SAN FRANCISCO For all the heartless things that happened in the first round of the U.S. Open Thursday at The Olympic Club – and there were enough to bring a smile to even the most hard-hearted USGA official – there was the story of Michael Thompson.
Here’s the short version:
A 27-year-old in his second year on the PGA Tour, Thompson lost the U.S. Amateur final to Colt Knost in 2007 at The Olympic Club. That was two years after he lost most of what he owned when Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans where he was attending Tulane.
As fate and the USGA would have it, Thompson and Knost were paired together Thursday and, between reminiscing and joking, Thompson quietly shot a 4-under-par 66 that gave him a three-stroke lead over a group of players including Tiger Woods.
On the same course where world No. 1 Luke Donald threatened to make more bogeys than pars, where Phil Mickelson killed another U.S. Open dream by shooting 76 and where Masters champion Bubba Watson virtually surrendered after posting a 78, Thompson defanged the dangerous layout while most of the world was watching someone else.
While the golf world digested the diabolical doings at The Olympic Club, Thompson planned to spend Thursday night on a date with his wife in San Francisco at a restaurant they like, before retiring to a friend’s house on Lombard Street, the world’s curviest road.
Despite his uncommonly large first-round lead, Thompson was under no illusion that he was the star of the show that unfolded under brilliant blue skies and cool temperatures.
“Obviously, my name’s in the spotlight but a lot of people don’t know who I am,” Thompson said. “I’m totally OK with that because I’ve always been a player that just kind of hangs around. I don’t give up very easily and I’m proud of that.
“Give Tiger the spotlight. I don’t care. I’m going to go out and play my game.”
This is a guy who called a penalty on himself at the Masters a few years back when he – and apparently no one else – saw his ball move. It kept him from making the cut but Thompson did the right thing. He is, after all, an Eagle Scout.
He did virtually everything right Thursday – once he slipped to 2 over par through six holes. Thompson then started stacking up birdies, six of them coming in, proving there’s a way to get to The Olympic Club.
There were many more famous, more accomplished players who would love to have had a little of what Thompson had Thursday.
“It beat me up,” Watson said of Olympic. “It’s beating me by eight right now.”
It had RoryMcIlroy shaking his head, wondering where his Congressional magic of a year ago had gone. It had Mickelson and Dustin Johnson looking in trees for golf balls that never came down. It had Donald, so solid for so long, tied with a 14-year-old.
But it didn’t have anyone screaming about the set-up being unfair.
“It’s very nice. It’s ideal,” Padraig Harrington said. “It just goes to show that firm greens scare the life out of professional golfers.”
That comes from a man who four-putted – twice.
Then there was Woods, who gave a clinic in how to play a U.S. Open layout. While playing companions Mickelson and Watson were ripping drivers into the rough and building bogeys, Woods hit just three drivers, more often relying on iron shots off the tee.
Officially, he hit 10 of 14 fairways in regulation but he was better than that. Three of his misses were tee shots that rolled down the sloping fairways into the light first cut of rough. Woods played to the right spots on greens and, showing his old toughness, played the frighteningly difficult stretch from No. 1 through No. 6 in 1 under par.
“I know I can hit the ball this way and I know I have been hitting the ball this way,” Woods said. “I was able to put it together in a major championship. I’m going to need it the next three days.”
While Woods, Mickelson and Watson were teeing off at No. 9 Thursday morning, Thompson was starting at the same time on the first hole. One group had thousands following. The other had a couple of hundred.
“I love this golf course,” Thompson said. “It’s the U.S. Open and I told my caddie a couple of times, ‘Man, this is just awesome being here.’ ”