AUTHOR : ALEX BLAIR
Alex Blair joined the Texas Links staff in 2007 after graduating from the University of Texas. At Texas, he covered sports and served as associate editor of The Daily Texan, one of the state's largest daily newspapers.
He has been a fan of golf ever since he watched Payne Stewart sink an improbable putt to win the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. When he's not pounding the pavement for the magazine, he reads any golf book he can get his hands on and enjoys playing his own 9-hole pasture golf course in Hallettsville...affectionally known as "Hallettsville National."
He brought the skills, enthusiasm, love for the game and work ethic that it takes to help us put out the nation's best local golf magazines, but in 2010 Alex decided to go back to school to get his law degree at Notre Dame.
Iim Thompson isn't just one of Houston's best golfers, he also is one of the nicest. But the smile on his face hides a story of terrible loss.
According to figures by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lightning strikes about 400 people per year. Most survive, but about 50 of those strikes result in deaths. Golfers are especially vulnerable. Lee Trevino and Retief Goosen were struck by lightning. Former Rockets general manager Carroll Dawson was hit while golfing. In July, lightning struck a junior on the driving range at the Traditions Club in Bryan. It doesn't have to be raining and thundering for lightning to strike.
Thompson knows that all too well. Sunday, July 8, 2001, was a cloudy day but there was no indication of dangerous weather. Around 4 p.m. Thompson's wife, Meredith, told Tim she was headed outside to do some gardening. Meredith was 26 and an avid runner. She had completed the Boston Marathon two years before.
Tim was inside when he heard what a loud "popping" noise. He ran outside to check on his wife and saw her lying on the ground. Next door, 9-year-old Justin Cox and his father heard Tim's screams for help. Justin's father administered CPR until paramedics rushed her to the hospital. A nurse said she had never seen a lightning strike that bad. Meredith was pronounced dead at 8:45 p.m.
In five hours, his world had been turned upside down, but Thompson put his head down and kept going. After awhile, he got back to the point where he could care about something as trivial as golf. Thompson is a member at Champions Golf Club and a member of the Medalist Golf Association. He never played much golf in high school or college, but always had the goal of being a scratch golfer. At age 30, he decided to give it a serious shot.
As his handicap got lower and lower, he was able to compete in the Texas State Amateur and Mid-Amateur several times. But he never had qualified for a national championship, the truest test of a competitive amateur. He had come close. At last year's Mid-Am qualifier at Champions, Thompson would have made the cut were it not for a disastrous eight on the final hole.
This year's qualifier was at Royal Oaks on Aug. 4 and it looked like it would be more of the same. Thompson was playing well, but made some bogeys toward the middle of his round. On his 13th hole, he and his caddie looked up and saw a beautiful sunburst.
"My caddie told me, 'That looks like something you would see in church,'" Thompson said. "I told him, 'I think Meredith may have made this for us.'"
He was 2 over standing on the eighth tee, his 17th hole of the day. The USGA set up the par 3 at a brutal 248 yards. Thompson hit "the best 2-iron of my life" only to three-putt from seven feet. He came to his last hole, a par 5 with a green protected by water on three sides, knowing he needed an eagle to guarantee a spot in the national championship.
Thompson crushed a drive 355 yards down the pipe. He had a 9-iron in. Easy pickings you'd think, but Thompson flared it right. He couldn't see where the ball finished because of some mounds in his sight line. Was it in the bunker? Was it in the water?
"Walking down the fairway he looked like he was about to cry," his caddie said. "He was saying 'How did I do that? I had a 9-iron.'"
That's when his playing partner and fellow Champions member Corey Ayers gave him some good news. He told Thompson his ball was on the green, 10 feet right of the hole.
"I said, 'Corey, I could kiss you right now but I won't,'" Thompson said.
This time he didn't three-putt. How does center-cut for an eagle 3 and your first berth in a national championship sound? Thompson screamed with joy and wrapped a bear hug around his caddie...none other than his old next door neighbor Justin Cox, now 16.
"I told Justin that 'You have seen the absolute most horrific moment of my life and now, one of the best,'" Thompson said. "And he's only 16."
Had Thompson two-putted for birdie he would've been in a six-way playoff for the final three spots. Before he left Royal Oaks, Thompson was told that the guys in the playoff would be coming back tomorrow.
Someone had seen lightning.