CONOVER, N.C. -- For Brandon Robinson-Thompson, playing collegiate golf wasn't on his radar. That is, until he realized collegiate golf actually existed.
A native of Totland Bay, England, Robinson-Thompson was just 15 years old when he graduated high school. He enrolled in “sixth form,” otherwise known as college in the country, and while they played golf there, it was nothing like the collegiate teams found in the United States.
Only he didn’t know that. It was only after a friend made plans to head to the colonies to play golf that Robinson-Thompson discovered such a thing was even possible. The course of his life was about to change in one of the biggest ways possible.“She said she was going to go to university in America and play golf,” Robinson-Thompson said. “That was the first time I’d ever heard of anybody from England -- or anywhere -- going to America and playing golf. The more I looked into it, the more it looked like a bloody good time.”
Robinson-Thompson wanted details, and he got them. He took a year off school to work full-time at a hotel and resort, earning his own money and “preparing myself a little bit, because I didn’t know what to expect.”
He was on his way.
“I talked it over with my family, and I was like, ‘I’d really like to do this. I think it’d be a great opportunity to take my game to the next level … and by the way … I can get a degree at the same time,’” Robinson-Thompson remembered. “How great is that?”
Eventually, he was connected with Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. When head coach Todd Sapp picked him up at the airport, Robinson-Thompson had never before stepped foot in the United States. A good many kids, if not most, might very well have struggled at least a little bit with homesickness.
Not Robinson-Thompson. No way. He was having far too good a time on this side of the pond. He goes home at least once a year, and that’s good enough. He has a younger brother and three younger sisters, and he misses them. That’s the difficult part -- if there is one -- for him.
“The first year I came over here, I don’t think I talked to my parents for a month,” Robinson-Thompson admitted. “It was so exciting. I was [going 100 miles an hour]. I couldn’t believe where I was or what I was doing. It was great. Honestly, I haven’t dealt with any homesickness since being here.”
What Robinson-Thompson couldn’t handle was the Iowa weather, which can turn quite severe at times during the winter. As huge an impact as the coach was making on his young charge, the young man walked into Sapp’s office after just two cold and snowy months and said he’d had it. He was done.
Robinson-Thompson stayed put, but only for the time being and only for Sapp. He finished the spring semester his freshman year, and then came back for his sophomore year as well. Although it was time to move on, Sapp remained supportive.
That’s how Robinson-Thompson came to be here this week, competing for a national championship with South Carolina Aiken. The team wound up sixth in stroke play, good enough to send it into the title-deciding match rounds that began Thursday. Robinson-Thompson shot a one-under-par 212, tying him for tenth in individual play.
Head coach Michael Carlisle, Robinson-Thompson says, has been every bit the mentor that Sapp was. The fact that he’s here at the national championships with the support of a coach like Carlisle is validation of the move from Morningside to South Carolina Aiken.
“Coach Carlisle has been a huge impact on me, too,” said Robinson-Thompson, who was named a PING First-Team All-American on Wednesday. “Personally, he’s really helped me out a lot. He’s one, along with Coach Sapp, he truly believes in me and my ability. It just means that the decisions I’ve made, maybe, have been the right ones. It’s helped me believe in myself a lot more.”
After graduating in December, Robinson-Thompson is eying a career in the sport. Such a thing wouldn’t have seemed possible all that long ago, but it’s thanks to the support of people like Sapp, Carlisle and his family that it might just happen after all.
“You couldn’t do these sort of things without the support of your family, even if they’re not here,” Robinson-Thompson said. “My granddad [Colin Thompson] is the reason I play golf right now. The day I turned nine years old, he took me to the driving range. I honestly don’t remember a day since then that golf wasn’t a part of my life.”