Up next for 17-year-old Wellesley golfer Michael Thorbjornsen: the US Open
Wellesley native Michael Thorbjornsen will receive a courtesy Lexus for his use at this week’s US Open, but he can’t drive it. Not without one of his parents in the car.
Thorbjornsen, 17, doesn’t have his driver’s license yet.
He hasn’t had time to get one; he is never home in Wellesley long enough. Instead, he has been busy juggling high school coursework in Florida with maintaining his spot as one of the top junior golfers in the country.
In July 2018, Thorbjornsen upset the country’s top-ranked junior at the US Junior Amateur championship, earning him a spot in the US Open at Pebble Beach, which starts Thursday.
“I haven’t been thinking about it too much lately,” Thorbjornsen said last week, “because I had finals earlier this week.”
Yes, he’s about to compete on the same course as Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, and many other of the world’s elite golfers, yet he was stressing about finals. Such is the case for a teenaged phenom who has waited 11 months for the biggest tournament of his life while trying to live the life of a high school junior.
Not only did he have to finish up finals last week, but Thorbjornsen also had to pack up the room in which he stayed for the past three years at IMG Academy, a 600-acre campus in Bradenton, Fla., where athletes can train while also receiving their education. Thorbjornsen, who has verbally committed to Stanford, is moving back to Massachusetts for his senior year.
“It has been kind of stressful when it has come to that, but I have still managed to get in some practice,” Thorbjornsen said.
Finagling a schedule around golf is nothing new for him. He has done it most of his life, especially the past year.
Playing tournament golf hasn’t stopped since he qualified for the US Open last summer. He often missed school to travel to tournaments, making up missed coursework when he returned.
“I used to be pretty good at Spanish,” he said. “But now it has been moving fast. It’s hard for me to follow along.”
In addition to making up coursework, Thorbjornsen has served on the American Junior Golf Association board of directors as a player representative. Those meetings often took up entire weekends because of travel.
He tried to find time to maintain friendships and relationships, too. He played Xbox with friends back home whenever he could. He traveled to Florida beaches with IMG Academy friends. He talked to his girlfriend back home whenever they could find time to chat.
“I think this past year has been pretty tough on him,” said Drew Cohen, his best friend.
It certainly has not allowed him much time to think about the task at Pebble Beach. Cohen and Thorbjornsen talk — and play Fortnite on Xbox — all the time, but the US Open has not dominated the conversation until the past month.
Cohen, who will travel to Pebble Beach with Thorbjornsen and his family, has kept a countdown on his phone. He started the clock at 330 days. Now the days are in the single digits.
“We realized, ‘Whoa, he’s going to be playing in the US Open next year,’ ” Cohen said. “But that was sort of, ‘Oh, it’s next year. A long ways away.’ ”
No longer. Very soon, Thorbjornsen will find himself on the same course as Woods, someone he grew up idolizing, said his mother, Sandra Thorbjornsen. Her son has followed Woods’s career through all of its ups and downs, including watching in amazement as Woods won the Masters this spring.
“Knowing that I am there playing the same tournament, even though I feel he is so far out of reach, I can’t even put it into words,” Thorbjornsen said.
He hopes to learn by watching Woods and the other pros, taking mental notes as to how they conduct themselves on a stage that grand. Thorbjornsen also would like to walk away with a strong performance, and he will do his best, but he realizes the people he will compete against are at a different stage of their careers.
Among the field are three other Massachusetts natives: Rob Oppenheim of Andover, Matt Naumec of Wilbraham, and Matt Parziale of Brockton, who earned spots through sectional qualifiers.
Thorbjornsen plans to take in as much of the experience as he can, but he’s not satisfied with merely spectating. He’s on the other side of the ropes, and he plans to make the most of the experience.
“I’m at that tournament for a reason,” he said. “I earned my spot there, so it’s not like I go there and be like, ‘Oh, I don’t belong.’
“It is going to be weird, but all I have got to keep telling myself is that I earned my spot here, and that’s all that matters.”