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Posted: 8:53 a.m. Monday, Oct. 15, 2012

It’s always fresh for inventor, writer and golf pro Chip Thomson

Creator of sports video system always throwing himself into the deep end

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It’s always fresh for inventor, writer and golf pro Chip Thomson photo
Michael Barnes
Inventor, golf pro and business starter Chip Thomson

By Michael Barnes

American-Statesman Staff

When the visor goes on, the Austin inventor looks like an alien. The thin, dark device that wraps around his eyes is called 3rdiView, the latest creation from golf pro, writer and serial business founder Chip Thomson. It allows athletes to view a live video feed of their performances.

The idea for 3rdiView came while coaching golfer Pete Jordan for the 2002 U.S. Open.

“He was making a move with his swing that I couldn’t correct with a video recorder,” Thomson says. “A day and a half we spent on that. We could not correct it. That night, I bought a Sony Glasstron video helmet and wired that into a video recorder so Pete could see himself in real time. Five minutes later it was corrected. It removes memory from the equation. The brain sees it and automatically corrects.”

Now trying to nudge 3rdiView into production, Thomson, 55, hardly stops with one big project. Smooth and manicured yet meticulously casual, he percolates ideas from his serene cliffside home above Barton Creek. He credits his good fortune across several careers to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“ADHD was thought of as a negative disease,” says the man who keeps tabs on four computers atop his home office desk. “But actually it’s been the key to most of my business success. I can be scatterbrained and still be efficient. Because I always have four or five jobs. What I never could do is sit at the same job for eight hours a day.”

Born in New Orleans, Thomson grew up in small-town Illinois, then bounced around the country.

“I’ve always been geographically driven, not business driven,” he says. “I find jobs where I like to live. I’ve been lucky enough to live in some cool places, Austin being one of them.”

His deceased stepfather, Ralph Thomson, an attorney, gave crucial life advice to him.

“When I was 5, he took me into his law library and said: ‘It takes all these books, as well as policemen, judges and lawyers to determine what is legal,’” the grown son recalls. “Right and wrong is here — in your heart. Follow your heart and you’ll always do what’s right.’”

The whole family appears to have adopted a Horatio Alger view of life. When he was 7, his mother, Delores Nunes Thomson, gave him a paperweight that read: “Don’t wait for your ship to come in, swim out and get it.”

After playing golf for two Illinois colleges, Thomson left school to learn about business. In New Orleans, he played and taught golf during the day and ran a restaurant in the evening.

“I slept about two hours a night,” he says. “Then I realized that all my friends were into drugs and alcohol and I had to get out.”

Thomson sold water purifiers in Arizona, then ran two eateries in Santa Fe, N.M. Perhaps his oddest job was selling nuclear equipment — with no engineering background — for a Denver outfit. That business brought twice-divorced Thomson to Austin 23 years ago.

“That’s the luckiest thing that every happened to me,” he says. “Because of golf here, my three first Austin friends were Ben Crenshaw, Darrell Royal and Larry Gatlin. It was like having the keys to the city. Those three guys know everybody. We had a blast.”

Early on, Thomson played golf as often as five times a week. He coached PGA players and wrote about golf for newspapers and magazines. He contributed golf updates to CBS and CNN.

Inventions came next. The first was the Money Clamp.

“I was playing golf with Coach Royal and Gatlin,” he remembers. “We all pulled money and credit cards out of our bags, and we all kept them in those black paper binders.”

So Thomson put together something between a money clip and a binder. He later introduced the ZClip for credit card security. Then he devised a system that attempts to predict the outcome of sporting events.

He is most excited about 3rdiView, which could be used to train performers along with athletes and race car drivers. Thomson thinks it might work for surgeons, who often watch their procedures on distant video screens.

“You glance slightly upward and see yourself through other people’s eyes,” he says. “It changes people without telling them how to change. The most gratifying moment will come when I see someone preparing for an Olympic event with this.”

Skeptical about his wondrous life story? That wouldn’t hurt his feelings.

“I’ve been cursed with a confidence level far and above my ability,” he says. “I’m constantly throwing myself in the deep end, acting like I know what I’m doing, then having to learn it quickly, so I don’t come out looking like a fool.”

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