Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk: Chris Thompson
Chris Thompson arrived in Lawrence, Kansas in 1994, not knowing how his time at the University of Kansas would define the rest of his life. The Independence, Kansas native had been committed to playing golf at KU for some time, mostly due to the presence of legendary head coach Ross Randall in the program.
“Ross was a really good player. He played on the PGA Tour also. When somebody like me wanted to get help or instruction, it was good for me to know that he played golf at a high level,” Thompson said. “He had one of the best short games on the planet. I had a swing coach at the time but I always picked Ross’ brain about the short game – putting, chipping and bunker. He was fantastic. He was as good as there is coaching short game.”
Randall redshirted Thompson during his freshman year, allowing the small-town Kansas kid to adjust to the demands of college, collegiate golf and living in a bigger town. The redshirt year did wonders for Thompson, who eventually became one of three golfers in Kansas history to be twice named an All-American. Milestones in Thompson’s KU career included individual wins at the 1997 Crown Classic and 1998 Kansas Invitational.
In 1999, Thompson’s last year at Kansas, his success on the golf course helped KU win its first Big 12 Championship in 49 years. While the team took home the title, Thompson finished second individually at the Big 12 Championships. Reflecting on KU’s success during his five years, Thompson attributed much of the team’s success to Randall’s ability to schedule high-quality tournaments that challenged the team.
Once done with collegiate golf, Thompson took the next step in his career and joined the ranks of the professionals. It is a career he continues to this day.
“I had a good collegiate career and I felt I was good enough to play (professionally). A lot of college kids at least want to give it a shot,” Thompson said. “I certainly felt that I was one of those that at least deserved to give it a shot. I did it, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Despite being a two-time All-American with a career-best season average of 72.2 strokes per round, Thompson initially struggled to adapt to the professional level where just beating par is not enough.
“I think the biggest adjustment was just having to shoot better scores. I think the courses you play in mini-tour golf or Web.com are easier than most of the courses you play in college, but you have to get used to shooting six, seven, or eight-under-par on a consistent basis, which is tough,” Thompson said. “Initially it’s a shock because you shoot three-under and instead of being tied for third, you’re tied for 33rd. It gets your attention quickly, but it’s doable. You just have to get used to shooting good scores.”
There to support Thompson’s transition to professional golf was his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Jessica. The pair met through KU’s student-athlete support center, though they did not start dating until mutual friends brought them together.
“She ran the tutoring and student support service for KU. We met that way. One of her best friends at the time was dating one of my best friends, that was kind of the way we started dating,” Thompson remembered. “I think we probably met before that, at the student support center.”
Ten years of dating led to a lifetime promise to each other and the newly wedded couple had to make a decision on where to raise a family. Thompson had never truly left Lawrence, maintaining a permanent residence in the town where he honed his craft and met his wife.
“She was based out of (Lawrence) and my family lives close to (Lawrence) and her parents live in (Lawrence). It has always been a part of me and apart of us,” Thompson said. “I’ve always had some sort of footprint here and probably always will. I just love the community.”
By remaining in Lawrence, Thompson has let his golf career take him all over the country, playing a combination of mini-tours, Web.com events and PGA Tour qualifiers. He has held status in the Web.com Tour, which is the level right below the PGA Tour, for seven years and will play in the upcoming 2016 Web.com Tour while attempting to qualify for the PGA Tour as well. If he does make it, it will be a return to a level he achieved in 2014, when he competed in the Byron Nelson Championship and the U.S. Open.
The Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas proved that Thompson deserved to compete amongst the best on the PGA Tour. After making the cut of the Byron Nelson, Thompson accepted an invitation to play at Pinehurst, North Carolina for the U.S. Open. Though Thompson did not make the first cut of the U.S. Open, shooting a 10-over-par through the first two rounds, he thoroughly enjoyed his experience at Pinehurst.
“It was just first class from the minute you get there to the minute you’re done. You’re walking through the locker room and there’s Rory (McElroy) and Phil (Mickelson) just sitting there, and you think ‘This is a little weird.’ It took some getting used to but I love the course,” Thompson said. “I played okay the second day but I had a rough first round. As whole, it couldn’t have been better. It was a great experience. They treated me so well. It was really cool event and hopefully I can do it again.”
Thompson’s bid to return to the PGA Tour will begin in Lawrence, where he trains during the winter. Though Kansas winters make it difficult to get in rounds on the golf course, Thompson prefers training where his family is and believes it benefits him in the long run to be where he is comfortable and to use his first event of the year to readjust back to the weekly grind of the Web.com Tour.
Lawrence residents might catch him practicing indoors at Alvamar, coaching his seven year-old son Henry’s basketball team or watching his five year-old daughter Landry’s dance and gymnastic recitals. When asked why he decided not to follow the warm weather down south and instead build his nest in Lawrence, Thompson pointed to his college experience at KU and how it helped him build the foundation for his career and his family.
“I loved it here. It’s a fantastic school, I went through the business program and thought it was an A-plus. I got to play golf for a fantastic coach and I love college basketball. I got to go to a dozen games a year and I still get to go to them now,” Thompson said. “All the things that I enjoy, the community, college basketball, being around good people; I can do that here. It’s always felt like home.”
Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk