EDITOR NOTE: This is republish of a 2014 article written about Rincon/University grad Michael Thompson, a native Tucsonan, by our Andy Morales. Thompson won his second PGA Tour event yesterday at the 3M Open at Minneapolis. Parts in italics show updates to the story.
According to Michael Thompson’s mom Beth, it all began when her son was only 7 and participated in a golf clinic given by Tucson’s Deputy Director of Golf Mike Hayes.
“At the end of the two weeks of the clinic, Mike Hayes gave me some clubs he had cut down for Michael,” explained Beth. “All he said was he was in love and that was the beginning.”
Thompson’s parents believed in letting their children decide what sports or activities they would participate in, so they exposed them to a variety choices, always allowing them the opportunity to change or to stop what they were doing.
“We wanted them to play at least two sports, and if they ever wanted to stop, that would be fine by us,” Beth said. “We tried our best to expose them to a lot of things like music and art. They play the piano and the guitar. They were Eagle Scouts. As long as they are happy, there is nothing more a mother could ask for.”
One son, Zach, went on and became an Air Force pilot and an F-16 instructor and Beth told me she always looks up when one flies over because that could be him.
Besides golf, Michael also excelled at soccer.
An overtime loss to Cactus Shadows in the Class 4A semifinals kept Thompson’s Rincon/UHS squad from playing in the 2003 soccer championship game but Thompson was a key part of Rincon/University High’s 2002 golf state championship over Goodyear Millenium (600 to 609).
“We had a devastating loss the year before in the championship,” said Michael. “But we used it for motivation to win it all the next year.”
Rincon/UHS lost to Scottsdale Arcadia by one stroke in 2001 after they gave up a four-stroke lead and fell back for the 598-599 loss to finish in a two-way tie for second place along with Catalina Foothills.
Thompson earned State Player of the Year honors twice before moving on to Tulane to play in college. Other members of that championship squad from Rincon included Chris Shepard, Pete Quiroz, Geoff Hill and John Kercheval.
In some ways, it’s probably more meaningful for Michael Thompson to win the 3M than it is for Jon Rahm to become the No. 1 player in the world like we saw last week. Loved seeing the emotion from Thompson all weekend and especially in this interview. pic.twitter.com/aac4yf0iGh
Former Arizona All-American golfer Susie Meyers has great instincts. She took one look at Thompson when he was just 14 and that was it.
“I knew the minute I saw him,” said Meyers. “I told his father to hold onto your hats because you are in for a ride.”
Meyers is a member of the LPGA and is the golf pro at Ventana Canyon. Besides coaching Thompson, Meyers has coached great athletes like five-time Mexican Junior National Champion, Arizona All-Pac 10 golfer and LPGA member Alejandra Llaneza. Meyers is also the mother of former Canyon del Oro standout Chris Meyers.
Susie believes in coaching players to the point where they have all the tools they need on the course. No videos or technology. She refuses to focus on the negative that a video can show but rather keeps the focus on the player and the positive development.
“Michael and Chris developed under the radar and at their own pace and that is how it should be,” Susie explained. “They have the mental ability and the tools they need.”
Chris went on to play at Stanford, completing his senior season in 2018-19.
“Chris is one of the finest players and people I know,” Susie said of her son.
Having the mental ability and the tools on the course leads, of course, to having fun while you are competing and Michael wants all players to experience what he experienced with Susie.
“My advice to young players is to learn to enjoy the game and work hard at it,” he said. “Try to enjoy each experience. There is nothing like playing with 20 people watching and you are on the big stage. Sure you are nervous but have fun.”
Michael told me when his fellow pro golfers wish each other luck after they tee off, he tells them to have fun. He continues to grow and learn from Susie. She introduced him to some young female golfers while he was on the driving range. Without hesitation, Michael put his club away and talked with the youngsters like they were old friends.
You have to believe Michael and those four little girls are now life-long friends.
The joy of the game and Michael’s road to the PGA Tour are several of the reasons why he comes back to Tucson to host his annual junior invitational held at the Oro Valley Country Club. Because of COVID-19, the event was not scheduled this year.
“I wanted to give back and I learned a lot of the other golfers held junior invitationals in their hometowns, so this was a natural for me,” he explained.
“I talked with coach Susie and the JGAA (Junior Golf Association of Arizona) and we came up with this inspiration. All of my sponsors came on board and we have hats, balls, shirts and we get to play on this course. I believe these are the best greens in all of Tucson,” Michael added.
Hurricane Katrina forced Michael to transfer from Tulane to Alabama, where he was named the 2008 SEC Player of the Year, the same year he earned a spot on Team USA for the Palmer Cup.
Michael feels the move to “SEC Country” helped his game.
“Golf over there is different with the course designs and the grasses and trees. It just exposed me to different ways of playing,” he said.
An avid Alabama football fan, he loves to have time off so he can go back to Tuscaloosa. He also misses the game when he’s not playing due to many friendships he has developed on the Tour. He now lives at Sea Island, Ga., with his wife Rachel, 3-year-old son Joshua and recently-adopted daughter Laurel Marie.
Although his parents were not allowed to walk the course with him under previous junior golf rules, Beth watches her son play as much as possible now.
“I have never seen an ugly golf course,” she said. “In fact, Michael tells me the bigger the gallery, the better he plays, and I’m not out there watching him win or lose, I’m watching him enjoy his life.”
Michael Thompson File
2002-03 Arizona Team Champion
2001-02 State Player of the Year
2002-03 State Player of the Year
2008 SEC Player of the Year
2008 Palmer Cup
2010 Hooters Tour Player of the Year
2010 Michelob Ultra Classic winner
PGA Tour Card in 2011
Second place at the 2012 U.S. Open.
2013 Honda Classic winner
2020 3M Open winner
Career earnings approaching $10.1 million since 2011