For many Texas teenagers, West Lafayette, Ind. probably feels like it’s a world away. But that’s where Highland Park senior James Thompson feels right at home.
Thompson will play golf next season at Purdue University, which seems like a random choice until you see that black and gold run in his roots.
Thompson’s mother, Jennifer, graduated from Purdue in 1976. And his grandfather, grandmother, two aunts, one uncle, and two cousins — all from his mom’s side of the family — also attended the school.
Still, Thompson wasn’t even on Purdue’s recruiting radar until fall 2014, when he attended a Purdue football game with his family and decided to play a youth golf tournament in town that same weekend. “I ended up winning it,” Thompson said. “That kind of got them interested in me.”
Thompson signed with Purdue in November, just a few weeks after winning the Golfweek Junior Tour event in West Lafayette for the second straight year.
Thompson grew up playing soccer and football. He traces his start in golf back to sixth grade, when he was bored and wound up at the driving range with Scottie Scheffler, the future HP state champion who’s now a sophomore at the University of Texas.
“I had to put in a lot of work to catch up to him,” said Thompson, who still considers Scheffler a mentor. “From then on, I was there every day from 8 to 8.”
The following year, Thompson started playing youth tournaments. As a freshman, he was part of an HP squad that qualified for the Class 4A state tournament, finishing behind another Scots quintet led by Scheffler that won the title.
Thompson has become known for his long-hitting ability off the tee, which sometimes has led to losing balls in the water or out-of-bounds when he loses control.
“I always wanted to hit it as far as Scottie,” Thompson said. “I practiced swinging big and hitting it hard. I don’t like anybody hitting it further than me.”
HP head coach Jeff Loyd said Thompson has seamlessly inherited the top spot on the team. “He’s got a lot of natural leadership abilities,” Loyd said. “James has always had a ton of talent. He’s still in the process of learning how to use his tremendous length. His best golf is still in front of him.”
Last year, while competing at the 6A level, the Scots missed qualifying for the state tournament for the first time in almost 20 years. Thompson said he’s determined to carve a new legacy for himself and his teammates this spring.
“My long-term goal is to get to the point where I could shoot a low score on both days at regionals,” he said. “That’s been my No. 1 goal since last year.”