Rocky Thompson arches his carrot-colored eyebrows and denies he's a flake. Back home in Toco, Texas—where he's the mayor—flakes are unreliable, irresponsible, downright reprehensible. "In short, jerks," Hizzoner says in a voice as sharp as freshly sliced jalapeño peppers. "Like in that movie Thelma & Louise."
In that movie, he tells you, "Louise, or maybe Thelma, blows a guy away. She wants to lay low in Mexico, but Thelma, or maybe Louise, gets antsy and wants to surrender to the police." Whereupon Louise—Thelma?—says, "Don't flake out on me."
"Meaning, don't be a jerk," explains Thompson. "So please, don't call me a flake, even if you mean wild and crazy, which I certainly am. Because where I'm from, a flake is a jerk, and while I might be a jerk, I'm not unreliable."
Thompson was flouting flakery one day in January, at the Infiniti Tournament of Champions in Carlsbad, Calif. To get invited, you had to have won a PGA Tour event in 1991. "I've wanted to play here ever since I entered my very first pro tournament, the 1964 Indy 500 Classic," the 52-year-old Thompson said. "Of course in those days I didn't drive the Rockmobile." It wasn't until 1966 that fellow pro Bob Goalby told him, "Rocky, if a man's gonna drive the Tour, he's gotta drive it in style." The very next day Thompson dumped his Oldsmobile and bought himself a red Coupe de Ville—the Rock-mobile. He has driven various versions of the Rockmobile ever since.
Even with his new wheels, Thompson just couldn't seem to find his way from Indianapolis to the winner's circle: The trip took him through Venezuela, Panama, Australia and New Zealand; from the Indian Open in New Delhi to the Bucaramanga Open in Colombia to the Space Coast Open in Titusville, Fla.; and to many other satellite sites too obscure to mention. "I've played in places where there isn't even a town," he says. And the trek lasted 27 years.
In nearly three decades on the PGA Tour, Thompson, the son of a Texas oilman who long financed his career, won just $141,096 and failed to win a single tournament. "I don't think I could have gone 27 years without a victory," says Chi Chi Rodriguez. "My clothes would have gone out of style."
King Rabbit, they called Thompson, because he hopped from tournament to tournament, trying to qualify and to pick up a little lettuce. Nobody ever played in more Tour events without an exemption. "I wonder how I made it through all those Monday qualifiers," he muses. "Just try playing 600 Tour events fighting the 36-hole cut, knowing if you don't make it, you're not going to get a dime."
Thompson drifted in links limbo, just above the family safety net, until joining the Senior tour in the fall of '89. "Suddenly I hit pay dirt," Thompson says. He made $308,915 in 1990, another $435,794 in 1991. And—wonder of wonders—Thompson actually won a tournament. Two of them, in fact: the MONY Syracuse Senior Classic last June and the Digital Seniors Classic in Concord, Mass., in September. The Syracuse victory snapped his winless streak at 611 tournaments and earned him a ticket to Carlsbad. "It feels the same to win on the Senior tour as it does in the juniors," he says. "Then again, how the hell would I know?"
Thompson can turn a phrase as felicitously as an old cowboy can drop a rope around a mustang's neck. "I may be old in body, but I have a teenager's brain," he says. Who else moonwalks on the putting green ("I like Guy Lombardo, but I love Van Halen")? Or relaxes before rounds by staring into a blinking light-and-sound gizmo he calls Mo Chine? Or performs what appear to be sexual calisthenics after sinking a 40-footer? Or carries a low-tech putter that looks like a ski pole jammed into a coconut Frozfruit? Or fears the Putt Fairy?
Thompson is an authentic character of the sort that sports once produced in abundance. And if today his breed seems like an endangered species, that may be a measure of the diminished quality of modern life.