LA QUINTA — It has been a very good month for the University of Georgia. And an unlikely source has made it even better the last two days.
Davis Thompson has the credentials and the pedigree to make his mark on the PGA Tour, but he’s just a rookie. Yet in the first two days this weekend, even by the birdie harvesting standards of the Coachella Valley stop, he’s raising eyebrows.
He has five eagles in the first two days of The American Express, setting a tour record for 36 holes. He blitzed the field with a 10-under-par 62 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club and came back with a 64 on Friday on the Nicklaus Tournament course at PGA West, good for an 18-under total and a two-shot lead over Jon Rahm, who also shot a 64 on Friday.
Rahm is the No. 4 player in the Official World Golf Ranking. Thompson is No. 169 … with a bullet, perhaps?
He’s 12-under par on the eight par-5s he’s played out here, with back-to-back eagles, a par and a birdie on Thursday and eagle-birdie-eagle-eagle Friday.
“Yeah, that’s pretty cool,” he said when informed of the record. “I didn’t know. I kind of thought about that a little bit after I made the putt on seven (for his third eagle on Friday, after having started his round on the 10th hole). But yeah, those are always nice, (being able) to get two for one. But, yeah, it’s pretty cool to have some putts drop and make some eagles.”
Rahm, who was six groups behind Thompson on the Nicklaus course, seemed surprised to hear about the continuing eagle binge.
“He had three today?” Rahm asked. “I mean, five eagles through two rounds on two different courses is pretty impressive.
“Now I wouldn’t expect (him) to keep it going for the weekend because those par-5s on the Stadium Course … that would be some serious thing to do, 10 eagles in four rounds. But, yeah, I mean it’s good playing. Things can happen out here. It’s accessible and if you get the right number, the right shot, the greens are in such good shape that you can make a lot of putts.”
Thompson is averaging 29.55 putts per round this season. Friday he had 26.
The only thing he doesn’t seem to have mastered yet is the procedure outside the ropes. He had to be reminded that there were interviewers waiting for him outside the scorer’s trailer after his round had ended.
But that will become routine, too.
“I feel like I’ve had good prep for this kind of stuff,” he said. “I had some of this in college and some of this right when I turned pro. But, yeah, I mean, I just try to focus on trying to execute golf shots and stay present-minded. This stuff (being interviewed) is great and this stuff usually means I’m playing good, but at the end of the day you just got to go play.”
Thompson is just 23, and he turned pro in 2021 after getting his degree in sports management from Georgia. As a collegian, he was a two-time first-team All-American, won NCAA Regional titles in 2019 and ’21, was No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking on two separate occasions and participated on Walker Cup and Palmer Cup teams.
He played last year on the Korn Ferry Tour, the PGA’s developmental circuit, winning once with four top-10s and finishing 16th on the points list to earn his PGA Tour card. He played in 13 events on sponsor’s exemptions before getting his card, so the general routine shouldn’t be foreign to him, even if being in demand for the moment is.
“I think it has to do a lot with last year, playing on the Korn Ferry Tour and also just playing on some sponsor exemptions out here right when I turned pro,” he said. “I’m still a rookie, still learning these golf courses, but there is a comfort level to kind of know what to expect at every tournament.”
So far this season he’s made every cut but one, with a tie for ninth at the Fortinet Championship at Napa in September and a tie for 12th at the Shriners Children’s Open at Las Vegas in October. He tied for 54th at the Sony Open last week in Honolulu at 6-under, but he was obviously prepared for the ground rules of the desert: Go low or go home.
Case in point: After Friday’s second round, only 16 of the 156 professionals on the course were over par. If you were 5 under, let’s just say your chances of holding a trophy on Sunday afternoon were quite poor.
“Watching this tournament for a couple (of) years now, I always see the winning score being so low,” Thompson said. “So you kind of really don’t have a choice, you just got to keep hitting greens and giving yourself looks and trying to make the putts. I was just fortunate enough to make a lot of putts these first two days. But, yeah, it is easy to stall out, but at the same time, if you just stay present-minded and focus on one shot at a time you’ll give yourself a lot of opportunities.”
I guess you could say he got off to a slow start Friday. He only had one eagle for his first five holes, was just three under after six, gave back a shot with a bogey on and dropped to 9 under with another bogey on 1, his 10th hole. Then came the blitz.
But now comes the test. To his advantage is that, after playing La Quinta and the Nicklaus Course, he’ll play Saturday on the Pete Dye Stadium Course, the same track he’ll play for Sunday’s final round.
To his disadvantage? A veteran in Rahm – who will also play the Stadium Course the final two days – hanging right behind him, with another hungry bunch that includes Tom Kim, J.T. Poston, Sungjae Im and Jason Day lurking at 13-under. And, not least, there are the mental gremlins that can emerge when you start thinking about what you’ve done and what you still have to do.
“It’s easy to have your mind race,” Thompson said. “But I’ve been playing this game for a long time, so it’s a constant way to kind of train your mind to focus on one thing at a time.”
He’ll need that skill here.