Sept. 14, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
– Even as Nicholas Thompson began playing more golf, the south Florida teenager didn’t give thought to winding up in the Georgia Tech Athletic Hall of Fame, let alone earning four All-America honors or All-ACC recognition three times.
He just knew he kept playing the sport better and better, even without fancy coaching, to the point where golf pushed another sport off the front burner.
So when Thompson, Calvin Johnson, Jarrett Jack, Brendon Mahoney, Eric Patterson, Lynn Houston Moore, Michael Sorrow and Jaime Wong are honored the weekend of Oct. 14-15, he’ll reminisce about Tech (2001-05) and his simplified path to the PGA Tour.
“I thought it was really cool when I found out,” Thompson said of his pending Hall induction. “I was a baseball player. I played it from age 4 to 13. I started golf at about 11 or 12, just played some with my Dad. Golf where I went to high school was the same season as baseball; you couldn’t play both.
“I progressed rapidly once I started playing and practicing regularly. I’m home-made. I just tried to literally get the ball in the hole.”
Golf is family affair for the Thompsons, as Nicholas’ sister, Lexi, in 2007 became the youngest golfer to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open at 12 years, 4 months and one day. She turned pro at age 15 in 2010, and in 2011 because the youngest to win an LPGA event, the Navistar LPGA Classic.
Just 21, she’s won seven times on the LPGA Tour, earning more than $5.3 million.
Their brother Curtis is on the Web.com Tour after playing on scholarship at LSU.
All of them were home schooled, and when Nicholas, 33, came out from under the wings of his parents, Scott and Judy Thompson, he wasted no time before scoring for the Yellow Jackets.
Playing in 10 events as a freshman, he had three top-10 finishes, helped the Jackets win the 2002 ACC title when he tied for second, and then finish NCAA runners-up when he tied for 51st.
Thompson was honorable mention All-American as a freshman and a sophomore, when he played in all 12 events, twice finishing in the top six.
With five top 10 finishes as a junior, he was All-ACC for the second time and third team All-American.
As a senior, he was All-ACC again, and second team All-America with five more top 10 outings, including a title at the Western Refining Collegiate All-American Classic. Tech again was the NCAA runner-up that year.
Looking back, Thompson’s fondest memories from his time on The Flats came in his first and last years.
“I would say there are two that really stand out,” he said. “One was my freshman year ACCs, because we had just an awesome finish to win. I think we finished like birdie, birdie, eagle, eagle to win. It was pretty cool to be there and be part of that team. That team did a whole lot of special stuff.
“Then, the Collegiate All-American my senior year, I won that.”
Thompson is as easy going a guy as you might talk to, and when it came time to choose a college, he was hardly conflicted.
“I had a fair amount of offers across the country, but when it came to golf and school it was really tough to beat Georgia Tech,” he recalled. “It came down to Duke, and Tech’s golf was a whole lot better.
“If you went to class at Tech, I didn’t think it was as hard as everybody said. I went to class, and I’m not saying it was easy, but … “
There’s evidence to back him up.
As Thompson graduated in 2005 with a degree in management, he won an ACC Post-Graduate Scholarship award, and was a GCAA All-America Scholar for the second time.
He remained amateur a little longer, helping the U.S. defeat England & Ireland that summer in the Walker Cup, and then played in his fifth U.S. Amateur before turning professional.
Golf has been good for Thompson, who’s earned more than $6.3 million on the PGA and Web.com Tours.
He may not make it to induction weekend at Tech because he’s going through the Web.com Finals right now in an attempt to earn his PGA Tour card for 2016-17.
This season was all but tamped out because he tore cartilage in his right knee in March, just as he did his sophomore season at Tech. He had surgery last spring. Having lost status while he was unable to play effectively during rehabilitation, he’s trying to get that card back in three more Web.com playoff events.
In the first, last week, he tied for 22nd in the DAP Championship.
The Finals end the week before induction ceremony, and if Thompson does well enough to earn that Tour card, the first PGA Event of the season — the Safeway Open in Napa, Calif. — is induction weekend. He’ll play there if he earns the right.
“If I’m in, I won’t make it [to Tech],” he said. “I want to go, but if I’m in Napa I can’t pass that up.”
In the event Thompson shows up in Atlanta, he’ll likely bring his wife and their 2-year-old son from their Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., home.
They travel with him a bit, though not always. That’s the toughest part of being a pro golfer.
“My first six or seven years [after graduating], I got back for a minimum of one or two football games, and since I’ve had my son I don’t. The problem is I travel so much that when I have time off, it’s so tough to get on another plane.
“They don’t go to every event. I’m not away from them for more than two weeks. If I’m out for five weeks, they might come out for two weeks in the middle. When you go, every trip is a week. When I tell people I traveled 39 times in a year, that’s not 39 one-day trips, that’s 39 weeks.”