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Local Survives Katrina Plays Zurich

2006 Zurich ClassicNEW ORLEANS -- Excuse Oliver Thomson if his mind isn't completely on golf these days.
Thomson, a local club professional and a Monday qualifier for this week's Zurich Classic, is among tens of thousands of New Orleans residents still trying to get their lives in order nearly eight months after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the city.
Really, to call Thomson a New Orleanian is only partly accurate.
Days before Katrina wrecked his house and the local golf club where he worked, Thomson, his wife, Wendy, their two sons and other relatives evacuated three hours north to Jackson, Miss., where they spent 32 nights living in a hotel room.
He took a job as an assistant pro at a club in Jackson after realizing the golf business was low on the list of priorities in New Orleans -- a city where entire neighborhoods were left in shambles. He found a place to live and put his two sons, 7-year-old Josh and 3-year-old Conner, in local schools.
His wife, meanwhile, returned to New Orleans and her job as a lab technician at a local hospital. Only in the past month did Wendy get a similar job in Jackson, reuniting the family, albeit in a strange city.
'I was Mr. Mom for seven months,' the native of Britain said after shooting a 2-over 74 in Thursday's first round at English Turn Golf and Country Club, eight shots behind the early leaders. 'If I could find four hours in the past few months to get out and play, that was a break for me, a release.'
Thomson's plight in recent months makes his qualifying for a PGA Tour event all the more impressive. He left his job at the Jackson course recently to take a position as a sales and technical adviser for a major equipment manufacturer. Giving equipment demonstrations, taking care of the two boys and overseeing repairs to his New Orleans home has left little time for practice.
Yet two weeks ago, at a Monday qualifier with about 25 other professionals, the 34-year-old shot a 4-under 68 to earn one of two qualifying spots in the field.
'I really haven't practiced that much,' said Thomson, who's now qualified for the New Orleans event four times. 'And I'm certainly not in the same league with most of these guys out here. But I can still swing a club and scrape it around.'
Thomson's play in the opening round mirrored his life in recent months -- lots of ups and downs. After chipping in for an eagle at the par-5 sixth, he finished the front nine with three bogeys for a 1-over 37.
He got it back to even on the back before hitting his tee shot in water on the par-5 15th -- a hole that's reachable in two for big hitters like Thomson. Instead, he made bogey.
He almost chipped in for birdie at the 18th, where several locals recognized the hometown guy and shouted, 'Way to go, Olly!'
Thomson will have to shoot a low round Friday to make the cut and play this weekend, and he says he's certainly capable of such a feat. Even if he doesn't, though, he said he'll walk off the 18th green with a smile.
'Hey, this is fun, to be back in New Orleans and see a lot of people,' he said. 'Believe me, you won't see me breaking any clubs for shooting 74. I'm relaxed.'
Related Links:
  • Golf Chronicles: After Katrina
  • Leaderboard ' Zurich Classic of New Orleans
  • Full Coverage ' Zurich Classic of New Orleans
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