Thompson still grinding in pro ranks

OCALA, Fla. – Michael Thompson’s tale can serve as a cautionary one for any player preparing to turn pro in the near future.

The lesson: Don’t change the things that made you successful, and don’t feel like you have to hit every shot perfect to compete at a higher level. The hole is the same size, regardless of if you’re playing college golf, the Hooters Tour or PGA Tour.

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Michael Thompson at the 2008 NCAA Championship.

Thompson is in Central Florida this week for the first event of the 2010 Hooters Tour. This isn’t where many thought Thompson would be almost two years into his pro career. Luckily, things are starting to look up for the affable former Alabama player.

Thompson was runner-up to Colt Knost at the 2007 U.S. Amateur, and an alternate for that year’s Walker Cup team. In 2008, he almost made the cut at the Masters (before calling a penalty on himself when his ball moved on the 15th green) and was low amateur at the U.S. Open (T-29). He also contended at the PGA Tour’s Hartford stop before turning pro after the Palmer Cup.

That’s when things started to go awry. As Thompson was talking to agents in preparation for his pro career, one agent told Thompson he’d have to hit the ball higher to compete on the PGA Tour.

“That one quote, it totally changed my whole outlook on the game of golf and how I was going to go about playing it,” he said. “I changed my whole swing.

“I worked on shallowing out my swing. I used to come in really steep, take deep divots. I was working on casting the club, releasing my hands early. That caused my impact to change dramatically. I felt like I was sweeping the ball, instead of compressing it. For me, that brought in a duck hook. That duck hook produced a fear of hitting it left, and then I started hitting it all over the place.”

Thompson missed out on Q-School in 2008, and spent last year on the Hooters Tour. He earned $23,225 to finish 42nd on the money list. Starting last June, he missed five cuts in seven starts, a stretch that had him briefly considering quitting golf.

“I told myself, ‘There’s no point. This is miserable,’ ” Thompson said. “My family, my coach, my friends, my girlfriend, everyone encouraged me to keep going, and I knew this is always what I wanted to do in the long run.”

This fall, Thompson talked to his teacher, Susie Meyers, about returning to his old form. Thompson missed out on Q-School’s first stage, but found success on the Hooters Tour’s Winter Series. He won $28,951 – more than he won in the entire regular season – and was the leading money winner. He won once, was runner-up another time and had a 69.38 scoring average. Nationwide Tour players Joe Affrunti and Ted Potter finished second and third to Thompson on the money list. Potter was the 2009 Hooters Tour player of the year.

“It’s a process I’m glad I went through,” Thompson said. “It was definitely a struggle.

“I feel more comfortable with my game than I have in the past two years. I feel like this year could be a really good year for me.”

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