Thorpe rust-free in Champions Tour return

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe

LUTZ, Fla. – Playing his first competitive round in almost 18 months, Jim Thorpe looked anything but rusty. He hit 13 of 14 fairways and 14 greens in regulation while shooting a 1-over 72 in the first round of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am.

Thorpe, who starting last April spent 10 months in a federal prison camp for tax evasion, made two birdies, one bogey and a double bogey at 16 thanks to a poor chip over the green and into a bunker.

“It wasn’t bad,” Thorpe said after the round at the TPC Tampa Bay. “This morning I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect.”

His first round back came on April 15, the usual deadline to file income tax. The irony wasn’t lost on Thorpe.

“I thought about it driving over here,” he said, laughing. “It is what it is.”

Thorpe pleaded guilty in September 2009 to two misdemeanor counts of failing to pay income taxes. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Thorpe owed about $1.6 million from 2002-04. He agreed to repay more than $2 million, with penalties and interest, and give 200 hours of community service.

Thorpe came here with two goals: Repay his debt to the IRS and play as good of golf as possible. Most of the golf was business as usual, as if there was no sabbatical.

“He drove it perfectly,” said caddie Tony Shepherd, reunited with the golfer he once worked for for 9 1/2 years. “He was calm as a cat, just like he always is.”

Thorpe was fortunate to get a so-called comfort pairing with one of his closest friends, Dana Quigley. Quigley requested the grouping, he said, “because I wanted to make him feel as comfortable as possible.”

You might say Quigley was impressed with what he saw.

“He played great,” he said. “He played a lot better than he should have being off 18 months. I thought he’d be rusty, but he was very good.”

Thorpe felt good as well, thanks largely, he said, to Champions Tour players “greeting me with open arms. I got a lotta hugs.”

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