Michael Thompson steps into the left greenside bunker on the 16th hole at TPC Twin Cities. His eyes never leave the flag 37 yards away until he is close to his ball. His eyes never look down. They don’t need to. You know the number of steps it takes to get to your most comfortable spot at home. Thompson knows his.
Thompson looks at his ball. He looks up. He looks at his ball. He looks up. He looks at his ball. He looks up. He looks at his ball. He looks up. He looks at his ball. It is a 20-second process. You know the number of wiggles it takes to get comfortable at home. Thompson knows his.
Thompson swings, and his second shot on the 302-yard par-4 flies for about two and a half seconds over 20 feet. It bounces three times, then rolls, stopping about two and a half feet away. It’s an easy birdie from there.
“Shot of the Year….beat that?” CBS analyst Nick Faldo tweeted Monday.
Thompson now leads by one shot with two holes to go at the 3M Open, and he would win by two shots. No stroke was maybe more difficult than the 37-yard bunker shot on 16. No stroke was maybe more prepared for, too.
Thompson was right at home.
Twenty or so years ago, after the bell rang at Rincon High School in Tucson, Arizona, Thompson played in the sand at Forty Niner Country Club.
“I would come home from school and just practice for five hours until it was dark,” Thompson, now 35, said Sunday night. “I used to walk to the golf course and then go hit a few balls, but then go putt and hit bunker shots. That was kind of my favorite thing to do.
“So when I got in that bunker, I was nervous, but at the same time, I knew the shot that I had to hit and I relied on a lot of those memories for just being in the bunker for hours and hours on end in high school.”
It’s what the cool kids do.
On Sunday, the shot was as nerve-wracking as asking someone to prom. Long bunker shots are already a burden. Chunk it, and you’re left with, at best, a lengthy putt. Blade it, and you’re left with, at best, a lengthy putt the other way. Except, at TPC Twin Cities on Sunday, with the pin on the right side of the green and the bunker on the left, water was the other way. Nerves.
Thompson, too, was tied for the lead while playing for his first victory in seven years. More nerves.
The shot had also never been in play in the two years of the tournament. During all four rounds last year and the first two rounds this year, the tees were back, and no player found that bunker. On Saturday, the tees were up and the green was drivable, like Sunday, but the pin was closer to the trap and the water was not in play. Even more nerves.
Two players before him on Sunday were in the same bunker. Bill Haas hit it to about 19 feet. Cameron Davis hit it to about 12 feet.
Thompson was in tap-in range.
“That is trust,” CBS analyst Frank Nobilo said on the broadcast. “He’s paid his dues. Great shot.”