Davis Thompson (Univ. of Georgia photo)
Four former University of Georgia golfers teed off Thursday in the first round of the Palmetto Championship at Congaree on the PGA Tour.
But only one of those players was making his debut as a professional.
That was Davis Thompson
who made his first career appearance as a play-for-pay competitor Thursday afternoon in Ridgeland, S.C., just 10 days removed from competing in his final round as an amateur at the NCAA Championship at Grayhawk in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“It always been a dream of mine to play professional golf and now I’ve got that chance,” Thompson said last week after returning from the national championship tournament. “I think I am ready for it.
“Obviously, college golfers want to win national championships and other tournaments, but ultimately a good college golfer wants to play professional golf. They’re trying to work hard and get ready to do that.”
Thompson started out slow on Thursday, making bogey on his opening hole. He would bogey five of his first eight holes before a birdie at the ninth to make the turn at 4-over-par. He found his groove coming home, though.
Following another bogey at 11, he would make birdies on five of his final seven holes including the last four to finish at even-par 71 for the round.
He was tied for 54th and seven back of leader Wes Roach who carded a 7-under 64 in his opening 18.
Thompson, who was the top-ranked American and No. 2 player in the world rankings when he closed out his amateur career, isn’t the only player making his professional debut this week on the PGA Tour.
, the Florida State standout who finished fifth individually at the NCAA tournament, is also in the field this week at Congaree. He is fresh off making the rounds to accept the Haskins, Hogan and Nicklaus awards as the top player in college golf this season.
Pak shot 8-over 79 on Thursday and was tied for 149th.
Both players were awarded sponsor exemptions to this week’s tournament, and Thompson also already has secured an exemption for the Rocket Mortgage Classic on July 1-4. He added that he hopes to gain a few more in the coming weeks.
Thompson and Pak will both be spending the better part of their summers on the Korn Ferry Tour, however, as they were granted membership onto that tour for the remainder of the 2021 season through the new PGA Tour University rankings. The top five finishers in those rankings at the end of the college season were granted the same offer. All of them completed four years of college which is required to be eligible.
Pak finished first in the inaugural rankings while Thompson was second. All five players could possibly earn full-time or partial status on the PGA Tour for the 2022 season or gain similar status for the Korn Ferry circuit next season as well. They also are assured of getting into the final stage of the qualifying tournament for the Korn Ferry Tour after the conclusion of the current season.
According to Thompson, the opportunities PGA Tour University presents a player to jump start his pro career make the decision to turn professional straight out of school much easier.
“It’s just too good to pass up,” he said. “The only thing that probably would have kept me from doing this anyway would have been the chance to play in the Walker Cup.”
This year, that premier event for top amateur players, most often played in late summer, has already been held. Both Thompson and Pak were members of the U.S. team that defeated their Great Britain & Ireland counterparts in the biennial team matches held in early May at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla.
The Walker Cup experience was certainly a highlight in his amateur career, noted Thompson.
“Just competing, getting to know the other guys on the team and representing your country, it’s a very cool feeling,” Thompson said. “It’s a unique bond I’ll always have with the other guys. It was the coolest golf experience I’ve had. Definitely, it’s something I will remember forever.”
Helping the U.S. win the Walker Cup is another impressive entry to Thompson’s lengthy list of notable accomplishments from his amateur career.
In his four years at Georgia, Thompson, who is originally from Auburn, Ala., was named a first-team All-America as a junior and senior and was an honorable-mention selection as a sophomore.
He won twice this season with the Bulldogs while finishing in the top-10 six times and inside the top-20 nine times in 10 tournaments. Thompson was named the SEC Golfer of the Year while leading the conference with a 69.71 scoring average over 31 rounds.
Thompson also excelled academically. He was chosen as the male recipient of the Joel Eaves Award as the Georgia student-athlete with the highest GPA entering his senior year academically. He earned a $10,000 postgraduate scholarship as Georgia’s male nominee for the SEC’s H. Boyd McWhorter Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award, and Thompson was picked for the SEC Community Service Team for the second time in his college career.
“I have led hundreds of gifted, talented and hard-working individuals both on and off the course. I would put Davis at the very top of that list. Davis exemplifies the type of man we aim to produce in our program,” said longtime Georgia head coach Chris Haack.
“He really set the bar for our team academically, athletically, and in the community. As a college player, he effectively balanced all of these areas. He is a responsible and committed person, unafraid to accept challenges or to search for answers.”
Haack added that Thompson has several positive traits that make him a great player between the ropes and a strong for a team.
“Davis is hard-working, dependable, and motivated to do his best in all situations,” the coach said. “Davis has a true passion for being a member of a team and helping others, as their captain, reach their fullest potential. He is a Bulldog through and through, following in the footsteps of his father, Todd, who also was a team captain and standout player for the Bulldogs. Todd and Leigh have raised a young man of singular character.”
Outside of the college game, Thompson won the 2020 Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest on Sea Island, a tournament he also placed second in back in 2019 and again earlier this year in the lead-up to the Walker Cup.
He made the final 14 at last year’s U.S. Amateur, reached the final 16 at the 2020 North and South Amateur and also advanced to the Western Amateur quarterfinals each of the last two years.
“I definitely think I had a pretty good amateur career,” Thompson said. “I wouldn’t change anything. I learned lessons when I won and also when I didn’t play well. Those were things I could always build on. Looking back, I just tried to take everything in, tried to learn and keep growing as a player.”
A rising star in the game, Thompson’s plan is to do the same as he moves to the next level and plays the game to make a living.
He now resides on St. Simons Island, a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, and thus is making his pro debut fairly close to home this week.
His father Todd, who founded and still operates the Southeastern Junior Tour, is now also the tournament director for the RSM Classic, a PGA Tour fall series event held at the Sea Island Golf Club and hosted by touring professional Davis Love III.
Several of the other former Georgia players in the field at the Palmetto Championship also now live on the same island which is about 300 miles from the UGA campus in Athens. Other former Bulldogs playing this week at Congaree include Keith Mitchell, Harris English, Hudson Swafford and Kevin Kisner.
All of those players also live on St. Simons Island with the exception of Kisner who won the 2016 RSM tournament on the Seaside Course which he also played at the SEC tournament when he once starred for the Bulldogs as one of the country’s top collegiate golfers.
Thompson ate breakfast with Kisner prior to a practice round this week. He also will regularly practice with his Bulldog brethren who live along the Georgia coast.
“I wouldn’t be very smart if I didn’t,” he said, chuckling somewhat. “They’re all great resources. They know what they’re doing, what they’re talking about.”
The Tour didn’t waste any time putting the new young pros in the spotlight. Thompson had the next-to-last tee time in early afternoon from the first hole with two others while Pak was just behind him in the last group of the day. Also, fellow Walker Cupper Cole Hammer
, still holding amateur status, was in a pairing off the back nine around the same time.
Their starting times meant they could be shown on the live television broadcast.
This wasn’t Thompson’s first time competing in a professional event. He played twice previously in the RSM Classic, tying for 23rd in 2019. He also qualified for the U.S. Open last year at Winged Foot and missed the cut after shooting 69-78 the first two rounds.
“I’m just going to prepare the best I can for each tournament. I’m just excited,” he said about his approach to his start this summer in pro golf.
His college coach thinks he will excel in the pro ranks, much like the many other Bulldogs barking loudly out there on Tour these days.
“We talked constantly about his options of being a pro and staying an amateur, and we both felt the time was right for him to turn pro. Ultimately, it was up to him and his family to make the final decision,” Georgia’s Haack noted.
“No one is going to ever outwork Davis. It’s his grit and determination. He’s practicing morning, noon, and night and focuses totally on golf. He’s one of those guys who’s got his goals and works hard at them.
“Davis is going to make a good pro. He has the demeanor and the attitude, and most of all, he has the game. I am excited to see what happens for him in the coming weeks, months, and years.”
And so are many others who follow golf.