“Great golfer, better person” is a shared sentiment among those who knew Thompson, an Overbrook Golf Club member since 1957.
He splashed onto the Philadelphia golf scene in 1965 with a notable victory in the GAP Junior-Junior Boys’ Championship (His brother Andy took the Junior Boys’ title that year). Four years later, Thompson started to ascend the BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship ladder: quarterfinalist (1969), semifinalist (1970) and champion (1972). He defeated Sandy Run Country Club’s Thomas Conboy, 5&3, in the Final at Aronimink Golf Club.
Upon his graduation from Florida State University in 1974, Thompson tested the professional waters. Of note, he appeared in a pair of U.S. Open Championships (1977-78). Thompson also competed on a couple of mini-tour circuits in Florida, with a victory to his name.
“He was a Tour player. He was always a Tour player,” lifelong friend Michael Nilon said. “That golf swing and the way he hit it … it was just amazing. It was the real deal.”
“I played golf with Ray all of the time. [Over the last few years], I’ve had several operations on my left wrist and I hadn’t been able to play golf,” Frank McFadden, a fellow Overbrook member and dear friend, said. “Because of my injury, I used to watch Ray hit balls almost every day. He had the best swing of any of the people I know in Philadelphia. It was music.”
In 2007, Thompson conducted a Senior symphony of his own. He became the first player in GAP history to sweep the Division’s Majors (Francis B. Warner Cup, Frank H. Chapman Cup and Senior Amateur Championship). Thompson claimed The Brewer Cup, a Senior Major added to the schedule in 2008, earlier this year. A cherry on that 2007 season was a victory in the Pennsylvania Golf Association’s Senior Amateur Championship.
“He was one of the purest ball-strikers I’ve ever been around. He never gave himself enough credit for his short game, or his putting,” Oscar Mestre, a lifelong friend, fellow Overbrook member and the Association’s Vice President, said. “His ball-striking was out of this world. I know he struggled with his putter, like all of us, but in the end, part of being a great ball-striker is he had more opportunities than most. As a result of that, you think you aren’t a great putter because you had so many chances.”
“He was by far the best striker of the golf ball that Overbrook has ever seen, and one of the best that this region has ever seen. When he was making his putts, you couldn’t beat him,” Chris Lange, a longtime friend and fellow Overbrook member, said.
Prior to an unmatched 2007 campaign that resulted in a Player of the Year honor, Thompson put competitive golf on the backburner for family and business purposes. He quickly became a frontrunner in the Senior Division upon his return. He is a three-time Senior Silver Cross Award winner (2007, 2011, 2013). Thompson also captured the Warner Cup (Gross) in 2009 and the Senior Amateur in 2011. He and Mestre took the Senior Four-Ball Stroke Play the last two years. Thompson won 12 men’s club championships at Overbrook — one shy of brother Andy’s all-time mark. He also took the first two editions of its recently-created Senior men’s championship.
Furthermore, Thompson appeared in five U.S. Senior Amateur Championships (2010-11, 2013-2015). Oh, and at age 62, he reached the BMW Philadelphia Amateur semifinals at White Manor Country Club. Thompson fell to eventual champion Jeff Osberg of Huntingdon Valley Country Club, 5&4.
Such accomplishments, not to mention that steady swing, spurned a bounty of honorary team appearances: Compher Cup (2008, 2015), Mason-Dixon Matches (2007, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017), Philadelphia Challenge Matches (2007, 2013-15) and Senior Challenge Matches (2007, 2009, 2011-18).
The Thompsons stand among a handful of golfing families synonymous with Overbrook and its continued success in the Philadelphia Team Championship (15 titles since 1981). Ray Thompson was a fixture in the club’s BMW GAP Team Matches line-up. In fact, he ranks No. 1 in Division AA, the event’s highest tier, for points (197) since 2002. Overbrook holds seven BMW GAP Team Matches crowns overall, four since 1981.
“If I was paired with Ray in the Team Matches, he would obviously be playing in the No. 1 spot. I would introduce myself to the guys we were playing against,” McFadden, 68, of Newtown Square, Pa., said. “If we didn’t know them, I’d ask, ‘Who’s playing No. 1? Well, you’re a lucky guy. You’re playing against the only guy in the Team Matches who played in two U.S. Opens. But don’t worry. He’s getting old.’ Then Ray would stand on the first tee, hit it 280 yards and demoralize whoever he was playing.”
“For 26 years or so, Ray, Andy and I played Nos. 1, 3 and 5 on the away team. We developed our strongest bonds from traveling,” Mestre said. “That’s how we became close.”
In the rare case Thompson walked away from a match sans points, his competitive grit truly showed.
“He was the worst loser in the history of the world,” McFadden said jokingly. “Ray tried so hard, and when he lost $10 or $20, he was slamming his wallet around. It was incredible. We always used to laugh.”
“He may not have enjoyed winning as much as he hated losing,” Mestre, 59, of Berwyn, Pa., said. “That dislike of losing kept him focused and engaged. In 38 years, I don’t think I saw a time where Ray didn’t give everything he had.”
The Thompson tales are plentiful. Nilon recalls stories stemming from the time they shared as assistant professionals at Philadelphia Country Club. The two forged a lifelong friendship.
“He was a quality person. The world’s going to miss him,” Nilon, 70, of Gladwyne, Pa., said.
“I’m not sure the driving range at Overbrook will ever be the same,” McFadden added.
Thompson is survived by his wife Vicki, daughter Jaime Ray and son Justin.
After making a Senior sweep official in 2007, Thompson quipped the following: “Maybe they’ll remember when I’m long gone. It’s nice to have a little bit of a legacy, at least Senior wise.”
You’re remembered, Ray. And missed.
Golf Association of Philadelphia
Founded in 1897, the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) is the oldest regional or state golf association in the United States. It serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. The Association’s 260 Full Member Clubs and 75,000 individual members are spread across Eastern Pennsylvania and parts of New Jersey and Delaware. As Philadelphia’s Most Trusted Source of Golf Information, the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.