Michel Thompson, a senior on the Alabama golf team, is on the course on Thursday, the first round of The Masters.
On Wednesday the Tucson, Ariz., native was paired with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw in the Par Three Tournament on Wednesday. Thompson finished tied for fourth at two under par, just three shots behind the Par 3 Contest winner, Rory Sabbatini. Thompson tied at 2-under par with the likes of Crenshaw and Fred Couples.
On Thursday Thompson, who will turn 23 on April 16, will take the biggest tee shot of his life so far. At 8:17 a.m. CT he will be on the No. 1 tee awaiting his turn to officially start play. He's paired again with Crenshaw who will be the first off on the tee. Thompson is second in the group and Nick O'Hern, who finished second at the 2007 Australian Open, will take the final swing off the first tee in that eighth grouping of the day. (Playing right behind him and leading off in the 8:28 group will be former Tide golfer Steve Lowery).
Each evening as Thompson returns to his dormitory room which he shares with fellow amateur Drew Weaver in the Crow's Nest on the third floor of the Augusta National Golf Club, Thompson calls "home" to Tuscaloosa to report in about the happenings of his day and to share his experience of competing in one of sport's most-storied events.
Yet another big day at Augusta National?
"I just got back from the dinner. I thought it was going to be the participant's dinner but there actually weren't any (professional) contestants there. It was actually just for the amateurs and the rules officials. Monday night we had the official Amateur Dinner. It was kind of weird because I thought there would be some participants there, but it was awesome. We (his girlfriend, Emory student Rachel Thompson was his guest) were standing out by the big oak tree and we just stood out there and we talked to people. I met some officials that are going to be out there on the course tomorrow who are from South Africa. They operate one of the mini tours down there. And I was asking them about (former Alabama golfer) Lars Brovold and if they knew him, and they said that they had seen him a couple of times, which was awesome, and they got their card and told me if I ever wanted to play there I could. Super people. Met another lady whose husband is a member at Augusta and won five British Amateur Championships. So, just meeting people like that is awesome and everybody is so nice, just having a great time. The food was fantastic. It was mostly little hors doeuvres, appetizers. Like they had bison. And they had grilled shrimp, crab cakes, fried turkey. It was so good. And for desert they had fresh pineapple and strawberries that you could dip in chocolate. It was just so good. I don't know. It was fantastic. We were all in coat and ties and the women in dresses. It was really formal and fun and it was just a great way to top off the day."
Tell us about that day today. You finished tied for 4th in the Masters Par 3 Contest at Augusta National.
"It was fantastic. I played with Ben Crenshaw. I had a great time. Ben is a great guy and he said he's been looking forward to playing with me. We both shot two under. He made a long putt on the last hole. I started off the day---I was so nervous on the first tee because Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player walked up on to the tee right then. They were playing a couple of groups behind us. I got to shake Jack Nicklaus's hand. I got to shake Arnold Palmer's hand and I got to talk to him a little bit about playing in the Masters for the first time. He was saying, ‘just enjoy it. Try not to be too nervous, just grip it and rip it on the first hole.' And I saw Gary Player and shook his hand and said, ‘hi.' It was all very cool. And then I tried not to just chunk it on the first hole or shank it into the crowd."
How was that first shot with that Hall of Fame Gallery watching you?
"I hit it just to the middle of the green and it spun to the front of the green. Two-putted for par, so I got off to a good start. And then at two I hit it to five feet then made the putt for birdie. So I got off to a really good start. Missed a good putt on three. Four I missed another good putt, hit 10-footer for birdie. Five missed a 10-footer for birdie. Six missed an 8-footer for birdie. Seven missed another 8-footer for birdie, and then eight I was a quarter of an inch from being ‘closest to the hole.' K.J. Choi got me by a quarter of an inch. I hit it to just under four feet. So that was really cool. I couldn't believe they didn't give it to me but they were measuring all the way to an eighth of an inch. And so I made that birdie. And then nine I hit it to the back of the green and then lipped out a 30-footer and the crowd went crazy. And so it was awesome. Playing with Ben. Ben was so excited. He made me feel like he was honored to be playing with me and having fun. He told me he's looking forward to tomorrow and Friday and I'm looking forward to playing with him because he's such a great guy. It just couldn't have been a better day."
Your dad (Mike Thompson) was your caddy today for the Par 3 Contest?
"He was. It was weird. He's usually a pretty talkative guy. He was completely quiet. He was taking it all in. Someone said that he almost started crying a couple of holes just because he was having the best time."
What's been your daily routine at Augusta National?
"Usually just get up in the morning, take a shower, get dressed, go down to the locker room and have breakfast in the locker room. They have a buffet set up in the locker room. I have breakfast there. There will be some tour pros in there. And then I head out to the driving range, hit balls for a while and then go putt and maybe chip and usually go play. Today was a little different because I took the day off, just played in the Par 3. But it's usually in that order, and I get back, have lunch and practice. I'll either hit balls or putt and chip and then go back up to my room and relax for about half an hour and take another shower, get dressed for the evening's activity and then go back out and come back about 10:00."
Do you and Drew Weaver (who he rooms with in the Crow's Nest) trade stories about your experiences there? Is it fun, having two college guys going through it together?
"It is. It is. We're both so excited about this week. We're each having our own experiences and we kind of like to share them with each other and see what we're going through. He's meeting some great people; I'm meeting some great people. It's just fun."
One of the big news items on the Masters (www.masters.org
(He laughs). "I have not seen either of those."
The first round is finally here. When you wake up tomorrow you'll go out and play the opening round at the Masters at Augusta National. What's going through your head tonight?
"I feel really good. I'm ready for tomorrow. It's a little unbelievable. It's hard to believe that it's already here. But I'm ready for it. I feel like my game is ready. I'm just ready to enjoy it. There's no pressure."