What's better than qualifying for a U.S. Open in your home state as a 20-year-old amateur? How about nearly winning a PGA Tour event. Michael Thorbjornsen, ranked No. 16 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, missed the cut last week at The Country Club at Brookline near his hometown of Wellesley, but he responded this week by shooting 15 under at the Travelers Championship to finish solo fourth, four back of winner Xander Schauffele.
His solo fourth is just the 12th instance since 2000 in which an amateur has finished in the top 10 at a PGA Tour event. It's also the first time this century an amateur has finished in the top 10 at a regular PGA Tour event (non-major) with a strength of field of at least 400 (the Travelers Championship was 405 this week). The only two amateur performances since 2000 that could be considered more impressive given the strength of field were Jordan Niebrugge at the Open Championship in 2015 and Chris Wood at the Open Championship in 2008.
"It was surreal, it was crazy," Thorbjornsen said of his closing stretch at TPC River Highlands. "I think it was louder here compared to last week at the U.S. Open. It was very special. ... Wow, it was pretty cool."
His 68-65-66-66 showing was good enough to beat Tony Finau, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, among others, but he thought it could have been even better.
"It gives me some confidence," said Thorbjornsen, who will return to Stanford for his junior year this fall. "I think the thing is that I played well, I felt like I played well, but I didn't feel like I played incredible out there. Definitely left a couple shots out there, had some miscues, mental errors throughout the week. But it feels good. I played solid and finished in 4th."
He's probably right. Though Thorbjornsen finished both top 10 in driving distance and strokes gained off the tee, he didn't hit his irons particularly well. At one point in his final round on Sunday alongside Webb Simpson, Thorbjornsen played six holes in 6 under and got to 17 under -- within one of the lead. Phil Mickelson's 31-year-old record as the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event (1991 Tucson Open) looked like it might be in serious jeopardy. Thorbjornsen followed with two consecutive bogeys at Nos. 12 and 13, though, and never really threatened winning the rest of the way.
"I felt pretty comfortable out there," he told CBS Sports after his round. "I think I got pretty hot in the middle of my round. Maybe a little too comfortable. I felt really good and comfortable out there. Towards the end I had a couple hiccups, which happens sometimes. I don't think I was too nervous, just a couple missed executions."
|Jared du Toit
World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba
FedEx St. Jude Classic
Puerto Rico Open
Though Thorbjornsen -- who often gets swing tips from fellow Stanford golfer, and the No. 1-ranked player on the women's side, Rose Zhang -- said his plans to return to Palo Alto for his junior season have not changed, we might see him again soon. He'll fly to London for an Open Championship qualifier on Tuesday where, if he gets in, he could feasibly walk in the footsteps of two of the amateurs on the short list above. Niebrugge pulled off his T6 the last time The Open was at the Old Course and Wood finished T5 in 2008 when Padraig Harrington won the tournament at Royal Birkdale.
Regardless of how things go, the last two weeks have been some of the most memorable of Thorbjornsen's life and will likely remain that way even when he turns pro. To play in majors as an amateur and compete with the guys you're watching on television is rare (see list above) and meaningful for that very reason.
"It was incredible," said Thorbjornsen. "It was surreal. ... It's better than how I dreamt about it. It's so loud. It was very welcoming. I can't wait to come back next year and the following years."
If he keeps playing like this, he'll be coming back for longer than that.