A poor round of golf used to wreck Michael Thompson’s day.
“If I played well, I was happy. If I didn’t, I was miserable to be around,” he said early Tuesday morning to a crowded gymnasium at Warren Baptist Church in Augusta.
A friend suggested that perhaps God have him a talent for golf for a reason. It changed everything, said Thompson, the keynote speaker at the Augusta Golf Breakfast, a Masters Week tradition hosted by the Greater Augusta Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
“God gave me this gift of golf,” Thompson said. “My purpose - and what I have to do because he gave me this gift - is to go out and work as hard as I possibly can, go out and enjoy every minute on the course, and run the race.”
Since 1994, the annual breakfast has invited Christian golfers, including Tom Lehman, Larry Mize, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson, and K.J. Choi, to share about their faith.
More than 700 local golf fans and Masters patrons filled the church to hear Thompson’s journey from “a 7-year-old holding his first golf club” to winner of the 2013 Honda Classic, his first PGA tour win last month. His wife, Rachel, watched on.
Thompson, 27, told how he started attending a Bible study with teammates at the University of Alabama. He landed there after
Hurricane Katrina shut down the golf program at Tulane University, which he had attended for two years.
“For me, Katrina was a blessing in disguise,” he said.
At first, Thompson said he only went to the Bible study to be a good sport, and immerse himself in the team. It wasn’t until 2010, after he turned pro, that he adopted the faith as his own.
“I was starting to believe golf was a gift from God,” he said. “He gave it to me for a reason.”
Regardless of how his game is going, Thompson said he now aims to be the most positive person on the course.
This week, Thompson makes his second appearance at the Masters.
As an amateur at the 2008 Masters, “The most nervous I ever was was on the first tee of the Par-3 course,” he said. “The reason was because Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer were standing right behind me, watching me tee off. All I could ever think about standing over the ball was, ‘Don’t shank it. Don’t shank it. Don’t shank it. Don’t shank it.’”
Thompson famously missed the cut after calling a penalty stroke on himself. The ball, he said, “moved two dimples.”
“That was my introduction to the golf world,” Thompson said. “From a player’s perspective, it’s not the best way to be introduced, but at the same time, calling a penalty, it’s not great, but I got a lot of great recognition for it.”
Ben Bost, FCA Golf Tour ministry director, asked Thompson about his hopes for this year’s Masters.
“I really just want to hit every green in regulation,” Thompson replied. “As an amateur, you come here and it’s deer-in-the-headlights. You don’t know what to expect. It’s hard to believe you’re actually walking inside the ropes at this place.”
Regardless of how he plays, Thompson added, “I hope I can go out this week and have that good attitude I preach.”