It was September, the end of a long and not so fruitful season for Michael Thompson. After six seasons on the PGA Tour, there were places he’d rather be having to be than Boise, Idaho, to try to regain his card through the Web.com Tour Finals.
But it can be strange sometimes how fate can work. Thompson won the Albertsons Boise Open that week, which would mean he’d be heading back to the PGA Tour in 2016-17. He wrapped up the Web.com Tour Finals in Columbus, Ohio, a week later, and headed for home in Sea Island, Ga. A few days later, Thompson’s wife, Rachel, told him there was a special letter awaiting him. It was sent from Arnold Palmer, who’d passed away just days earlier.
Now, the story of Palmer’s warm tradition of writing letters to winners on the PGA Tour has been known for years. But few knew that Palmer, who died Sept. 25 not far from home in Pittsburgh, also took the time to write letters to the winners on other tours, too. So while Thompson never really wanted to be in Idaho – he’d had but one top 10 and missed 10 cuts in 23 PGA Tour starts in 2015-16, finishing outside the top 125 in FedEx Cup points – the byproduct was an item so treasured that it now resides in a safe.
“I remember getting a letter after I won the Honda (in 2013), and I think that’s just something he did,” said Thompson, 31. “But it was really cool.”
What was extra special to Thompson was not just that Palmer had personally signed the letter, but how he’d signed it. Think about it: Palmer was 87, in failing health, still taking the time to make others feel special. Thompson has other items signed by Palmer through the years – such as a signed flag from the 2008 Palmer Cup, which Thompson competed in – and Palmer’s signature always was impeccable.
This one wasn’t. The signature was somewhat wavy, in the script of an aging man. To Thompson, that aspect made the letter even more special.
“I saw the date, and it was five days before he passed,” he said. (Thompson won Sept. 18; Palmer passed Sept. 25). His signature was so distinct, very legible. This one was, well, very squiggly. It looked like an old man had signed it, and to me, that’s very cool.”
Thompson was one of three Sept. 18 winners to receive a letter from Palmer. In Gee Chun (LPGA) and Paul Broadhurst (PGA Tour Champions) were the others. The PGA Tour was off that week; the final PGA Tour player to get a letter from Palmer was Dustin Johnson, who’d won the BMW Championship the previous week.
Copies of all four letters are on display this week in a MasterCard booth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando. Palmer’s longtime assistant, Doc Giffin, said Palmer enjoyed sitting in his office on Monday mornings and talking about what had unfolded in various tournaments that weekend. As for the letters? They were a nice touch from a gracious champion.
“That was just his nature,” Giffin said of Palmer.
Thompson sees the inherent beauty in how such a tough season somehow ended with him gaining a very special keepsake.
“When I saw that signature, it gave me chills,” Thompson said. “I think we all have a predestined plan for us, and I was meant to be there, and I was lucky enough to win. It also speaks a lot to him, that he would write to the winner of a Web.com tournament. I’m sure he did that with everybody.
“He truly loved the game, and he loved every aspect of the game. He didn’t just love the big tour, the PGA Tour. Especially nowadays, any win on any legitimate tour is a big deal.”
Palmer knew that, and he recognized that, too. That’s just one more special aspect that made him the King.