Just a few weeks ago, Davis Thompson was emailing tournament directors asking for sponsor’s exemptions into their events. Tournament officials gave him a spot this week and Thompson's persistence has certainly paid off as he fired a 9-under 63 Thursday to lead the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Thompson made four birdies on his front nine to go out in 32 and added five more on the back to set the pace. Even the rain couldn’t cool Thompson’s putter as he gained nearly three strokes on the greens.
Thompson isn’t a household name (yet) but he proved Thursday that he has the game to compete on the PGA Tour. Thompson played on the victorious US Walker Cup team earlier this year and has made several PGA Tour starts along with qualifying for the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot.
Thompson turned pro last month, and his professional career is off to a good start following a stellar college career at the University of Georgia that saw him win SEC Player of the Year as a senior and reach number one in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 1, 2021
Thompson missed the cut at last week’s Travelers Championship, but he knew his game was close and put all the pieces together Thursday.
“You get off to a good start and ride the wave coming in,” Thompson said. “I knew I was hitting it good all week. I was close last week and missed the cut, but I just kind of knew that I was close to playing well. Obviously it showed today and hopefully I can do it again the rest of the week.”
Thompson considers himself more of a steady player, but he is no stranger to low scores. He said Thursday’s 63 equaled his best round in competition, but he has shot 61 and even broke 60 when he fired a 59 at Sea Palms in St. Simon’s Island, Georgia.
The low round gives him confidence for the rest of the week, but Thompson isn’t getting ahead of himself.
“(Leading) sounds good on Sunday. It's only Thursday. I know I've got a long way to go. I'm just going to try to do the same thing tomorrow,” Thompson said.
Detroit Golf Club was yielding plenty of birdies early on. Brandon Hagy set the pace early with a bogey free round of 7-under 65 before he was beat by Thompson. Hagy ranks 13th on Tour in driving distance and used his length Thursday as he birdied each of the four par 5s.
Hagy typically struggles with putting, ranking 154th on Tour entering the week. But he got the flat stick going Thursday, gaining 2.5 shots on the field on the greens.
The soft conditions made things ripe for scoring. Combine that with playing lift, clean, and place after the course received a significant amount of rain late last week, and you have a formula for good scores.
“It's just spin management with how soft the greens are. You've just got to make sure if you have a wedge in that you're knocking off some spin to keep it around some of these holes,” Hagy said. “It’s stopping quickly even with long irons, so you have to watch your spin out here for sure.”
An old golf adage says that you can’t win a golf tournament on Thursday, but you certainly can lose it. Hagy is taking that saying to heart this week.
“It's so early in the tournament. The first day you're just looking to get yourself in position, which I did, but you've just got to go out and keep hitting the same shots,” Hagy said.
Hagy hasn’t won on the PGA Tour, but came close with a runner up finish at the Honda Classic earlier this season. Hagy hasn’t had a top-10 finish yet—his best finish since the Honda was a T17 at the Valero Texas Open—but he has confidence that his luck could change this weekend.
“I think Honda was kind of the tournament that gave me a lot of confidence this year,” Hagy said. “Being able to shoot good rounds, being able to have a bounce-back round, being able to finish near the top of the leaderboard, those are definitely things that you draw on.”
Englishman Tom Lewis matched Hagy with a bogey free 65 of his own. Lewis has three professional wins internationally but has yet to win on the PGA Tour—his best finish this season is a T8 at the Zurich Classic.
“I played well out there today. I drove the ball well. It's kind of easier to hit the fairways because they're plugging,” Lewis said. “it's got so much water on there. A couple of drives I probably mis-hit a little bit, but they were still in the fairways.”
Friday’s cut will likely be one of the lowest of the season as 87 players shot even par or better Thursday. Given all the rain that has fallen in Detroit, the soft conditions should keep the scores low all week.