"You know, Honey, do this. Honey, do that."
In the tournament about 450 people competed for eight Tour exemptions. Thompson led the field with an opening-day 67, followed by scores of 72, 71 and 71. He won the event by a record 10 strokes.
Thompson still goes to great lengths to win: 50 inches, to be exact. That's the size of Big Red, the driver that helped him place third in last year's seniors driving competition. Once a singles hitter, Thompson has become a real long-ball threat. That, combined with his soft touch—he was second in putting among the seniors last year—resulted in a Tour-high 400 birdies in 35 events.
Oddly, Thompson uses several different putters. When one fails him, he switches to another—often on the same hole. "If a putter does well," he says, "I reward it by letting it play the next hole."
Does Thompson think his putters have minds of their own? "A flake would probably say yes, but I don't believe they do," he says. "At least not yet."
They do, nonetheless, have distinct personalities. Two of them come in the black-and-silver color scheme of the Los Angeles Raiders: what he calls the 650 (because it cost $650) and Faded Jake, whose black paint is beginning to—sorry, Rocky—flake off. The other putter is the oddly angled Low Rider, a homemade number that seems ideal for performing root canal work on a hippopotamus. To wield it, Thompson must assume a catcher's crouch, plant his elbows on his knees and punch the ball toward the hole. If the putt falls in, he shouts, "Low Rider! Low Rider! Lowwwwwww Rider!" If it doesn't, he blames the Putt Fairy.
A cruel and vengeful creature, the Putt Fairy, says Thompson, "punishes those who don't keep their mouths off the putt." A remark as innocent as "It's in!" will cause her to nudge a ball toward an unnatural break. "Sometimes the Putt Fairy gets so offended, she'll jerk that sucker out of that hole!" he says. "Of course, you know she's the wife of Satan."
Of all golf's gremlins, Thompson considers the Phantom to be the most fiendish. "He decides whether you'll get good or bad kicks," Thompson says. He calls good kicks Nicklauses; bad ones are Thompsons. "Sometimes the Phantom likes me and gives me a Nicklaus," says Thompson. "But Nicklaus never gets a Thompson. Never."
Thompson got Thompsoned last March at the Vantage in San Antonio. Going into the final hole, he was a stroke ahead of Lee Trevino. But his drive found a sprinkler head, kicked dead left and landed behind a tree. Thompson chipped out and wound up with a bogey. Trevino eagled the par-five hole and won the title.