Golfer excels following return to game

by Ryan Schuster

Golf has been a major part of sophomore men’s golfer Bill Thompson’s life since he was a toddler.
He got his first set of golf clubs when he was just 4 years old and grew up playing with current PGA competitor Tim Herron in Wayzata as a child.
But after a successful high school golf career, Thompson became burned out on the game and spurned several scholarship offers from top college golf programs, including Minnesota, to go to college at St. Thomas. After taking a year off to go to school, Thompson found out that he had made a mistake by rejecting golf.
“I decided that I missed golf too much not to play,” Thompson said. “I called (Gophers golf coach John Means) up and said, ‘Is your offer still good?’ He said ‘yes’ and I said, ‘I’m coming.’ About two days later, I signed with the U.”
Thompson had played in several high school meets hosted by Means before and developed a good rapport with the Gophers coach. He decided to come to Minnesota because of his good relationship with Means and his fondness for the other golfers on the team.
His transition from high school to college golf has taken longer than his snap decision to attend Minnesota, though.
During his freshman season, Thompson only competed in five tournaments and ended his first season with the Gophers with a stroke average of 77.7, more than three strokes higher than his average during his final year of high school.
“I learned a lot last year,” Thompson said. “I came in here thinking I was going to play every week. I was clueless. It’s not about going out to the range and spending six hours beating balls, it’s about being mentally tough.”
Thompson’s difficult adjustment to collegiate golf was as much mental as it was physical. The 20-year-old learned that he could no longer get by on his physical skills alone.
“I always relied on hitting good and putting well,” Thompson said. “If my fundamentals were good, I’d play well that week. I’ve gotten to the point in my career now that even if I’m not hitting it very good, I can still be competitive.”
Even though he was not hitting the ball well at the team’s most recent competition at the Marshall Invitational, Thompson’s improved mental game helped propel him to an eighth-place finish.
“Last year, I would have finished 50th because I would have been so worked up that I wasn’t hitting it well that I would have lost sight of just going out and playing the game,” Thompson said.
With his improved play this season, Thompson is in the midst of having a break-out year. After a strong summer and fall season, he has finally started playing up to his capabilities.
“For most people in college golf there’s usually a barrier you have to get past,” junior All-America teammate Rob Kerr said. “You have to let everything go aside and just play for yourself eventually. Bill’s getting through that this winter.”
Thompson started the spring season on a high note by tying a personal record for his lowest round (71) and placing sixth at the Ashworth Invitational March 10-11. After a mediocre performance at the Dr. Pepper Invitational, the economics major rebounded with his strong showing at the Marshall Invitational.
It seems the better Thompson has performed this year, the more relaxed and confident he has become. Instead of wondering if he is good enough to play, like he did a year ago, he now knows that he is good enough.
“He feels a lot more comfortable being on the golf course,” Means said. “It makes it easier for him to play. He’s not carrying that extra baggage around, wondering, ‘Should I be here; or is there somebody back at school that might be better at this than I am?’ He entertained a lot of those thoughts last year.”
With his improvement on the golf course, he has also adopted loftier goals than he had a year ago. Thompson wants to become an All-American at least once before he graduates.
After college, Thompson hopes to pursue a professional golfing career. Even if his pro career doesn’t pan out, he still wants to stay associated with the game he grew up with. Golf still offers him his greatest sanctuary from school and the outside world around him. After searching to find his calling in life, Thompson has found himself back playing the game he loves.
“I think I’ve kind of found my niche here,” Thompson said. “Everyone finds their place, and it took me a while to find mine.”