Long-hitting Thompson avoids Round 1 scare
ADA, Mich. – Curtis Thompson never abandoned his bomb-and-gauge strategy, even when his tee shots started sailing into the trees and his unheralded opponent made a surprising run around the turn.
For the second year in a row, Thompson was pushed to the brink in the opening round of match play. This time, he found his game quick enough to prolong his stay.
Despite driving the ball 100 yards past Scottie Scheffler on some tee shots – “He was just bombing it,” Scheffler awed – Thompson took the lead for the first time on the 15th hole and held on for a hard-fought, 3-and-1 victory Wednesday at the U.S. Junior Amateur.
U.S. Junior Amateur (Round of 64)
Curtis Thompson held on in the first match of the day to beat 14-year-old, Scottie Scheffler, 3 and 1.
“Overall I’m pretty happy to walk off with the win,” Thompson said, “especially after what we went through today.”
In the media room Tuesday afternoon, after earning medalist honors after a bogey-free 66 in benign conditions at Egypt Valley Country Club, Thompson warned that one, two, maybe three of the top seeds would fall in the Round of 64. Sure enough, he almost became the first match-play casualty, a role with which he has grown increasingly familiar.
Last year Thompson, then the four seed, lost to Cameron Wilson on the first day of match play. On Wednesday he played little-known Scheffler, a 14-year-old from Dallas who needed a five-hole playoff Tuesday night just to qualify.
The driving disparity was immense Wednesday, but it allowed Thompson only to avoid falling too far behind.
He drove next to a rock in the left trees on No. 7, but managed to halve the hole. It took him two shots to get out of the trees on 10, falling 2 down with eight to play.
“That’s the great thing about match play,” Thompson said. “When I hit my bad drives, I said, ‘OK, you just lost a hole, no big deal. Get it back on the next hole, because this kid is hitting it 70, 80 yards shorter than me, on average, on every hole, and I’m down to him. There’s no way this can last for me to play this bad.’ ”
And, not surprisingly, it didn’t. Because when it mattered most, when he needed only to win the hole to end the Round-1 scare, Thompson unleashed a 340-yard drive on the par-5 17th that sailed over a grass bunker, some 120 yards past his playing competitor.
When his birdie was conceded, Thompson wrapped his arm around Scheffler and wished him well. Then the two played the 18th hole for fun, with Thompson smashing his drive center-cut, seemingly miles ahead of Scheffler, just for good measure.
Asked afterward if he had begun to panic at any point during his round, Thompson admitted, “With how bad I was hitting it in the beginning, I didn’t know what I was going to do.
“If I came in (and lost), people would have said, ‘Look at that. Curtis Thompson, 10 under, just to lost a 2014 (graduate).’ But it wouldn’t have hurt me. It’s just a golfer, and any day could be his day. It would have been tough, because I’ve been in this position before, too, and it’s tough to lose because you knew you were the best in the tournament and you got beat in the first round by a 64 seed. You don’t want to see that happen.”
In the end, though, it’s a victory. Thompson advanced to play another day, and his challenge in the Round of 32 – Denny McCarthy – will surely provide a stiffer challenge, and will undoubtedly drive the ball in the same area code as Thompson. McCarthy, who recently gave a verbal commitment to Virginia, beat Grayson Murray, 1 up, in one of Wednesday’s premier draws.
“Upsets are going to happen out here,” Thompson said. “I really fought today, and that’s something I usually don’t do when I get down.”