Lexis ride in the fast lane

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2011, 9:15 pm

Alexis Thompson is accustomed to hurrying to catch up. That’s the way it is when you’re the baby sister playing with two older brothers.

After slinging her little golf bag over a shoulder and hopping a bike, she had to pump her legs as hard as she could to keep up with the boys when they raced around the corner to tee it up at Eagle Trace Golf Club in their Coral Springs, Fla., neighborhood.

It’s funny how things work, though.

Who knew keeping up could be the best way to get ahead?

Who knew that chasing as the pup in the back of the family pack could get her so far ahead in the game?

Because with this 15-year-old pro preparing to open the season in two weeks at the Handa Australian Women’s Open, figuring out how she got so good so fast is an easy calculation. She wasn’t pushed as a prodigy so much as she was pulled along.

Competing regularly and feverishly with older brothers Nicholas, 28, and Curtis, 17, has more to do with her development than any other factor. She’ll tell you that. It was a factor in her becoming the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 12, in winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior when she was 13 and in nearly winning the Evian Masters after turning pro when she was 15.

It’s a factor in why so many folks around her think she’s ready to win an LPGA event this year.

Yeah, it’s always a sensitive area to skate around, ramping up expectations for a young player based more on potential than limited record, but she’s made believers with her performance against the world’s best in the world’s biggest events.

Paired with Jiyai Shin and Ai Miyazato in the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open last summer, playing brutish Oakmont, Thompson shot 70, besting Shin by two shots and Miyazato by 10. Shin and Miyazato both held the No. 1 ranking last summer and Shin holds it today.

Thompson tied for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Two weeks later, Thompson buried a clutch birdie putt at the 72nd hole at the Evian Masters, forcing Shin to birdie the same hole behind her to avoid a playoff.

“I’m biased, but she definitely can win right now, absolutely she can win,” said Jim McLean, her swing coach, who also works with Cristie Kerr. “Obviously, with a limited schedule, the chances are less than if she were playing a full schedule.”

Alexis Thompson
Alexis Thompson made $336,472 in four LPGA starts in 2010.

Thompson’s already one of the longest hitters in the women’s game.

“I’ve seen her hit it past Yani Tseng and Suzann Pettersen in practice rounds,” McLean said.

There are lots of reasons Thompson got so good so fast. She’s a golf machine. She lives, sleeps and eats golf. She’s hard working, ambitious and disciplined. She’s got a golf body, tall and powerful with a long swing arc. But she’ll tell you that practicing and playing against her older brothers most made her the player she is today.

“They’re the reasons I started playing golf,” Lexi said. “If it wasn’t for them, I’d probably be playing soccer right now.”

When the Thompson kids were younger, they played each other for the highest stakes. They played for chores. Loser did the others’ chores: making beds, washing dishes, cleaning toilets . . .

“I’m sure we’ve played thousands of rounds together,” Lexi said. “We played all the time together. When we’re all home, we still play together.”

Nicholas has played five years on the PGA Tour, Curtis just enrolled as a freshman at LSU on a golf scholarship.

“Playing with her brothers is probably the biggest reason for her length,” said Scott Thompson, Lexi's father. “When you’re trying to keep up with boys your whole life, you learn to swing harder and bust it farther.”

Scott loves watching his children play together, and he talked Nicholas into playing a Minor League Golf Tour event in South Florida with Lexi last week. Lexi’s been playing the men’s mini-tour a lot this winter, sometimes with Curtis as her caddie, to prepare for the upcoming season.

Nicholas won that 18-hole event with a 5-under-par 66. Lexi tied for third, three shots back with a slight advantage from forward tees. Nicholas played from 7,000 yards, Lexi from 6,800.

“I’ve beaten him before, but not playing back from the same set of tees with him,” Lexi said.

If you thought Lexi hit the fast lane in style in her pro debut last year, just wait until she turns 16 in three weeks.

The little girl who had to ride her bike so hard to keep up with the boys will steer into the new season in sporty fashion. She just bought a Chevy Camaro SS.

“She bought it with her own money,” Scott Thompson said. “She wrote the check herself. She’s the first of my kids I didn’t have to buy a car for.”

The home-schooled sophomore is growing up fast on and off the golf course.

Thompson made $336,472 in just four LPGA starts as a pro last year. She also has endorsement deals with Puma, Rolex, Red Bull and Cobra.

Scott Thompson’s heard speculation that money was the motivation behind the decision to turn pro so early.

“You mean the people who say she’s my meal ticket?” said Thompson, who made his money as a partner in manufacturing transformers and is now an investor. “Yes, I’ve heard that, and it really irritates me. I haven’t touched her money. My wife hasn’t touched her money. I keep an eye on her account, because you don’t want anyone taking advantage, but I don’t even take a caddie fee. She pays my expenses. That’s it.”

With new rules in play this year, Lexi is on the verge of starting a season that may be unlike any the LPGA’s ever seen.

The tour might have closed a door last week denying Thompson’s petition for a dozen sponsor exemptions – double what’s allowed for non-members – but it opened another door to unprecedented access by a teen phenom. She isn’t eligible for LPGA membership without a waiver until she is 18, but the tour made it possible for Thompson to play as many as 16 LPGA events this year by announcing it was opening up its Monday qualifiers to non-members.

Don’t expect that to happen, though. Thompson’s family doesn’t want her to play in that many, but it’s now possible.

“We’re still looking at a schedule of 15 to 17 events overall this year,” said Bobby Kreusler, Thompson’s agent.

That includes events outside the LPGA schedule.

Thompson is opening the season at the Handa Australian Women’s Open (Feb. 3-6) and ANZ RACV Australian Ladies Masters (Feb. 10-13). She’ll likely end the season at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters (Dec. 14-17).

With top-10 finishes at the Evian Masters and U.S. Women’s Open last year, Thompson earned returns to those events this year. She’ll also be trying to qualify to get into the Women’s British Open. Plus, she is eligible for six sponsor exemptions.

That’s 12 overall events without any Monday qualifiers.

“We’re still really working out the schedule,” Scott Thompson said. “I don’t know how many Monday qualifiers she will try.”

Thompson will make her first Monday qualifying attempt at the Kia Classic on March 21 in suburban Los Angeles. It’s one of seven Monday qualifiers the LPGA’s staging. With new rules opening play to non-members, nobody’s sure how strong the competition’s going to be with just two spots being awarded berths into the week’s LPGA event.

“People are saying those will be easy for Lexi, but there are no guarantees in 18-hole qualifiers,” Scott Thompson said.

It’s the cruel beauty of the game.

Nobody will give her anything, but she learned that from her brothers. They wouldn’t give her a 3-foot putt.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.