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Home Course: Kyle Thompson

Bob Gillespie Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 360-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.
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South Carolina's Kyle Thompson
Kyle Thompson

After a dozen years playing the PGA and Tours, former University of South Carolina All-American Kyle Thompson has a new plan for 2014. Having watched such notable players as Rory McElroy, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose cross the Atlantic Ocean to ply their golf trade in the U.S., Thompson has decided to reverse that trend - at least for himself.

"I'm going over to the European Tour," the 34-year-old said this fall while in Columbia to play the NGA Tour's Woodcreek Classic. "I won on the Tour two years ago (the 2011 Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, N.C.), so I've got pretty good status, and there's no chance of getting a PGA (Tour) card at (PGA Tour Qualifying School) any more, so it's kind of pointless to do that.

"So I thought, why not take a crack at it over there? I've been playing pretty decent lately; (earlier in 2013) I was playing ‘crappy' and missed a bunch of cuts, but now I'm hitting it pretty solid."

Thompson, married with two young children and based in Greenville (he grew up in Easley), figures there'll never be a better chance to try his game in a new environment and see a part of the world he knows little about. "The European Tour has the second largest purses in the world, which is hard to ignore," he said.

"And the Tour has a lot of breaks in the schedule; we don't even start until mid-February. If I get a tour card (in Europe), I can have five or six tournaments under my belt by then. If I could win one or two times there, I might even get into some World Golf Championship events, possibly the Masters."

Thompson is a contemporary of such established PGA Tour stars as Columbia's Jonathan Byrd and Greenville's Lucas Glover, both Clemson graduates. But while they moved quickly through the Tour and onto the "big tour" quickly, Thompson struggled to find his footing. He played two years on the PGA Tour, but failed to retain his status both times.

He figures a change of venue can't hurt. He plans to enroll in European Q-school in Germany, and if successful move on to the second and third stages in Spain. "They're only four days apart, so I can stay two weeks and play them all," Thompson said. "Plus it's cheaper to do the European Q-school than the U.S. one."

Too, the path has changed, with players qualifying only for the developmental tour and taking that path (hopefully) to the PGA Tour. "(The Tour) only has 20 events plus the four playoff events this year, and you have to travel to Panama, Colombia, Chile, Brazil, Mexico - and expenses are so high, you've got to play really well to break even.

"I play golf to make money, so you've got to go where the money is."

Wife Emmi, daughter Sophie (4) and son Sam (2) will remain in Greenville until or unless Thompson earns enough to bring them along. "Hopefully I'll make some money and we can all travel over there," he said. "We'll make it work if I get my card."

For now, the Upstate will remain his base. Thompson, as do a number of S.C.-bred professionals, practices at Greenville's Thornblade and Chanticleer clubs, which offer attractive memberships to tour players. Thompson knows he can usually find an off-season game with Glover, Jay Haas and son Bill, among others.

"I know members who joined Thornblade just because they knew the (local) pros' names," he said. "I guess it's pretty cool to say, ‘My fellow member won the FedEx Cup (Bill Haas)."

Perhaps in 2014, club members will be talking about a successful European Tour player, too.

Hometown: Panama City, Fla. (lives in Greenville)

Bio: Three-time All-American (1999, 2000, 2001) at South Carolina; three wins on the Tour along with eight runner-up finishes and 28 top-10s; earned $1.29 million through 2013 on the Tour, ranking 10th in career earnings; played two years on the PGA Tour (2008 and 2012); in 2012, made the cut in three of 22 events, earning $45,460.

Highlights: Won individual NCAA regional titles in 1999 (East Regional) and 2001 (West Regional), the only such double in NCAA history; won the's Rex Hospital Open in 2007 and again in 2011; also won the 2007 Oregon Classic.

Where I play: "When I come to Columbia, one of my favorite places in the world is Northwoods. I love going out there, it's a great group of guys who play six days a week and it's a lot of fun, great competition. Also in Columbia, Spring Valley is a great track as is Woodcreek. Harbour Town is beautiful, everyone knows that, and Long Cove, which is right nearby (on Hilton Head) is one of my favorite tracks. So is Secession in Beaufort. In the Upstate, Musgrove Mill is just pure, I love going out there. And you can't go wrong with Thornblade and Chanticleer (in Greenville)."

Where I eat: "Anytime I'm in Columbia, I'm going to Groucho's. I love their sandwiches; their STP Dipper is my go-to, I never even look at the menu. In Greenville, we like Mediterranean food, and the place we like is right downtown on Main Street, Sassafras. We also eat sushi a lot and Tsunami's is the best around. If you want another good sushi place that's off the beaten path, there's Sushi Masa on Pelham Road. It's a hole in the wall and inexpensive but authentic Japanese food. We go there all the time; Mr. Masa is the best Japanese golfer in Greenville, shoots around 85.

"In Charleston, you can't go wrong anywhere. I don't have a favorite there, but I recently ate with my wife (Emmi) at Husk, which was phenomenal."

What I do for fun: "I don't hunt or fish; when I'm home, I'm mostly taking the kids to the pool. If I have time, I'll read a book. There's nothing I like better than playing with the kids, I'm at that stage of life where they dictate my schedule. We like to go to the beach and rent a house, where my 2-year-old son likes to eat sand."

Bob Gillespie
Bob is a former sports writer at Columbia’s The State newspaper. He enjoys golf at South Carolina’s 360-plus courses, and after a round, sampling craft beers from the Palmetto State’s breweries.