Rhys Thompson has hit top form on the Tartan Pro Tour, winning three events in a row and rising to the top of the order of merit as he looks to make it to the next level. Dean Bailey finds out what sparked the incredible run of form, and how six years of mini tour golf has led to this moment
Winning golf tournaments is hard, and winning professional golf tournaments is even harder. While Rhys Thompson knew how to win, few – not even Rhys himself – expected the run of form which saw him become the only player to ever win back-to-back on Scotland’s Tartan Pro Tour before going on to win again to complete a hat-trick of victories.
The wins – in the Dundonald Links Classic, Downfield Masters and Cardrona Classic – were each superb efforts from the former Durham county champion.
“The last month is pretty hard to describe,” says Rhys on his wins. “It doesn’t feel real. The surprise of winning one was delightful enough.”
At Dundonald, Rhys picked up his third career win on the Tartan Pro Tour – adding to his win in Portugal at the start of 2023 – with a playoff victory over Josh Crumplin and Greg Dalziel after posting rounds of 74, 67 and 69 for a six under-par total.
He went on to Downfield three weeks later, shooting rounds of 67, 68 and 69 for a nine under-par total and two-shot margin over the field.
Just three days later, he teed it up at Cardrona and five days after winning at Downfield, he shot a faultless eight under-par 64 to top the leaderboard by three shots and claim the £3,150 winner’s cheque.
“I’ve lost in playoffs before, so I knew what I needed to do at Dundonald and was confident about my game,” says Rhys. “Sudden-death on a par five gave me a good chance to create a birdie and I hit a great tee shot within 2ft of my divot from earlier in the day. From there, I was confident I could hit the same shot again. I knocked it on the green and put the pressure on the other guys. Having two putts to win took the pressure off at the end.
“From there, I just built on that confidence, played even better, and got the result at Downfield. I was confident in all aspects of my game that week. My warm-ups felt very easy and I went out there and attacked flags. I fired in great scores on the first two days and then got my chance with a two-shot swing at the eighth in round three. That was the kick I needed. I got my head down, made a couple of birdies and an eagle, and saw it home.
“With a quick turnaround, Cardrona was always going to be important as I knew what was on the line for topping the order of merit after that week.
“I played solid for two days and then got a dream start on the final day; I couldn’t ask to play any better – I didn’t have a long putt in 12 holes and was eight under-par.
“After lipping-out for eagle at 14, if I’m honest, I was more nervous about my score than my position in the tournament. I knew I was in position to win again, but I didn’t overthink it and just played golf. Having those very recent experiences helped bring it home.”
The series of wins not only cemented top spot in the season-long order of merit going into a four-week summer break, it also earned Rhys his first-ever Challenge Tour start at the Farmfoods Scottish Challenge supported by The R&A on August 10-13. He also received a spot in the Second Stage of DP World Tour Qualifying School for holding the top spot at this point.
“I still don’t know how to react to something like this to be honest,” admits Rhys. “My goal is just the same as every other mini tour player – to get up the ladder.
“I don’t want to blow my own horn, it’s far too early for that, but getting the halfway rewards from the order of merit was a goal this season and I’m really happy to have those in the bag.”
Rhys’ first Challenge Tour start will be closely followed by his second event on the Asian Tour’s International Series, which he qualified for at Close House with a bogey-free three under-par 68 to secure one of six spots in the field for the $2million event.
With so much more golf to come, including the final five events of the Tartan Pro Tour season in August and September, it could be difficult to prioritise. However, as an experienced mini tour player used to balancing commitments, Rhys’ goal for 2023 remains clear despite the career-changing opportunities coming up.
“It’s a long year and you need to be patient in this game,” he says. “I’ve been patient a long time to be sure! With three wins, I’m in a very good position to ride this wave of confidence into the end of the year. My focus is on the Tartan order of merit – topping that gives me a Challenge Tour card for next season and that’s still my best route to get one.
“I’m way more focussed and determined after six years of doing this. I’ve learned a lot and I’d love to go back and use what I’ve learned. Of course I enjoy what I do, but I’m determined to play well and focus on the processes that bring the results.”
The clarity of his convictions is admirable, as is the way he has forged his own path as a professional. A regular in the Durham county side and winner locally, 27-year-old Rhys turned professional in 2018. Having enjoyed plenty of support from sponsors early on, some of that inevitably waned as time passed. Covid and lockdowns followed, as did the closure of the EuroPro Tour and the need to find additional revenue streams – leading to the launch his own successful business. However, his passion for golf and being a tour professional remains resolute.
“The support I have, from Q Hotels and Slaley Hall as well as my sponsors, is so important and makes this possible.
“I’ve always worked hard; I’m patient and want to be here for a long time,” adds Rhys. “I’ve been getting better every year and while I’ve been a slow burner, I knew it was coming. All this experience – six years of playing, travelling and funding mini tour golf – will help when the step up to the next level comes. Being a little older and more level-headed will undoubtedly help too.
“These wins clarify where I stand. I’ve been capable of winning for a while now, but doing it is very satisfying.”
Ahead of the 2023 season, Rhys made a few key changes. He returned to working with coach Andrew Nicholson, a relationship he credits a great deal of his success this season too. He also made an equipment change, moving to PING clubs.
“Working with Nico again has given me a change of vision and process,” he says. “He’s got me back to my game. I’m a drawer of the golf ball and a simple, process-orientated game suits me.
“I’m looking at the game differently too. I’ve not made major changes, but I’ve found a lot of clarity and reassurance.
“The team at PING have also been a big help. I wasn’t too keen to switch, but the change has been successful. I also bought a launch monitor, which was a big investment, but having access to data has really focussed my practice.”
If the first part of the 2023 season has proven anything, it’s that golf never ceases to surprise us. No doubt a talented player, Rhys himself admits the last few months have surprised him too. He also understands that the margin between winning and losing is fine, and that the hours spent away from the spotlight, grinding in pursuit of your dream, lead to these moments in the brightest lights.
“The support I’ve had throughout – from my family, girlfriend and long-term sponsors – has been so important,” he says of the journey so far. “They’ve seen all the ups and downs, and I’m so happy that they’ve had a chance to enjoy all the highs of these last few weeks.”
The deserved highs of this summer behind him, Rhys is undoubtedly in a great position to reach new ones in the weeks and months ahead.