Pitfalls of superstardom

By John FeinsteinSeptember 20, 2011, 8:57 pm

The first time I heard of Lexi Thompson was almost six years ago when I was working on a book about PGA Tour Qualifying School.

One of the young guns in the event that year was Nicholas Thompson, who had just graduated from Georgia Tech and had played on the Walker Cup team that summer. Thompson made Q-School look easy, breezing through all three stages to get his card at the age of 22. When I talked to him about his background he told me he was certain he wasn’t the best player in his family.

“My younger brother is a good player, too,” he said. “But my little sister – she’s the one to watch.”

Lexi Thompson was 10 back then. Her brother has yet to find stardom on the PGA Tour but he has certainly proven to be a good judge of talent. His little sister – who is now almost 6-feet tall at the age of 16 – was the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open at the age of 12; turned pro at 15 and just became the youngest player in history to win on either the LPGA or the PGA Tour when she won the Navistar Classic by five shots.

Women’s golf, it appears, may finally have the American star it has been searching for the past several years.

But let’s slow down for just a second.

There is no doubt Lexi Thompson can play. She had contended in other tournaments before her victory and she should continue to improve with experience. While it is certainly admirable of LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to want to make it difficult for teenagers to become full-time tour players, Thompson’s victory is going to make it nearly impossible for him to stop her.

The tour currently has a rule that states anyone under 18 cannot become a member. Whan had agreed earlier this year to make an exception for Thompson and allow her to go to Q-School. She breezed through the first stage. Now though, with her victory, her agent is going to petition Whan to grant her membership either right now or at the beginning of 2012. Whan will have to at least grant the latter request: His sponsors will be screaming at him to do so; Thompson’s golf clearly merits membership and, by then, she will have turned 17, which should make him feel better about allowing the exception. Clearly, this is an exceptional player.

But there is a lot more to this story than whether Thompson is ready to play golf at the highest level. The larger issue is what comes with all that because it isn’t as simple as it looks.

Michelle Wie was good enough to contend in major championships when she was Thompson’s age – and younger. Before she turned 17, she had six top-5 finishes in majors. Like a lot of prodigies, she wasn’t ready for the pressures heaped on her when she signed lucrative endorsement contracts after turning pro and put herself into a harsh spotlight by continuing to play in men’s tournaments before winning against women.

It doesn’t appear likely that Thompson or her parents will make the same kinds of mistakes that Wie made when she was a teenage superstar. But there are still plenty of pitfalls. The fact that a PR agency was emailing TV stations around the country on Monday offering Lexi Thompson interviews and pointing out that Thompson is a Red Bull athlete is not an encouraging sign.

Lexi Thompson doesn’t need to endorse Red Bull or any other non-golf product right now. She certainly doesn’t need to spend time in a TV studio banging out one interview after another while representing a sponsor. Given her talent, her age and her looks, she will make plenty from an equipment deal and a clothing deal. If her golf goes where it should go she is going to make all the money she ever needs by the time she’s 21.

This is where the trouble begins. The prodigy is going to have to deal with plenty of pressure: continuing to improve their game; being the subject of inevitable jealousy in the locker room; handling all sort of media demands; the pressure to cash in big right now when there is no guarantee of superstardom in five years from now.

It is worth noting that, for all the mistakes made in the handling of Tiger Woods, one thing his father and IMG did was let him go to college for two years before he turned pro. That meant he was 21 by the time he spent his first full year on tour and, although he didn’t handle some off-course responsibilities well, he certainly handled playing golf well.

Wie, on the other hand, turned pro in high school (like Thompson, who is home-schooled) and struggled on and off the golf course within a couple of years. The smartest thing she ever did was enrolling at Stanford to bring some normalcy to her life.

Thompson is going to wear the “Next One” label that Wie once wore. She is going to be promoted as the young American who can challenge Yani Tseng at the top of women’s golf. She appears to have everything it takes to be the game’s next superstar.

Let’s hope she is allowed to walk into the spotlight, not run after it. There’s no rush. If there’s one thing Lexi Thompson has plenty of right now, it is time.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

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Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”