Mid-Amateur Latest Life Experience For Well-Traveled Thompson
By David Shefter, USGA
River Hills, Wis. – Tim C. Thompson Jr. has served two United States presidents, three vice presidents, traveled on Air Force One and Two and spent 25 minutes in the Oval Office chatting with current President George W. Bush.
The 43-year-old native of Midland, Texas, has sat in Butler Cabin at Augusta National during the Masters, been on pit row for the Daytona 500, attended a Kentucky Derby, the 2008 Summer Olympics and the 2002 Final Four.
He’s hit a golf ball off the helipad of Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai into the Persian Gulf. He’s bungee-jumped in New Zealand and skydived. He has skied in Andorra, indoors in Dubai and without a shirt in Austria.
He’s made it to the regional semifinals of the National Long Drive competition, hiked a glacier in Banff, studied Spanish in Barcelona, played golf with Dr. Phil, Corey Pavin and Mac Davis, and broken bread with U2’s Bono.
He’s climbed the Great Wall of China, walked to the top of the U.S. Capitol and KL Tower in Malaysia, and been on the floors of the New York Stock Exchange and GOP National Convention.
He has worked for ABC, CBS and FOX Sports, visited virtually state in the U.S. and gone to 27 countries, including Uganda.
He has gone quail hunting with current U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and played the drums in church bands.
And this year for the first time in eight attempts, he qualified for his first USGA championship, the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
But Thompson would give everything back – all of it – to be able to turn the calendar back to July 7, 2001. He’d tell his 26-year-old wife, Meredith, to stay indoors and ignore the garden.
Thompson had just returned from being the runner-up in a match-play golf competition at Memorial Park. He was inside their suburban Houston home as a nasty storm was approaching. His wife of 18 months who loved to run and had completed the Boston Marathon, decided to venture outside. She was pulling weeds when a thunderous boom resonated through the house.
While the rain had not yet begun to fall, a lightning bolt had landed very close. Thompson would discover just how close in the next few seconds. He got up and looked outside to find a neighbor, Allan Cox, whose 9-year-old son Justin witnessed the tragic incident, trying to revive Meredith with CPR.
But it was too late. According to the Houston Chronicle, the bolt struck Meredith’s left shoulder, went through her chest and abdomen and out her left foot. Nothing could be done. She was pronounced dead.
“You can’t imagine seeing your wife out there on the driveway,” said Thompson. “I just screamed. I didn’t know what to do.
“There were certain things I took more seriously before she died that I take less seriously now.”
Seven years later that young boy who saw Thompson at his absolute worst moment got to share one of his finest. Now 16, Justin had the opportunity to caddie for Thompson in the U.S. Mid-Amateur sectional qualifier at Royal Oaks Country Club in Houston. A year earlier, Thompson had closed his qualifier with a disastrous 8. But on Aug. 4, a few days before Thompson left for the Beijing Olympics, he rolled in a long eagle putt on the 18th hole to card a 73, which tied him for second place and earned one of the seven available spots. For the first time in nearly a decade of trying, he was going to compete in a USGA national championship.
“I had this Tiger Woods roar,” said Thompson of his emotions. “I told Justin that you have seen the highest of the highs – one of my top-five highs in my life – and one of my absolute worst days.”
For Thompson, who opened the 2008 Mid-Amateur on Saturday with a 3-over 73 at Brown Deer Park, making the field was the culmination of 13 years of hard practice. He has worked with noted Houston instructor Paul Marchand at Shadow Hawk and with renowned sports psychologist Bob Rotella for the last two years. It gave him a tremendous boost of confidence that he can compete alongside some of the country’s elite amateurs. A year earlier, he had tied the course record at his home club, Champions, with a 63.
“I know absolutely that I belong here,” said Thompson, disappointed that a few missed putts Saturday cost him a shot at a sub-par round. “There’s nobody who intimidates me. This is exactly what I am supposed to be doing.”
Growing up in the west Texas town of Midland, Thompson spent a lot of time at the local country club. He worked in the bag room, cleaning clubs and picking up range balls. One day he was fashionably dressed for a club function when his great uncle, a member at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, saw the tall, skinny Thompson and said he looked like a “well-dressed 1-Iron.” The moniker stuck.
As fate would have it, Thompson attended the same elementary school and junior high as George W. Bush, only 20 years apart. But Midland is a community where people get to know everyone and through the country club, Thompson became friendly with the future 43rd U.S. President.
After graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1987, Bush called Thompson and asked if he needed a job. Bush’s father, then the vice president under Ronald Reagan, was planning his presidential campaign for 1988 and needed help with event management. Would Thompson be interested in being apart of the advance team?
Thompson jumped at the rare opportunity and once Bush won the election, he moved to Washington, D.C., for three years to assist the elder Bush, whose father and grandfather are former USGA presidents, with event management. During that time, he also assisted then-Vice President Dan Quayle.
Over the next decade, Thompson took on a variety of jobs, including working for Midland residents Terry Jastrow and Judy Rankin on golf telecasts for ABC Sports. Thompson grew up playing golf with Rankin’s son. He got married in 2000 and life was going great until the tragedy struck in 2001.
A few years later, he was contacted again by George W. Bush to come to Washington. In 2003, Thompson served for six months on the staff of Dick Cheney before transferring to the Department of Commerce, where he worked for three years under Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.
His days in Washington took him all over the globe on Air Force One and Two and he met a plethora of power brokers and politicians.
Since leaving the Beltway, he has remained friendly with Bush, whom Thompson says “is an amazing person one on one. He’s absolutely an amazing connector with people when you are one on one or in an intimate situation.”
Bush still affectionately calls him ‘1-Iron.’
When Thompson returned to Houston in 2006 to start his consulting company, Double T Global Strategies, he got a rare opportunity to visit the Oval Office. As he was awaiting his turn, his then-boss, Commerce Secretary Gutierrez walked out and asked, “What are you doing here?” Then the national security advisor exited and asked Thompson, “Do they call you the human 1-iron?” Thompson nodded and the advisor continued, “Well, the President is really looking forward to seeing you because they told us we had to leave right away because the 1-iron is coming in here.”
Thompson got chills as he entered the sacred chamber, where so many dignitaries and past presidents had conducted clandestine meetings. As the doors closed to the Oval Office, the room went completely quiet. There were no secretaries or Secret Servicemen inside. It was just Thompson and the 43rd U.S. President.
First, Bush wanted a photo of the two. Then the two took chairs by the fireplace and began what would be a 25-minute one-on-one conversation. Thompson brought a copy of the Houston Chronicle article about his wife’s death that Bush took out his glasses and read. They talked about her and the history of the Oval Office. To this day, it’s the highlight of Thompson’s life.
“I remember talking to my dad about it later,” said Thompson. “He told me I represented a break in his day. You didn’t want money or anything from him. He was happy to see you.”
When Bush leaves office in January, he will return to Texas, where Thompson hopes to spend more time with his friend. The two briefly waved to each other in Beijing, where Bush attended the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics and was there to dedicate a U.S. Embassy. Thompson, however, was careful not to approach him, not for security reasons, but because he didn’t want to bother him.
“It’s very sensitive for me how I balance that,” said Thompson. “I don’t need anything from him. I really want to see him and say hi. But at the same time, you don’t come and have a cup of coffee with him for an hour.”
Six years ago, Thompson did get to share a dinner table with one of his idols, Bono from the Irish rock band U2. At the time, Thompson was in Russia doing work for Bush when he received an e-mail that Bono needed some media and logistics help for an AIDS awareness function in Chicago with comedian Chris Tucker and actress Ashley Judd. Thompson jumped at the chance.
Knowing Bono was a spiritual person Thompson talked to the lead singer about his wife’s death, which had occurred only a year earlier.
“He said, ‘Tim, let me tell you something. Sometimes God uses people who mess up and other times he uses people who get messed up,’ ” remembered Thompson.
Thompson still pinches himself over the life experiences he’s had. Seeing Third World countries like Uganda have given him better perspective. Living through a tragedy has made him emotionally stronger. Working for two presidents has taken him to places he could only read about.
“I have had some wonderful experiences,” said Thompson. “When you have the ability to do things, you take advantage of them.”
And now his golf game has taken him to the pinnacle of competition.
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.