Ever since Tiger Woods brought a linebacker’s physique to the golf course and technology redefined what qualifies as a prodigious drive, golf has been all caught up in the power syndrome. Galleries hooted and hollered their approval as drives began routinely soaring 300 yards, 320, 340. Body types like those of Woods, Dustin Johnson and Keenan Bradley became the norm, or at least the coveted. The little guy, it seemed, was being phased right out of the sport.
But while power will always have its place, so too will precision. And course management. And the things that made golf a thinking man’s game before the true par-5 turned obsolete and too many par-4s fell victim to a steady assault of wedges.
Pittsford’s Will Thomson plays the game the way it used to be played, in large part because for now he has no other choice. Thomson is 13 years old. He stands 5-foot-4½ and weighs 115 pounds. He conceded height and strength to virtually every entrant in the 62nd International Junior Masters but became the youngest winner in tournament history Friday because patience and unerring accuracy remain prized if under-appreciated attributes.
Thomson wrapped up what he considers the most distinguished title of his young but accomplished “career” with a 3 and 2 victory over 17-year-old Blake Gerber of Mesa, Ariz. Along the way to the title, Thomson knocked off medalist Andres Gonzalez of Mexico on the 18th hole in the prequarterfinals and withstood a charge by Randolph’s Nolan Ditcher to win on the 19th hole in the semis.
“It’s a little hard to put into words right now,” Thomson said. “It’s just such a big tournament, such a great tournament and so much fun to play in. It’s still a shock to me that I actually pulled it off.”
Onlookers marveled at Thomson’s composure and wondered how a player saddled with the disadvantages of youth and inexperience could persevere over the IJM’s five-day grind over East Aurora Country Club. The answer lies in a golf game devoid of any noticeable faults. He pounded fairways with regularity in the championship match, hitting the first eight. He nailed green after green after green, basically assuring himself no worse than par. Accuracy is intimidating in its own right as your opponent comes to realize you’re not prone to the big mistake.
“I kind of look back on the round a little bit, he was just parring everything,” Gerber said. “It wasn’t like he was making a ton of birdies, it was just pars. And I think I got in my own head a little bit, but it happens.”
Thomson fell behind at the second hole, drew even at the par-5 third and took the lead for good with a two-putt par from 10 feet on the par-4 5th. He won No. 9 with a par, No. 11 when Gerber hit his approach out of bounds. The lead ballooned to 4 up as Thomson rebounded to par the par-5 12th after his drive bounded off a cart path, through the fairway and into a hazard, necessitating a drop.
With the match churning toward an early close Thomson finally hiccuped. He overcooked his approach on 14, couldn’t produce a sand save on 15 and suddenly saw his lead reduced to 2 up.
“I got a little bit nervous, and he started to come back in,” Thomson said. “I had to play solid coming in and win, but I was definitely confident in what I could do.” He put the match away with a birdie at the par-5 16th after Gerber, who lived in Orchard Park a short time as a toddler, found the trees with his drive.
“I’ve won some IJGT’s, couple match plays in Scotland, but I don’t know, there’s not much that compares to this,” Thomson said. “It’s just an amazing tournament, so many good players and such a tough tournament to win.”
The week began with Trevor Ranton seeking to become the event first back-to-back champion since Briny Baird in 1988-89. That storyline held up until Gerber ousted Ranton, 5 and 3, in the morning semifinals. But now consider this:
Only three players have won this tournament more than once. Only one, John Konsek in the 1950s, won it three times. And Thomson can take another five shots at it before his eligibility expires.
“I definitely plan on coming back,” said the scratch player from Oak Hill.