LITTLE RIVER, S.C. -- Glen Dornoch was a suitable site for Flight 1's grand finale in the World Amateur Handicap Championship here Thursday. Glen Dornoch rivals yesterday's course, Oyster Bay, for scenic beauty with marsh and water views. Jet skis whizzed down the Intracoastal Waterway, along with assorted pleasure craft, plus the monstrous Aqua-sino, a sea-going casino.
Plus, Glen Dornoch is one of the beasts of Myrtle Beach. It's a strong course, with a manly 145 slope from the tips. Luckily, the course got hammered with rain Wednesday night, so pro shop manager Vickie Heher moved many of our tees up from the tips and allowed us to play lift-clean-and-place throughout course, which was a real life-saver for those of us who found the grabby bermuda rough. Even with the weather rules in place, Glen Dornoch was a handful.
Thursday I suddenly started hitting shots on the center of the clubface, unlike the previous three rounds, and played well. I holed a bunker shot for an unlikely birdie at the par-3 17th to get to five under but three-putted from long range on No. 2, our final hole, to shoot a four-under 68, the low round of the day, and according to Heher, the lowest score she's heard of at mighty Glen Dornoch in her eight years there. It's a double-asterisk score, though, because of the conditions we played, but it looks good on the scorecard.
It wasn't near enough to get me into contention. I was out of it after the opening round. The winner teed off in the next-to-last pairing and was the right man in the right place when the guys in the final threesome backed up. His name is Jim Thompson. He's 41 and he's a train engineer originally from Fort Wayne, Ind., who currently resides in Willard, Ohio. He brought a 1.3 handicap to the World Am and said he got two strokes in three of the four tourney rounds and one stroke in the other. He had no idea he'd won the flight until he reached the Glen Dornoch parking lot to unload his clubs and heard the scores of the players in the last group.
By winning the flight, Thompson advances to Friday's World Amateur Handicap Championship finale, where the winners of the all the flights duke it out for 18 holes, with strokes, of course, for the coveted overall title. I caught up with Thompson in the Glen Dornoch grill room after the round. Here are some of our Q&A highlights:
Q: How many times have you played in the World Am?
Thompson: This is my fifth year. I was in the final group on the last day last year and shot 90.
Q: Ninety? What happened?
Thompson: Nothing. It was just really slow and the pace got to me.
Q: Did you feel any pressure in that pairing?
Thompson: No, I don't even come here to win. I just come here to have a good time and hang out with my buddies.
Q: And have the occasional adult beverage?
Thompson: There you go, yes. I come down with a couple of other guys from Ohio. Willard is 40 miles straight south of Cedar Point, the amusement park on Lake Erie, if you know where that is. They're a rowdy group. We're driving back together. That'll be fun. I think.
Q: What was it like in today's round?
Thompson: I thought I was out of it. I was fourth going into today. I knew one of the guys in the last threesome, and he gave me a thumbs-up one time, so I thought they were shooting well. I didn't think I had a chance. I thought another guy in my group beat me because he birdied 16. I thought I had to birdie 17 and 18 to catch him, but I parred in.
Q: Did you hone your game to a fine edge in preparation for this week?
Thompson: Ha. No, I haven't even played all that much this summer, just a few scrambles, that's about it. I'm a member at Willard Country Club, a nice nine-hole course.
Q: Willard? They don't have rats in the clubhouse, do they?
Thompson: No, why?
Q: You never saw the movie, Willard, about the weird kid who used an army of rats to attack his enemies?
Thompson: No, I don't remember that one.
Q: You're really a train engineer? So you must've seen Denzel Washington in the runaway train movie, Unstoppable, didn't you?
Thompson: Sure. That was based on a true story. That train was actually out of Toledo and we run that branch, so we know all about the 8888, the number of that engine. It was a true story but they kind of gave it the Hollywood treatment.
Q: What's your career engineering highlight?
Thompson: None. All I do is drive trains.
Q: That's cool.
Thompson: It's not that cool. Stopping traffic?
Q: Seriously, how many people get to drive a train?
Thompson: A lot. A lot of people work on trains.
Q: What was your greatest moment in golf before this week?
Thompson: I really couldn't tell you. I won a couple scramble events.That's about it. I just play golf for fun. I had a hole-in-one once, a 9-iron from 155 yards in Galion, Ohio. At Valley View, I think.
Q: You're not sure of the course? It was that unforgettable?
Thompson: Only two people saw it, and nobody was in the clubhouse when we got in, so I didn't have to buy many drinks.
Q: Is this the pinnacle of your golfing career?
Thompson: It probably would be, yes.
Q: You don't seem excited enough. Maybe that's what three beers have done for you.
Thompson: It's been more than three so far.
Q: What are you doing to prepare for the final?
Thompson: Go out and drink more beers with my buddies tonight.
Q: Good plan. How's it feel to be in the World Am final with all the other flight winners Friday?
Thompson: It's going to be hard. I've got no shot at all. I'll have to shoot a 60 or something.
Q: It's a low-net world, not a low-gross world. But at least you made the bonus round, so that's neat.
Thompson: It is neat. I never expected to, that's for sure.
Q: Do you have any other sporting highlights in your life?
Thompson: I played baseball at Anderson University in Indiana. I played semi-pro football for seven years, then I played two years for the Simbach Wildcats in Germany. It was a pro team.
Q: How'd you get that gig?
Thompson: I'd gone to a couple of scouting combines. I was a quarterback with a pretty good arm. I was on the first tee of a golf course in Fort Wayne when I got a phone call from some guy in Germany asking me if I wanted to play for them. I thought it was a joke. I told him I'd call him back.
Q: It wasn't a joke?
Thompson: No, it was real, I spent two years over there. Germany was awesome. It's so clean, the people were so nice and they treated you really well.
Q: They also specialize in beer.
Thompson: They ruined it for me. I don't like any of the beer over here as much as theirs. I liked that wheat beer they had.
Q: What NFL quarterback was your style most like?
Thompson: Somebody with a big arm who couldn't move. Who would that be? Not John Elway, he could move pretty well.
Q: I don't know. Maybe Jeff George? Well, go out in that World Am final and make us proud.
Thompson: Make who proud?
Q: Everybody in your flight. You're representing all of us.
Thompson: So when I shoot a 90?
Q: Then you're not representing us anymore. You're fired.
Thompson: I"m going to be trying so hard to shoot 60 that I probably will shoot 90. You shot 68 today? That's a good score anywhere. Even in Willard. Maybe you should play for me.
Q: I don't think so. You earned it. Plus, you've got at least a five-beer lead on me.
Thompson: Yeah, I'm going to be hard to catch, all right.