Bulldogs’ Thompson has most memorable U.S. Open opener

Georgia's Davis Thompson intently watches his tee shot on the third hole during the first round at the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club (West Course) in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Thursday. (Kohjiro Kinno/USGA))

Credit: USGA Museum

Credit: USGA Museum

For much of Thursday morning during the U.S. Open’s opening round, a Georgia Bulldogs college player crashed the very exclusive penthouse of this leaderboard.

As Davis Thompson birdied Nos. 6-7-8 at Winged Foot (New York), then went to 4 under with another on No. 11, the whole golf world was seeing what former Bulldog Brendon Todd knew all along.

“He definitely has been one of the most mature kids I’ve seen go through college in my time,” Todd said.

For the better part of the morning, Thompson led the field at what just may be the most demanding major tournament of them all. He could not keep up the pace – “It wouldn’t surprise me if getting up there in the lead made him a little tighter coming down the stretch, but his temperament was great, his fight was great, and he played really well,” Todd said.

Giving back three strokes over the closing six holes, the 21-year-old Bulldogs senior finished with a 1-under 69. He was part of a very successful Georgia partnership Thursday, thanks the USGA placing him with Todd and other former Bulldog Harris English in a morning threesome. One other Georgia connection: Thompson’s father, Todd Thompson, a Bulldogs team captain in 1987 and ’88, was toting his Bulldogs bag. Todd also is the tournament director of the RSM Classic, the PGA Tour stop at St. Simons.

They’ll all play together again Friday afternoon.

“Both of those guys couldn’t have been a better pairing for him because both of them are super nice and all three are fairly quiet,” said a most committed viewers, Bulldogs golf coach Chris Haack. Once Thompson took the lead, Haack was not budging from in front of his TV the rest of the morning.

Why would he, since a Georgia golf infomercial was in the making? All three Bulldogs past and present went under par in the first round (both Todd and English shot 68s). No morning threesome could touch their combined 5 under. Not Tiger Woods/Justin Thomas/Collin Morikawa (combined 4 over). Not Rory McIlroy/Adam Scott/Justin Rose (1 over). Not Webb Simpson/Sergio Garcia/Jason Day (7 over).

For Thompson, currently the fourth-ranked amateur in the world and one of 16 amateurs in this Open, the comfort level couldn’t have been higher given the magnitude of the event. He’s known both of his playing partners for years, and just last week back home in Sea Island, was playing with English. “I think Davis beat me by one,” English confessed.

Still, this was his first U.S. Open, first major (not counting the U.S. Amateur). Nerves had to be a factor.

“There were (some nerves), a little bit, obviously, just to get the round going,” Thompson said. “I was comfortable. I play a lot of golf with Harris and Brendon, just them being Georgia guys. So that was a comfortable pairing.”

Three straight birdies will tend to cool the brain, too. With the first on the short par-4 sixth, Thompson hit out of the first cut of rough to five feet. On the par-3 seventh, his tee shot passed directly over the pin and stopped 8 feet away. By No. 8, it was all routine: A 320-yard drive down the middle; 158-yard approach shot to 9 feet; bottom of the cup.

And with each shot, Haack got more and more anxious to get the next college golf season rolling. He’s looking at a lineup that features Thompson, another All American, Trent Phillips, and All-SEC player, Spencer Ralston. “If we could get some help at the bottom (in the lineup) we could be very, very good,” Haack said. The last season, of course, was interrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.

The experience gained by one of his guys on the first round of the U.S. Open can only help come the fall and spring.

“I think for him, he’s just kind of figuring out how good he is and that he can hang out here with probably the best players in the world and that’s what his future is going to be,” said Todd, a three-time PGA Tour winner. “I don’t remember being as confident or as collected or as talented as him at that age, so he’s got a great future.”

“It was a great start,” Thompson said, shaking off the three closing bogeys. “That was kind of one of my main goals coming into this championship, just get off to a good start and not get behind the 8-ball. I’m excited about the rest of the tournament.”

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