CROMWELL, Conn. – Amateur Michael Thorbjornsen got a second shot at being a hometown hero Sunday in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands.
A week after missing the cut in the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., just 10 minutes from his hometown of Wellesley, the 20-year-old junior at Stanford University was an astonishing 6-under-par for six holes in the final round, starting with a 260-yard shot that came within inches of a double eagle on the par-5 sixth.
It led to a 4-under 66 that enabled him to finish fourth in Connecticut’s biggest sporting event and emphatically emphasized Thorbjornsen’s contention after moving into a tie for seventh after a 66 on Saturday that it was just another tournament because he wasn’t getting paid.
“It’s just one more round of golf, just trying to do it again, do the same thing I did today,” Thorbjornsen said after 54 holes while battling wrist injuries. “Focus on my swing, just like making sure I get to certain positions and I guess like not really having any regrets tomorrow.”
Thorbjornsen followed his self-advice mighty well in the final round, especially late on the front nine and early on the back side. After his tap-in for 2 at the sixth hole, Thorbjornsen made birdie putts of 11, 5, 14 and 15 feet on Nos. 8, 9, 10 and 11. But errant drives led to bogeys on the 12th and 13th holes, the later where his tee shot right stopped at the edge of a lake and he made a 25-foot putt.
Thorbjornsen couldn’t do better than par the rest of the way as he tried to become the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event since two-time Canon Greater Hartford Open champion Phil Mickelson in the 1991 Northern Telecom Open. But it was the best finish by an amateur in the tournament’s 70-year history since Connecticut Golf Hall of Famer Jim Grant tied for sixth in 1966 at his home course, Wethersfield Country Club, where the event began in 1952 as the Insurance City Open.
“It was incredible. It was surreal,” Thornbjornsen said of the applause that greeted him walking up the 18th hole. “It was very welcoming, better than how I dreamt about it, and I think it was louder than it was at the U.S. Open. I felt really calm, really cool, until a few hiccups near the end, but that happens.”
Thornbjornsen, whose childhood friend and high school classmate Drew Cohen was his caddie for the second straight week, didn’t know he was only one back after his fourth consecutive birdie at the 11th hole.
“I figured I was around the lead, but I was thinking, ‘Okay, well, let’s go. Let’s keep it going. Let’s try to hit some good shots,’ ” he said. “It got a little difficult, two holes straight into the wind, and I mishit two drives. But overall, it was a lot of fun. I can’t wait to come back next year and the following years. The hospitality here is amazing. I love the course, love the way it fits my game. I guess the only thing is it might be a little too hot, but I will definitely come back if I can.”
Thorbjornsen, whose father/swing coach and some other family and friends followed him, said he will be returning to Stanford and then take it one year at a time. But did this week help him know he belonged on the PGA Tour.
“Yeah, I definitely would say so,” he said. “It gives me a lot of confidence. I think the thing is I played well, but I didn’t feel like I played incredible. Definitely left a couple shots out there, had some miscues, mental errors throughout the week. But it feels good. I played solid and finished fourth.”
Thorbjornsen traced his turnaround from the previous week to some lessons that he took at the U.S. Open while playing a practice round with another young phenom, with Collin Morikawa, to the Travelers Championship, which he used to play himself into contention on a sponsors’ exemption.
“I was trying to pick his brain a little bit on like how to be so good and he said to really try and do whatever it takes to be comfortable out there and understand that it’s just another round of golf — that everyone’s human, basically,” said Thorbjornsen, playing in his third PGA Tour event after two U.S. Open starts. “Those guys are just really good. Try and forget about that and just play your game.”
After the Travelers Championship, Thorbjornsen will head for the Golf Club de Geneve in Switzerland to represent the United States in the Arnold Palmer Cup. Then he’ll return home to defend in the Massachusetts Amateur on July 11-15 at Concord Country Club.
Thorbjornsen was born on Sept. 16, 2011, in Cleveland, Ohio. His mother, Sandra, was born and raised in Harara, Zimbabwe’s capital, and played golf and earned a bachelor’s degree in information from Ursuline College in Ohio. She continued her education at Babson College in Wellesley, where she earned her Masters degree.
Thorbjornsen was a member of the winning Junior Ryder Cup in 2018 and the Junior Presidents Cup in 2019 with Ben James of Milford, who also received a sponsors’ exemption to the Travelers Championship but missed the cut after shooting 2-over 142.
Thorbjornsen’s other major achievements include:
- 2022 Ping All-American second team, Golfweek All-American honorable mention, Ping All-Region, All-Pac-12 First team.
- 2021 All-Pac First Team, All-Pac-12 Newcomer Team; Won Massachusetts Amateur and Western Amateur.
- 2020 graduate of Wellesley High School who was quarterfinalist at U.S. Amateur and caddie and fellow classmate Karl Vilips.
- 2019: One of four amateurs to make the cut in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California (79th) and one of the two youngest to ever accomplish that feat; Member of victorious U.S. Team in the Junior Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia; Wellesley High School golf team MVP.
- 2018: Won U.S. Junior Championship; Member of victorious U.S. team in the Junior Ryder Team.
On the web: TravelersChampionship.com