Thursday, August 10, 2006

Displaced by Katrina, Former Prep Standout Qualifies for Amateur

Opinion by Greg Hansen : Thompson 1, adversity 0
a.e. araiza / Arizona Daily Star 
As with most golfers, Michael Thompson has the uncanny ability to remember details of a hole he played years ago. The exact yardage. The club he used. The temperature and time of day.
But if you engage Thompson in a Q&A session today, his instant recall isn't "6 iron at No. 14" as much as it is "my car was buried in 9 feet of water."
When did Thompson learn that his college golf team at Tulane was being eliminated?
"Dec. 9," he says, immediately.
What belongings was he able to save before Hurricane Katrina hit the Tulane University campus?
"My golf clubs and four changes of clothes."
How did he stay academically eligible?
"I enrolled three weeks late for the semester at SMU. Our whole team was transferred there. I was so far behind I had to drop two classes. They put me in a dorm with a guy who stayed up late and partied all the time. It was very stressful. I basically had to forget golf to get my academics back in order. I got a 3.6 GPA this summer."
Michael Thompson is one of the most accomplished young golfers in Tucson history. In 2002, he led Rincon/University High School to the state championship and was named the Junior Golf Association of Arizona's player of the year. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur in 2003, was selected Conference USA's Freshman of the Year in 2004 and made that league's five-man all-conference team in 2005.
In 2006 he went into an unexpected match play against adversity.
Thompson won.
Two weeks ago in Phoenix, Thompson returned to golf's most significant amateur stage by qualifying for the U.S. Amateur (Aug. 21-27 in Chaska, Minn.)
"I'm tickled pink for him," says Red Morrow, Thompson's high school coach at Rincon/University. "This is a young man who has the whole package, in golf and the way he conducts himself. With his makeup, he'll put himself in position someday to make a run at a career in golf."
Thompson left New Orleans two days before Hurricane Katrina forever changed his life. He lost his car and his scholarship. He has been separated from his teammates and the coach who recruited him, all of whom have scattered away from Tulane. He did not play competitive golf in the 2005-06 college season.
"I've learned to enjoy the little things in life far more than I ever have," says Thompson, back in Tucson, practicing at Forty Niner Country Club. "One of my teammates, who was from a New Orleans suburb, had his entire home destroyed. I was one of the more fortunate ones."
Tulane ultimately eliminated golf, tennis, swimming, soccer and men's track and field. Coach Tom Shaw has since taken over at Vanderbilt. Thompson's teammates have relocated to Furman, Louisiana Tech, Memphis and Louisville.
And although he considered coming home and playing his final two seasons at Arizona, it didn't work because UA coach Rick LaRose had long ago divvied out the precious scholarship money available for 2006-07.
"My résumé speaks for itself," Thompson says, candidly. "When I started looking for a new school, just after Christmas time, I heard from Oklahoma State, Florida, Wake Forest, New Mexico, Alabama, LSU, Arizona, Texas and South Carolina."
After visiting Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma State and New Mexico, he accepted an offer to play for the Crimson Tide.
This begins an unscheduled Part II of a career, but one Thompson believes will provide the opportunity to become one of the NCAA's leading college golfers. At Alabama, he'll get to play in different conditions than in Tucson — more wind, more humidity, and on courses with more rough and trees.
"Once the NCAA approved my eligibility, meaning that 2005-06 was considered a redshirt year, I tried hard to pick a school, like Alabama, where I could learn another way to play golf," Thompson says. "Initially, we all wanted to stay at Tulane, overcome Katrina and keep our team together. But since that didn't work out, this is a great situation."
Thompson will register for classes at Alabama on Wednesday. He'll leave the next day for Hazeltine National Golf Club outside of Minneapolis.
"I played in the U.S. Amateur at Winged Foot a few years ago and it was one of the great experiences of my life," he says. "But given what I've gone through, I think I'll appreciate this one a little bit more."