and I mean, we're just peeling ourselves out of the car. Can't move. Get the clubs and we're going to the range. It's a fantastic facility.
But we're getting ready to walk across this lawn out in front of the clubhouse, and this security guy comes up and says, Guys, can you hold up for a minute or two? We're like, I guess, yeah. We have been driving in the car for 20 hours, what's another couple minutes?
We're sitting there and nothing is happening. Like ten minutes and he's like, Hey, it's to be 30 more seconds. All of you sudden you can hear the propellers. That's Greg Norman. He's coming in to land his chopper on this lawn and he's going to go out and play.
We spent 20 hours in a car and Greg Norman is flying if on his chopper to play the same practice round. So that was kind of a glimpse of life on the mini tours. It was a lot of -- man, I had some good times, too. I don't want to sound like it was all terrible.
Q. What was the best time?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Any time you can win on mini tours that was great. I won a Golden Bear event -- actually, no, it would've been an e-golf event in Carolina at Rock Barn. I think they play Senior Tour there. That was probably my biggest check. At that time it was decent money. I think it was $35,000.
But same thing. That was the last event of this little schedule, so I won there and then drove back to Kansas the next day. Any time you can win on mini tours it's awesome. The level of play even down there is fantastic. Those margins are pretty tight down there. When you can win, especially a big purse like that, that has an impact and gives you a lot of confidence.
Q. What did you drive back then?
CHRIS THOMPSON: The same guy, Ryan Vermeer, it was his car. It was like Tahoe or something.
Q. Was it just an interview with Golf Digest or interviewing for a job?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Just an interview.
Q. And did you have a car that had X number of miles on it back then?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Yeah. I drove I think it was a Honda Accord early, and I drove that for a long time. It had a few miles on it, yeah. Like I said margins are tight down there and you want something reliable. Gas mileage is at a premium so down there, you want something that's reliable but you can still trust it to get you there.
Q. Are you mindful of the balance of trying to stay here now that you're here versus I guess smelling the roses a bit now that you're here?
CHRIS THOMPSON: I am. You know, this is like just look out there. You don't see that playing the Adams Tour very often. It's pretty cool, but you're also here to do a job. I'm 42 so I don't know how many opportunities I'm going to get at this. That being said, I'm still going to enjoy the heck out of this.
Like I said, I've worked pretty hard to get here. This is obviously a great spot to play, but everywhere this TOUR goes is a good spot. Just the hospitality, the amenities that you get for playing, it really is incredible. Everybody says it's good, and then when you get here it's even better.
I'm going to enjoy it, but just like you said, you still got to play good golf. That's the most important thing and what I'm going to try to do.
Q. I hope I ask this right, but to get out here what kept you from getting our here? Was it more something in your game or was it how many other good players there are?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Yeah, you guys follow the game. You know how many good players there are. It's incredibly difficult to get here. It's not supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be hard. That was probably the main thing -- the main thing I wanted to learn about myself is could I play an entire year on the Web.com Tour and get through it.
Like I said, I had that conditional where I was getting five to six to eight starts each year. You know, I wasn't overly successful but had enough good events to know that my best was good enough. I just wanted one more chance to play an entire year and see if I could do it.
I had a couple poor finishes at Q-School the previous couple years. I finally got through finals and got full status and got to play a full year last year. Like I said, was having a good year, but those last three events really turned a good year into a great one.
Some of it was opportunity and some of it was me just not -- Web.com if you win an event you're probably going to get your PGA TOUR card. I certainly had multiple chances not to win the event, but to have really good finishes, but just I hadn't done it to that point.
So it was nice to be able to play 25 events, set your schedule, and see if I was good enough.
Q. What do you think would've happened if you would've finished 50th on the Web last year and didn't make it through the final and you had status next year, but didn't do what you just said a minute ago?
CHRIS THOMPSON: I certainly would've played the Web next year. It's a great tour in itself. You certainly don't want to play that your entire life, but it's the means to an end. Now that you can't get here from Q-School, that's the only way you can do it. There are good courses. Fantastic competition. It's a really well-run tour. It's a great place to be.
All that being said, this is where you want to get to. I certainly would've played the Web.com again. That being said, if I would've finished whatever the cut off is, 76th, I don't know. We would've had to make another decision.
Q. How many time did you get through first stage in the old system?
CHRIS THOMPSON: First stage? I got through first stage quite a bit. I don't know that I could tell you exactly, but I started Q-School I think in 2000 and played every year until this past year, whatever that is, 17 or 18 times. Probably got through first stage 11 or 12 and second stage I got through maybe six or seven.
But just I had never finished high enough in the finals to get status.
Q. Any close calls?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Yeah. Three years ago PGA National. They moved it down there and was probably three or four inside the number and shot 41 the back nine at PGA National. Played the bear trap like 6-over or something like that and just really gassed it away.
So if you guys are looking for low points, that was one of the low ones. You play all year to set yourself up for Q-School and put yourself in position, and then just blow it in the last eight holes. That's a pretty frustrating time.
Q. That would've been for Web status?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Yes. So I had conditional. Same thing, conditional Web status that year, but you need to get the full status to really have success.
Q. Not totally in your control, but how many events do you hope to play?
CHRIS THOMPSON: I'm kind of learning this process on the fly, too. I got in three of the five kind of wrap-around events in the fall. I won't get into Phoenix but I will get into the next - the other four of this five reshuffle. A lot will depend on how well I play in these four out of the next five.
I would say minimum of 18 to 20 from now on, with a Max maybe of 25 to 26.
Q. If someone came to you who was 38, 39 years and had been trying for 16, 17 years and never made it out here, what advice would you give them?
CHRIS THOMPSON: I think every situation is different. I would tell him this: You have to be all in it. You can't go halfway. The people what that are around you, they have to be all in, too. The competition is too good. You can't be a pro at a club or have another job and do this on the side. You need to be fully invested.
I was one of those guys who didn't really want to stop, but if I stopped I wanted to a year too late and not a year too early. To me, you have to be honest with yourself. Are you having success at the level you're playing at? Are the people that love you and are close to you, do they support what you're doing and are fully behind you? You have to ask for other people's opinions and people that you trust.
But at the end of the day, it's probably going to have to be your decision. If you think you're good enough, I think do it another year. If you're not having success that year or your wife or teacher they're not -- or you start to have kids and it makes it tough. If you can't get fully invested into it, then I think it's probably time to stop.
Q. How old are the kids and does your wife have a job?
CHRIS THOMPSON: She does. She's an event planner for the Golf Course Superintendents Association. They're headquartered in Lawrence, so she's got a great job with them.
And the kids, I have a ten year old boy, Henry, and then an eight-year old girl, Landry, who are pretty disappointed they're not here.
Q. Did you think to ask the Shark if you could play with him that day?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Ask who?
Q. The Shark?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Oh, the Shark. I thought you said Shaq. (Laughter.) No, no, at that time. If a guy is flying in on the helicopter I probably wasn't going to approach him.
Q. What year was that sectional?
CHRIS THOMPSON: It would've been in the early 2000s. You would probably have to look it up. I would say 2002, 3, somewhere in there.
Q. How did you get into the Nelson that year. Was that an invite or did you go there and four-spot?
CHRIS THOMPSON: That was a four spotter; Monday qualified. That would've been 2014, I think -- 2014 for sure. Monday qualified and got in.
Q. First PGA TOUR event?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Yep.
Q. First courtesy car? Did you get one?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Well, at that time I had my Toyota 4-Runner and that's what I was driving. I drove down to Dallas and so I had that car with me, and I just kept it for the week. The entire fleet, the parking lot was like BMW courtesy cars but my white Toyota was just sitting there.
Q. Did you at least get one at Pinehurst?
CHRIS THOMPSON: I did, yes. That was the first one. Yeah, Woodwin (phonetic) was nice enough to let me fly out with him on his jet to Pinehurst, so we flew out of Lawrence. It was two hours and like five minutes door to door. I was on the tee like three hours after we left Lawrence.
I missed the cut and he made the cut so I was on my own to get back home. I drove the courtesy cash up to Raleigh; Southwest flight to Chicago; three-hour layover; get back to Kansas City, somebody has to come get me. It took like 11 and a half hours to get home.
Q. For old time's sake you should have driven.
CHRIS THOMPSON: Yeah, you're not kidding.
Q. Do you remember any practice rounds you played that week?
CHRIS THOMPSON: I do. I played with Gary the first day, and then I played with -- I played I think by myself the front nine and played the back nine with Sergio. He was just waiting on the tee. He came over and asked me to play, so I played on Tuesday the back nine with Sergio.
And then Wednesday I played with Kevin Tway, nine holes with Kevin Tway, Rickie Fowler, and Dustin Johnson. So it was pretty cool week for me.
Q. Any of them ask you why you hadn't quit?
CHRIS THOMPSON: No, but...
Q. Were they inquisitive about who you were?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Yeah, they were. I wasn't quite as old at the time but still old. Yeah, all of those guys were -- yeah, Rickie specifically, if I had to pick one. He just couldn't have been nicer. I asked him for a couple pointers and how to handle nerves and what to do when you get in trouble, stuff like that for U.S. Open.
I played the Byron Nelson like maybe three weeks earlier and that helped, but it's still a different level of people and stands and hospitality. So it was a pretty eye-opening experience. All these guys were extremely friendly and helped me on the and were very forthcoming with advice and commentary.
It was great. I really enjoyed playing with them.
Q. I have just one more. I'm just curious. I know you've been with these guys a lot, but rookie orientation, at any point you just look around the room?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Well, you're right. I've played with most of those guys all year and some of them for the last five or ten years, but it's crazy how many people are good and really good.
Some of these young guys can absolutely crush the ball. Yeah, at the time, obviously I think probably Sam Burns and Cam Champ, those are the two guys you probably have to pinpoint like, Hey, keep an eye on these two. They're going to be highly successful.
Everybody has a chance. If you get to rookie orientation you're going to have a chance of success, but those two guys are the guys that I think if you had to select two, I would chose them.
Q. Would that be one of the things that caused doubt in your head though? As you're continuing to pursue and the older you get and the younger it gets and you're realizing what you're up against as you pursue this?
CHRIS THOMPSON: It is a profession that not many good players get out of but there is always good players getting into it. It does get harder. I think the more you do anything you get better, too.
I certainly feel even though I'm older than most of the people in this field, especially last year I was playing some the best golf I've ever played. So age is important, and I'm probably not going to get any fitter or any better, but I still know how to play. I feel like I can get it around. I haven't played here yet but this feels like a course that I could certainly compete on.
I don't feel like I'm one of the shorter hitters, but definitely not one of the longer ones either. Like you said, the game is getting younger and the guys are getting more athletic and guys keep hitting the ball further. That's not making it any easier.
That being said, they don't hand out trophies for the longest drive. You got to get the ball in the hole, and there are a lot of different ways to do that. I usually get asked what my biggest strength is, and I feel like putting a score down is probably my biggest strength, the ability to score and shoot the best score you can on any given day.
So to answer your question, it does get a little bit eye opening at the talent level of some of these younger guys and how prepared they are to be successful early. I don't feel like I was necessarily that way when I was 23, 24, 25. Some of these guys, they're pretty impressive to watch.
Q. Patton was just in here and he wanted to take a minute to congratulate you. He doesn't know you. How many times does that happen?
CHRIS THOMPSON: Probably more than you think. I was hitting balls down at Sea Island and Stewart Cink, who I don't think I've met before, came up and introduced himself. Hey, it's great to have another old guy on the TOUR. Welcome.
Some of the older guys, you know, that are in their late 30s, early 40s, I played a lot of the college golf with these guys. They have advanced their career quicker than I have and that's great for them. I have played a lot with a lot of these guys out here, so it's good to see them again. If anybody wants to come up and say congrats, that's very humbling.
THE MODERATOR: Any more questions? All right, thanks for the time and best of luck this week.
CHRIS THOMPSON: Thank you, guys.
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