Thompson Collects Second Career eGolf Tour Title With a Little Help From Home
Champion Chris Thompson
By Stewart Moore
Blythewood, SC – With a final-round 66, Chris Thompson of Lawrence, KS made a mockery of par in the eGolf Tour’s Columbia Open en route to claiming his second tour title in the last 12 months. A 23-under total over four rounds gave the former Kansas Jayhawk golfer the tournament’s $35,000 first-place prize, and a new addition to the Thompson family last Thanksgiving gave added perspective to what can otherwise be a pretty stressful occupation.
The Columbia Open was the fifth event of the 2011 eGolf Tour season and was contested at both Columbia Country Club and Cobblestone Park Golf Club in Blythewood, SC. The 2011 event marked the sixth playing of the Columbia Open – an event that has produced past winners such as current PGA TOUR players Billy Horschel (2009) and Blake Adams (2008).
Thompson, the tournament’s 54-hole leader following rounds of 67-65-66, entered Saturday’s final round at 17-under and holding a three-shot lead over four players. With a Columbia Country Club course ripe for the taking after Friday’s rain, Thompson looked to run away and hide from the field.
“There wasn’t much wind today, so I knew scores were going to be pretty low,” said Thompson, 34. “I didn’t want to be more or less aggressive, I just wanted to stick to my game plan. I knew that 17-under wouldn’t get it done.”
Starting on the Ridgewood nine at Columbia’s 27-hole facility, Thompson exploded out of the gates with a shocking five-hole stretch on Nos. 3-7 that featured four birdies and an eagle at the par-5 seventh to quickly get to 6-under on the round and 23-under on the week.
“I hit good shots early on. I was fortunate enough to hit it close for a lot of the week,” said Thompson, who twice garnered “All America” honors at the University of Kansas. “The birdies on Nos. 3-6 were good, then I chipped in for eagle on No. 7 and thought, ‘Okay, here we go.’”
Prior to posting his torrid start on the turn, common thought on the grounds at Columbia Country Club was that the final round could turn into quite a shootout.
First-round leader Mikel Martinson was the first to make some noise at the nine-hole mark. The former Wayland Baptist star opened his final round in birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie fashion to vault to an outlandish 5-under par through four holes. A birdie at the seventh put Martinson to 6-under on his round and 17-under for the event, and an outward nine of 6-under 30 put him within striking distance of Thompson.
In the day’s penultimate threesome, Canadian Brad Fritsch made a move of his own with birdies on Nos. 6, 7 and 9 to card a front-nine 32, in turn taking the former Campbell University golfer from 14-under to 18-under. Much like Martinson, Fritsch’s early charge set up what was possibly going to be a final-nine showdown.
“I saw the leaderboard at the turn, and then my plan was to look at it again after 15,” Thompson said. “At that point, I was five up. I knew I was in good shape, I just had to settle down and hit some good shots.”
Unfortunately for Martinson and Fritsch, rumors of a back-nine battle royale were news to Thompson, who would continue his onslaught of birdies on the closing nine.
A two-putt birdie at the par-5 12th took Thompson to 24-under, and a flawless third shot into the par-5 15th moved him to 25-under. At that point, the tournament had turned into more of a one-man show.
A poor tee shot at the par-4 16th led to just his fourth bogey of the tournament, and a follow-up bogey at 17 dropped him back down to 23-under on the week.
Standing on the tee of the par-4 18th, Thompson’s lead had dwindled down to two shots following the back-to-back bogeys. With Fritsch in the clubhouse at 21-under, Thompson only needed to avoid disaster at the last to claim his second tour win.
With a simple par to close out a fantastic week, Thompson claimed victory at the Columbia Open with a 23-under 264 total.
“This was great. I played really well all week, and feel fortunate that I was able to build a lead and kind of hang on there in the end,” said Thompson, who moved to No. 3 on the tour’s money list with his $35,000 winner’s share.
Fritsch finished in solo second at 21-under 266 thanks in part to a final-round 65 on the Ellis Maples-designed course. Had it not been for a six-hole stretch of pars from Nos. 12-17, Fritsch may have been able to add a little more pressure to Thompson on the back nine. A closing birdie at the last allowed him to solidify his runner-up finish, for which he earned $20,118 – the largest check of his eGolf Tour career.
Finishing in solo third was Vince Hatfield of nearby Greenwood, SC. Hatfield, who began the day trailing Thompson by four shots, posted a final-round 66 to finish at 19-under for the event, four shots behind Thompson. Making just his second career start on the eGolf Tour, Hatfield picked up $15,522 for his efforts.
2010 River Hills Classic champion Chris Baker of Brownstown, IN picked up his second top-5 of the season with rounds of 70-69-66-64—269 and a solo-fourth-place finish.
Martinson, who had threatened early with that opening nine of 6-under 30, stalled on Columbia’s closing Tall Pines nine with a 1-over 37, falling into a tie for fifth with 36-hole leader Dustin Bray.
For Thompson, the win marked his second title on the eGolf Tour, dating back to last year’s HGM Hotels Classic at Rock Barn, where he carded rounds of 68-62-68-68—266 to claim a two-shot win over Tommy Biershenk and Ryan Gildersleeve. His 21-under total that week was one of the lowest winning totals on tour last year, adding further credence to Thompson’s comfort level in events where pars are deemed irrelevant.
“It’s weird, I don’t know why I play well in events where you have to go low,” he said. “Courses like this fit my eye, where you have to work the ball and there are doglegs that force you to hit certain shots – similar to Rock Barn (golf club) last year. I love playing courses like that.”
Thompson spent two full seasons on the Nationwide Tour in 2007 and 2008, showing glimpses of his propensity for red figures along the way.
In 46 career starts on the Nationwide Tour, Thompson collected nine top-25 finishes and just over $95,000 in earnings. His best finish during that span came at the 2007 Cox Classic in Omaha, NE – where the former Kansas star is both a Midwest standout and enemy to all Nebraska Cornhusker faithful. During that week, much like Columbia, Thompson went low early and often with rounds of 60-71-69-66—266 en route to a T8 finish. From 2007-2009 on the Nationwide Tour, Thompson posted rounds of 65 or better five times.
“When I’m playing good, I feel like I can keep momentum going on courses that force you to maneuver the ball,” he said. “It was like that in Omaha too.”
For Thompson, momentum took on a whole different meaning this past offseason. In November of 2010, the Thompson family welcomed a second child into the world – a baby girl to go along with a three-year-old son. Birdies, shotmaking and momentum took a backseat. It was time for Thompson to put the clubs up and put the dad hat on.
“There is a big difference between two (kids) and one. I wasn’t expecting such a huge difference, but it’s been great,” he said. “The cliché of it giving you a new perspective is true.”
With added perspective and fewer hours logged on the driving range, Thompson began playing competitively again in March after a wintertime layoff spent organizing a world that had just been partially turned upside down. With a few holes to play on Saturday afternoon, that newfound outlook came in handy for a guy trying to hang on for win No. 2.
“I was feeling nervous coming down the stretch there, but I felt pretty good all week,” said an elated Thompson. “Parenthood puts things in perspective, and if you get healthy, happy kids, it makes golf a little easier I think.”
Ask any parent if kids can add financial stress, and you’re likely to get a stare and a “just you wait” kind of response. Thompson, however, doesn’t see it like that. An opportunity to provide means added sweetness when your name is on the big check. He is well aware of how fortunate he is to hit a golf ball for a living and bring home good news – and a few extra spending dollars – from the road.
“It has helped me. Some people think, ‘It’s another mouth to feed,’ but that’s a little dramatic,” Thompson said. “I don’t take for granted what I do, I like playing golf for a living – I enjoy it.”
Then Thompson smiled and said what everyone else was thinking.
“But, it obviously helps when you play good and are able to cash bigger checks.”
· Daily results and game stories are distributed to the media, posted on the tour’s Facebook page, and available each day on the tour’s website: www.egolfprofessionaltour.com. Live updates from each round can also be found on the eGolf Professional Tour’s Twitter page (@eGolfProTour1).
· The tour would like to thank Columbia Country Club General Manager Chris Sparrow and Assistant Professional Jason Crapps, as well as Cobblestone Park Golf Club Director of Golf Tom Graber, and their respective staffs for their outstanding help in conducting this tournament. A great job was done by Columbia Head Golf Course Superintendent Jim Young, Cobblestone Park Head Golf Course Superintendent David Cavender, and their crews to present two fantastic courses for the week. Last but certainly not least, thank you to the members of Columbia Country Club and Cobblestone Park Golf Club for allowing the tour to have access to both courses for tournament week.
· The eGolf Professional Tour will take next week off before returning to action at the Willow Creek Open in High Point, NC on May 4-7.