LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- This week marks the fourth time that Texan Robert Thompson will tee it up in a Senior PGA Championship.
It should be old hat at this point, but there could be something a little different here at Valhalla Golf Club for the 54-year-old Thompson than the other three, which yielded two missed cuts and a toe for 59th.
This time, Thompson will stick the peg in the ground Thursday morning as the reigning Senior PGA Professional National Champion.
"My record so far in the Senior PGAs haven't been really great," said Thompson, when asked if he would have any added confidence this week. "I played mediocre at Rochester and that was my first one. And since then I haven't done that well. But I know I've got to drive the ball a lot better than I previously have in Senior PGAs and that's the first step in playing this golf course, obviously, is getting it in play off the tee because the rough is very deep here this week."
Thompson is only the second player in PGA of America history to have captured both the Callaway Golf PGA Assistant Championship (1986) and the Senior PGA Professional Championship. In 2002, he participated in the PGA Professional National Championship here at Valhalla and finished in 18th place. However, Thompson said it's a much different course now and he doesn't expect that past experience to help him all that much now.
"It's certainly playing a lot longer than what I remember being near 2002," he said. "I think that with the addition of the new tees and some of the new green sites it's playing definitely a lot harder and much more challenging."
Thompson is no stranger to tournament golf. He owns 161 career starts on the PGA TOUR, with 60 cuts made and seven top-10 finishes, highlighted by a career-best performance tie for third at the 1989 Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic in Mississippi. He also has 75 starts on the Nationwide Tour, with 10, top-10 finishes as a full-time player in 1990, 1993 and 1995.
When he's not playing tournament golf - highlighted in 2011 by a tie for fifth at the Champions Tour's Toshiba Classic in March - Thompson is the PGA Teaching Professional at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas.
"I run a couple of programs at Whispering Pines," he said. "One of them is a First Tee program and we have a camp next door and so we do 10 weeks of First Tee in the spring and 10 weeks in the fall. It kind of falls with the school year. And then during the summer we have 10 weeks of golf camps, junior golf camps associated with the camp that's next to the golf course. So that takes up a lot of my time."
The juggling act between playing and teaching means that Thompson isn't sure what to expect at Valhalla. In fact, his last start on the Champions Tour was at the beginning of April, a tie for 37th at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic.
"I don't have anything leading up to this to really gauge how I'm playing," he said. "So I'm hoping that I guess my first step would be to go out and play two good solid rounds and make the cut and then hopefully build off that."