Jay Seawell, Michael Thompson’s coach at Albama used to tell the former Crimson Tide golfer, “Go play Michael Thompson golf.” It was his way of telling Thompson that his game was good enough to compete with anyone in the world.
For the first 36 holes of the 3M Open, Thompson, 35, has done just that. He followed up Thursday’s 7-under 64 by shooting a 5-under 66 at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minnesota, and shares the 36-hole lead with Richy Werenski at 12-under 130.
“I think it’s just keeping it simple,” he said when asked to describe what ‘Michael Thompson golf’ meant to him. “The big thing is just try not to overpower the golf course, stay within myself, make good, comfortable swings, aggressive swings to good targets, be aggressive to pins when I can, when I have good numbers, and then if I’m kind of in between, then I kind of play away from the hole a little bit.”
That philosophy, along with a return this season to the fade he grew up playing, has worked quite well this week for Thompson, who entered the 3M Open ranked 151st in the FedEx Cup standings and needs to climb into the top 125 to qualify for the Playoffs, which begin next month.
After hitting all 18 greens in regulation on Thursday, Thompson rolled in seven birdies and one bogey on Friday, stringing together three in a row beginning at the fourth hole and pitching in over a bunker from 60 feet at 14 for another. Thompson, whose lone Tour win came at the 2013 Honda Classic, is known as one of the Tour’s best putters and he ranks third this week in Strokes Gained: Putting, but he didn’t have to make a putt longer than 20 feet for birdie as his irons were dialed in. His lone bogey through 36 holes came at the 12th on Friday.
“That was the one kind of hole that I wish I could take back because I was in a perfect position to attack that flag from the fairway, flared it right and then just made bad mistake after bad mistake to make bogey,” he said.
Thompson’s philosophy of trying not to overpower the course is in stark contrast with that of Bryson DeChambeau, who isn’t in the field this week but has shown that distance gains can take you to the top of the FedEx Cup standings. Richy Werenski is more in Thompson’s camp, and credited his good play through 36 holes to “staying within myself and just kind of letting things happen.”
Werenski, 28, is one of only two players in the field having a better putting week than Thompson. The Georgia Tech product drained a 32-foot birdie at No. 11 and a 21-foot putt at 18 and took advantage of his early tee time.
“I’m a morning person. I wake up early anyways, so I was up at that 4 a.m. wake-up call this morning and I like that,” he said.
Werenski had a sick feeling a year ago when he finished T-39 at the Wyndham Championship in August, and finished No. 126 in the FedEx Cup standings to miss a spot in the Playoffs and had to play the Korn Ferry Tour Finals to improve his status for this season.
“I don’t really want to ever feel like that again, like I felt after Wyndham last year. That was not good,” said Werenski, who entered the week ranked No. 95.
Werenski, who is seeking his first Tour title, and Thompson were three strokes clear of their next closest competitor after the morning wave. That would be Matthew Wolff, who can bash it with the best of them, and is putting up a valiant effort in defending his title, posting a bogey-free 3-under 68. He is lurking at 9-under par. But so far, only Werenski’s game has matched some good old-fashioned Michael Thompson golf. That is why Thompson plans to keep it simple.
“Go play Michael Thompson golf and I’ll be right there on Sunday,” he said.