Rookie, 42, took long road to PGA Tour

By Doug Ferguson
Associated Press
The Sony Open really is paradise for Thompson, who could have swam to Hawaii faster than it took him to reach the PGA Tour. He turned pro in 1999. Twenty years later, he finally is teeing it up along with the elite in golf.

Honolulu — Considering the long road he traveled and the setbacks that followed, it’s hard to imagine anyone at the Sony Open who appreciates this island paradise more than Chris Thompson. He could have swum to Hawaii in less time than it took him to reach the PGA Tour.

If there is a mini-tour, chances are he has played it.

Most amazing is not that it took him 19 years to get there, but that he never quit trying, even as the odds kept shrinking with age.

And that made it all the more rewarding.

“Everybody says it’s good,” he said. “And then when you get there, it’s even better.”

Thompson is 42 and a father of two, whose wife kept encouraging him to stick it out even when the results and the bank account would have suggested otherwise.

Patience paid off late last summer when he tied for third, tied for fourth and finished third in successive weeks on the Tour, getting him into the top 25 on the money list to earn a PGA Tour card.

“It was some relief, but obviously a lot of joy,” he said. “I wasn’t going to get a better opportunity than I had toward the end of last year. Those are some pretty stressful rounds … but they were important rounds. If you want to do this for a living, it’s better to play those important rounds. When you can play well in those rounds that matter the most, that’s the most gratifying.”

It’s even more gratifying for a guy who spent the better part of a decade driving to mini-tour events in Florida and the Carolinas, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, and as far west as Arizona. There were annual trips to Q-school and occasional trips to PGA Tour events for Monday qualifiers.

Thompson was 37 when he finally qualified for his first PGA Tour event at the Byron Nelson Championship in 2014, his first taste of the good life. Two weeks later, he qualified for the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and played a practice round with Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler.

And then it was back to the grind.

He is not the oldest rookie in PGA Tour history. Allen Doyle was 47 his first year on the PGA Tour, but he didn’t turn pro until the year before. Jim Rutledge of Canada also was 47 as a PGA Tour rookie.

“There were some years where you have to sit back and reflect and you have to rely on the people that you trust and make the best decision that you can,” he said.

“I’m not saying I made the right decision. Ended up being right. You try to figure it out as you go. My wife and I assessed it at the end of every year. Do we shut it down and do something else or do we keep going? She’s always leaned on the side of keep going.”