We can always express professional golf’s substantial depth of talent through numbers and anecdotes. And to be sure, there’s another layer of gained perspective in hearing how Brendon Todd recovered from full-swing yips to win again on the PGA Tour or how ridiculously competitive Monday qualifiers have become.
But seeing an example of the game’s depth in real time with your own eyes has a completely different effect. It’s a wake-up call for how slim the margin of error has become and how cruel the game can be to those on the wrong side of it.
Earlier this year, I got to know a player who understands this dynamic all too well. Curtis Thompson, the 26-year-old younger brother of LPGA standout Lexi Thompson and former PGA Tour player Nicholas Thompson, advanced through Q-School in 2014 before spending four consecutive seasons on what is now known as the Korn Ferry Tour. He made the cut in 37 of 85 starts and earned a little more than $258,000, which isn’t exactly a killing when you consider travel expenses and paying a caddie.
Just maintaining a Korn Ferry Tour card is hard work, and Thompson eventually lost his with poor play in 2018. He went back to Q-School that fall and shot 14-under-par 274 at first stage, but it wasn’t good enough. He missed a playoff by one stroke.
“This is likely the last time the professional world will ever see my golf swing,” Thompson wrote in an Instagram post following the round. “I have overcome the putting yips and full-blown swing yips. Have given blood, sweat and tears for this game. I am not going to be selfish and sacrifice the rest of my life for this game. I am going to be responsible and provide for my fiancée and further family. I’m sorry for this post. #goodrun”
Thompson’s words were those of someone who had lived his whole life training to be a professional golfer. He was home-schooled, growing up at TPC Eagle Trace in Coral Springs, Fla., where he would practice several hours per day. While I didn’t know him personally growing up, we competed in South Florida junior tournaments together and it was customary for him to win by 10 or more strokes. He was born and bred to be a professional.
His sister became a superstar. His brother made nearly 400 starts on the PGA and Korn Ferry tours. But after a solid college career at LSU and five subsequent years of playing good but not exceptional golf professionally, Thompson hadn’t reached his siblings’ lofty standards. He felt the pain that most professional golfers have to face at some point.
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