Tadhg Harrington looks ahead to the new PGA Tour season as the dust settles from an action-packed weekend at the Ryder Cup in Paris.
The carousel that is modern golf winds its merry way, as a new season starts on the PGA Tour this week at the Safeway Open. And there I was dreaming that Tiger Woods had just won the Tour Championship and better still, Europe had demolished the USA at the Ryder Cup!
But, yes, as that popular Fugees song goes “Ready or not, here I come,” and we are up and running again, while the roars of Paris are still palpable.
For the majority of golf fans, the season is starting to wind down, as the winter draws closer and along with another year of “what if”, but over at Napa in California, two distinct sets of golfers are teeing up in the hope of the big breakthrough. Forty-nine of the Web.com tour graduates from last season are present and correct while there are a fair share of grizzled veterans and journey-man pros who just can’t let go.
One of the more interesting players this week is 42-year-old rookie, (yeah, you read that right, rookie!) Chris Thompson, who has finally made it to the big leagues after an 18-year wait. Twice an All-American, he turned pro in 1999, but did not even qualify for the Web.Com Tour till 2007 where he played 30 events followed by 16 starts in 2008.
To say that he had found the perfect diet would be an understatement as he struggled on the greens before the real lean years set in. Winston Churchill once said “never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about”, and our man Chris epitomized this quote with the help of his wife Jessica and several sponsors who, like a dog with a bone, just wouldn’t let go.
That dog was severely tested when playing in the final qualifying round of the Web.com tour finals in 2015. Thompson looked certain to progress as he entered the final round, but shot an ugly looking 78, coming home in 43 blows. In a cruel twist of faith, even after all that debacle, a birdie on the last would have earned him a full exemption. It didn’t happen, but Chris is nothing if not dogged! He got himself a new caddie who could actually read greens and did it the hard way this year, winning his card over the full season. Bulletproof!
Three missed cuts and a best placed tied 36th in the Tour finals did nothing to diminish his enthusiasm and a quick look at last night’s opening round scores show him shooting a couple under par. Welcome to your new fan club, Chris!
This story encapsulates the event this week, where a course set up is designed to produce low scores and a rollercoaster ride for those aspiring to get it over the line for the very first time and kick-start a career that culminates in getting a shiny new uniform and joining eleven teammates at Whistling Straits in two years time. Who knows, they might even get to meet some distant Irish cousins at that event.
Talking of resilience, that doyen of American golf, Phil Mickelson, looked punch drunk in Paris last week but shot a seven under par opening round this week at the aforementioned Safeway Open! Bulletproof!
Another new dawn this week on the PGA Tour as our American brethren get to enjoy the thrills and spills of gambling their hard earned cash with those dastardly bookies! If you would like to follow someone on tour this season here are a few sleepers that should light up the fairways, and as always, a pinch of salt is required.
As Martin Luther King said, “we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” This is the biggest challenge that this group of ‘would-be superstars’ will face as their golfing prowess is already in the top drawer.
(1) Sam Burns, a 22-year-old college kid that hit the headlines in 2018 when he outplayed one of the game’s greats, Tiger Woods, down the stretch at the Honda Classic. His resulting tied eighth was, I feel, a cameo of what is to come from him as he now has full playing privileges at the big show! Attitude and work ethic are the only imponderables as he looks to have the game to go as far as he wants to take it.
(2) Karmer Hickok, a 26-year-old, former college roommate, of Jordan Spieth at the University of Texas. Finished second on the Web.com tours regular-season money list. Multiple sources say this kid is the real deal!
(3) Cameron Champ, I kid you not, what a name and what a player! This Sean Foley student hits it a country mile and is quite straight off the tee, a lethal combination! If you think you’ve heard the name before, it is because he was on the halfway leaderboard of last year’s U.S. Open. Raw power to burn in the octane-fueled world of the PGA Tour and no “Le Golf National” to put a halt to this guy’s gallop, 190mph ball speed, imagine the Phoenix Open next January and the fan reaction!
Finally, one wide awake player, whom I will be amazed if he doesn’t make it to Whistling Straits in two year’s time, Joaquin Niemann. It took the 19-year-old Chilean just five starts to earn a special temporary membership on the PGA Tour and then just another three to gain full status for this season.
I’m always wary of rising stars that are flying this close to the sun, as experience has taught me that for every Justin Thomas, there is an Anthony Kim lurking in the background but this teenager looks the real deal. He does everything well and barring injury should be a bonafide superstar. Time, as with everything in life, will tell.
If you got this far, thank you for reading, it is much appreciated in a world of constant information overload!
Talk again next Tuesday on some more matters golf!
Tadhg Harrington is a professional golf coach who graduated from the Titleist Performance Institute. He succeeds in employing empathy, passion and exceptional customer service. The Harrington Golf Academy provides long-term coaching programs designed to bring sensory processing to motor learning skills. We teach above the noise, the quick tips and the latest fads and are truly unique in the Irish golf industry.
Tadhg’s brother is three-time Major winner and Ryder Cup vice-captain, Padraig Harrington.