PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL – Michael Thompson, the 83rd-ranked player in the world who crafted a magical week in winning the 2013 Honda Classic over a world class field, will defend his title in the 2014 Honda Classic, a PGA TOUR event which will be held February 24-March 2 at PGA National Resort & Spa.
Thompson’s return to The Honda will rekindle the greatest memory of his golfing life, his first TOUR victory, the aggressive five-wood which he nailed on the 18th hole on Sunday into a greenside bunker for an easy up and down, the birdie making him one of just five players under-par on the final day, and the two-shot victory he secured over Geoff Ogilvy to claim the $1,080,000 top prize.
The motto from his golf team at the University of Alabama was to always “Finish Strong.” So there were no thoughts of a conservative lay-up in his mind on the par-five final hole as he clung to that one-stroke lead.
“That kind of sealed the day,” he said of the five-wood from 240-yards out. “It allowed me to walk up the fairway and enjoy the experience, see the crowd, and just finish strong.”
The Honda win changed his professional golf fortunes, transforming him from a guy frustrated at missed cuts, wondering if professional golf was going to work out, into a man now owning a two-year exemption on the PGA TOUR.
Thompson rode the momentum of his Honda win to a Top 10 finish the next week at the World Golf Championships Cadillac Championship at Doral, an event he suddenly was qualified for. He finished 25th at The Masters, had top 10s at The Memorial and CVS Caremark Charity Classic, finished 21st at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and 22nd at the PGA Championship.
There still were a few missed cuts sprinkled in, but there was no question what the experience of winning and the confidence that was a byproduct of that did for Thompson’s game and his career. So far in 2014, he has finished 16th at the Tournament of Champions, 19th at the Phoenix Open and 19th this past weekend at Pebble Beach.
Thompson’s success has not changed the humble person that he is. The day after his Honda victory, he and his wife went to a coin laundry in Miami to wash their clothes.
“That goes right back to my days on The Hooters Tour,” he said.
But he also was out to dinner with Bubba Watson that same night and there was no question that winning on the PGA TOUR did earn him some newfound respect.
“You know, just enjoying meeting new people, new players, getting to share my experience,” he said. “A lot of guys have been very happy for me and I'm thrilled to kind of be part of the guys now, part of the group, as a PGA TOUR winner. So it's very special for me. But at the same time, my game hasn't changed, my attitude hasn't changed. The way I'm going to go out and play hopefully hasn't changed. I just need to go out and be Michael Thompson, and that's all I can ever do. And you know, if I make it to the winner's circle again, so be it. But if I stay true to myself, then there's nothing I can regret.”
Thompson was full of doubt as he came into the 2013 Honda Classic. He had finished dead-last in his previous start in Los Angeles. A week of introspection helped him realize that he was putting too much pressure on himself.
“I started really listening to what everybody was telling me; you're a great player, you should go out and Top‑10 every week,” Thompson said. “I'm still young; I still have plenty to learn, too. We never know it all. And I just think that's part of the process. It's part of our journey as professionals and playing this great game, but at the same time, that's also part of life. We all go through up‑and‑downs. When you go through a really big low, it's really important to just go back to the basics in whatever you do and focus on your core values and the most simple goals you can make and try to achieve those. As soon as you start to see some accomplishment at a small level, then all the big stuff starts to happen. And it really starts to happen without you even trying.”
That was never more evident than in Sunday’s final round at The Honda. He holed a 50-footer for eagle at the third hole and used his short game to build a four-stroke cushion at one point.
“I just need to continue to believe in what I do and the way I play golf,” Thompson said. “It's not pretty. My swing is not the most beautiful swing in the world. I hit it all over the place.
“But I'm a darned good putter, and that's the one thing I really do believe in myself. It's a matter of just going back to what I believe and what has got me to this point. I want to be like Michael Thompson, and if I can find that, then I'm going to really enjoy my career. “
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