Thompson finally got Nicklaused three months later at the MONY Classic, where he and Jim Dent were tied for the lead after 17 holes on the final day. On 18 Thompson hooked his tee shot into the rough and behind a weeping willow. Ignoring the obvious irony of the ball's resting place, he somehow slinked a six-iron to within 14 feet of the flag. Dent was long, 35 feet away. Thompson two-putted. When Dent muffed what would have been a score-tying six-footer, Thompson was suddenly a champion. He executed a hip-jiggle, then thrust his fist into the air like a down-home revolutionary.
Afterward, Thompson said, "I've been playing 27 years. My goal was to win a tournament. Just one week I wanted to be the Man. Until this week, as best I can count, I was oh for 611. But now, if I never win again...right now...this minute, today, this week, I am the Man!" So loud did he scream those last four words as he stood near the green that he lost his voice for a week. He was hoarse again in September when he won the Digital Seniors. This time he celebrated with a vaguely erotic variation on the push-and-pull. "I am the Man!" he exulted once again. "I am the Man!"
Still, unlike Stan, Thompson gets little recognition. He spent so long in the shadows that even some seniors don't know who he is. At the Tournament of Champions awards banquet, Calvin Peete introduced him as Rocky Thomas. "You know what I should have done?" Thomas told a clump of fellow senior citizens in the locker room the following day. "I should have shouted, 'Stop! Stop this program!'
"Then I should have said, 'I started in '64. I finally get a chance to play on the Senior tour, but I have to qualify. I hit one million, two hundred thousand practice balls and win one of eight qualifying spots. I finally win my first tournament. Now I'm to be announced to come up onstage to get a medal, and I'm introduced as Rocky Thomas.' "
He fused his carroty brows until they formed a single smudge across his forehead. " 'If I'm going to bust my buns for 27 years and go through all the heartache and pain and aggravation, I at least want everybody in this room, including Rodney Peete, to know that my name is Rocky Thompson. Thompson! Thank you.' "
The seniors laughed uproariously and broke into prolonged applause.
Thompson's smile was pert, twisted. "People think I'm nuts, but I don't care," he said. "The truth is, I am nuts." He paused, then added, "But I am not a flake."