Thompson heating up on, off golf course

By Randall MellAugust 14, 2014, 9:15 pm

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – She’s atop another leaderboard in a major championship.

She’s co-starring in an edgy, racy new Puma commercial that’s airing globally with Usain Bolt, Rickie Fowler, Mario Balotelli and other elite Puma athletes.

Whether it’s what she’s doing in golf spikes or in a bikini, Lexi Thompson’s creating quite the buzz at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.

Bombing and gouging her way around Monroe Golf Club, Thompson set herself up in an early run to win her second major championship this season. With a 6-under-par 66, she shares the first-round lead with Meena Lee. They’re one shot ahead of Brittany Lincicome, Lisa McCloskey and Jennifer Kirby and two ahead of Cristie Kerr and Shanshan Feng.

Thompson, 19, broke through to win the Kraft Nabisco for her first major in dramatic fashion back in April, beating Michelle Wie in a head-to-head Sunday duel. She won at Mission Hills overpowering the Dinah Shore course and she has the same game plan working early this week.


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“I knew this golf course was going to set up good for me,” Thompson said. “I get to hit driver on every hole.”

More like mash her driver.

Thompson is the LPGA’s longest hitter, leading the tour in driving distance with an average of 271.2 yards per drive. With Monroe Golf Club’s generous fairways, Thompson pounded drivers into 10 of 14 fairways, leaving her mostly short irons into all the par 4s on a course playing long at 6,717 yards. She hit 16 greens in regulation.

“Getting that Kraft Nabisco win has helped me out so much,” Thompson said. “Just pulling it off that Sunday, being relaxed and staying with it one shot at a time, gave me a lot of confidence going into every other tournament after that, especially majors.”

Thompson created a buzz before she hit her first driver this week. Her new Puma commercial began airing last week.

Titled “Calling All Troublemakers,” the commercial begins with Bolt sitting in a hot tub with three bikini-clad women. He makes a call to “all troublemakers for danger, risk and possible fugitive status.” The commercial winds and cuts its way through scenes with a number of Puma’s top athletes, including Thompson, who is shown in action hitting a golf shot before a quick cut to her sitting in a hot tub between two men with candles aglow around them. She's holding a driver over her shoulder.

“Impossible odds? ... Inevitable,” Thompson says as one of the commercial’s mantras.

Bobby Kreusler, Thompson’s agent, says it was a triumph to get women’s golf in the mix with these other athletes from big-time sports. She flew to Germany earlier this year to meet with Puma officials, and then flew to Milan, Italy, to film the commercials.

“It’s the largest advertising campaign in Puma history,” Kreusler said. “It was a huge coup to get a woman golfer in this Puma ad. We want to get people interested in women’s golf, and this takes women’s golf outside the golf niche.”

The nature of the commercial’s sex appeal harkens back to the debate Jan Stephenson created almost 30 years ago when she stepped naked into a bathtub to pose for a photo provocatively covered with golf balls. Kreusler said he understands the sensibilities the Puma commercial may challenge in golf circles.

“It’s going to shock some people, because some people still think of Lexi as the 15-year-old who turned pro,” Kreusler said. “She isn’t 15 anymore. She’s 19. She’s all grown up. ... We very much thought it was done tastefully, with some sophistication, and that there’s nothing wrong with showing that these world-class athletes are also beautiful women.”

Thompson hasn’t hid her fashion interests. She uses Twitter and Instagram to post photos of her in dresses and gowns she wears to galas and other formal functions. She even posted a photo of herself in a bikini in an Instagram encouraging her followers to check out her new Puma commercial. She said after Thursday’s round that she has interest in doing some modeling.

“I think the commercial came out amazing,” Thompson said. “I think it was quite an honor to be on a big Puma ad campaign with Usain Bolt and Mario Balotelli. It was an amazing experience.”

Thompson was asked what she wants people to know who might be uncomfortable with the ad’s sex appeal.

“I felt pretty comfortable doing it,” Thompson said. “I go in a bathing suit to the pool or the beach. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it was different. I’m hoping to get a little bit out of the golf world and not just be known as a golfer. Puma has done great doing that and being different.”

If Thompson wins another major this week, the opportunities to stretch her appeal beyond golf are likely to keep growing.

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G-Mac has Ryder Cup on mind with Genesis in grasp

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 2:12 am

LOS ANGELES – Graeme McDowell is four years removed from his last start in a Ryder Cup and golf is more than seven months away from this year’s matches, but then it’s never too early to start daydreaming.

Following a third-round 70 that left him tied for third place and just two strokes off the lead at the Genesis Open, McDowell was asked if the matches are on his mind.

“I feel like I've got a lot of things to do between now and getting on that team,” he said. “Standing here right now it's probably not a realistic goal, but if I continue to play the way I'm playing for the next few months, it may start to become a realistic goal.”


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McDowell began his week at Riviera Country Club fresh off four consecutive missed cuts and has drifted to 219th in the Official World Golf Ranking. But his play this week has been encouraging and the Northern Irishman has always relished the opportunity to play for Europe.

“Deep down I know I'm good enough, but I've got to show, I've got to put some results on the board, I've got to take care of my business,” he said. “The greatest experience of my career bar none, and I would love to play another couple Ryder Cup matches before it's all said and done.”

McDowell does have a potential advantage this year having won the French Open twice at Le Golf National, site of this year’s matches.

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Bubba on McGrady block: 'Just trying not to get hurt'

By Will GrayFebruary 18, 2018, 1:56 am

LOS ANGELES – A detour to the NBA Celebrity All-Star Game didn’t keep Bubba Watson from leading this week’s Genesis Open, although an on-court brush with Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady nearly derailed his chances for a third tournament win.

Watson enters the final round at Riviera with a one-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay after firing a 6-under 65 in the third round. The day before, the southpaw left the course around lunch time and headed across town to participate in the All-Star festivities, where during the celebrity game he tried to score 1-on-1 over McGrady.

Watson’s move into the lane went about as well as you’d expect given their five-inch height disparity, with McGrady easily blocking the ball into the stands. According to Watson, he had only one thought as McGrady came barreling towards him across the lane.

“When I saw him, all I saw was, ‘This is my moment to get hurt,’” Watson said. “This big tank is about to hit me, and I was like, ‘Just knock it into the stands. Just don’t touch me.’ So it worked out, he didn’t touch me so it was good.”


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Watson’s attempt went against his wife Angie’s advice to avoid the paint area, but it provided a fun moment for a player used to carving up fairways and greens – not to mention the guy who played 15 seasons in the NBA.

“Well, he’s got like just under 800 blocks for his career, so I gave him one more, you know?” Watson said. “It was just, it was a blast. I wanted to see how good he was, see if he could miss it. He hasn’t played in a while.”

Watson took some heat on Twitter from his PGA Tour peers for the rejection, but few were still laughing as he rocketed up the leaderboard Saturday with five birdies and an eagle. Now he has a chance to win this event for the third time since 2014 – even if he doesn’t plan to go toe-to-toe with McGrady again anytime soon.

“Some guys wanted to try to win MVP, so I was trying to pass it and let them have their fun and their moment,” Watson said. “I was just trying not to get hurt.”

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Spieth on third-round 69: 'Putter saved me'

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:37 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth has spent the last few weeks talking about his putting for all the wrong reasons.

Two weeks ago when he missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open he lost 3.76 shots to the field in strokes-gained putting, and last week he wasn’t much better.

It looked like more of the same at the Genesis Open when he lost about a half stroke to the field on Day 1 with 29 putts, but since then his fortunes on the greens have gotten progressively better.

“I thought each day last week I progressed,” said Spieth, who needed just 24 putts on Friday and moved into a tie for 20th after taking 26 putts on Day 3.


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Spieth said he started to feel things turn around at Pebble Beach after working with his swing coach Cameron McCormick and Steve Stricker, who has become something of a putting sounding board for players on Tour.

“I got set up really nice. I got really comfortable on the greens even though they were very difficult to putt last week and this week,” said Spieth, who rolled in a birdie putt of 14 feet at No. 12 and a par putt of 35 feet at No. 14. “Any putt, I either made it or I left it just short today. It was one of those days that with the way I struck the ball, it was an off day, but that putter saved me and allowed me to shoot the lowest score so far this week.”

Spieth’s third-round 69 is his best of the week and moved him to within seven strokes of the lead, which is held by Bubba Watson.

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Bouncing back: Watson seeks a third Riviera win

By Rex HoggardFebruary 18, 2018, 1:25 am

LOS ANGELES – Yeah, but can Tracy McGrady smoke a 7-iron from 203 yards to kick-in range for eagle on Riviera Country Club’s opening hole?

The way Bubba Watson’s mind drifts there’s no telling if, as he began his day at the Genesis Open, he revisited his play from Friday night at the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game. If he did, it would have been an apropos conclusion after McGrady sent his weak floater into the cheap seats midway through the second quarter.

Either way, Watson made it clear playtime was over on Saturday. The eagle at the opening par 4 ½ sent Watson on his way to a third-round 65 and the outright lead at the Left Coast event that’s starting to feel like a second home for the lefthander.

In 11 starts at Riviera, Watson already has two victories. A third on Sunday could get folks talking about renaming the layout Bubba’s Alley. Or not.

What is certain is that Watson has emerged from a funk that sent him tumbling outside the top 100 in the world ranking and he’s done it in quintessential Bubba style.

If Friday’s detour to the celebrity game received worldwide attention it was only a snapshot of Watson’s Tinseltown itinerary. He taped a segment for Jay Leno’s Garage show, visited with Ellen DeGeneres and watched a taping of The Big Bang Theory. You know, L.A. stuff.

Oh, and he’s curved and carved his way around Riviera with signature abandon.

“You've got to hit shots from every different angle, you've got to move it right to left and left to right, so it's just fun,” said Watson, who also led by one stroke when he won here in 2016, his last victory on the PGA Tour. “Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look like I putt as good as the other guys.”


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He “hammered” a 7-iron from 203 yards at the first to 1 ½ feet for his opening eagle, chipped in at the sixth to begin a run of four birdies in five holes and played the three par 5s in 3 under to move into a familiar spot after enduring his worst season on Tour in 2017 when he failed to advance past the second playoff event.

That he’s turned the tide in Los Angeles is as predictable as it is peculiar. Despite Watson’s record at the Genesis Open, Riviera wouldn’t seem to be the tonic for all that ails Bubba.

Ask a player - any player will do - the keys to playing Riviera and the answers range wildly from it being a bomber’s course to the need for ball-striking precision. But the word that comes up with regularity is "patience."

“Patience and pretty much just not being stupid, to be honest,” Justin Thomas said when asked the key to his third-round 67 that left him tied for eighth place. “Just stop trying to hit at pins with 5-irons and 6-irons, and when I hit in the rough, realize just try to make a par. When I get in places, when I'm out of position, realize that sometimes even bogey is what I need to make.”

While that thought dovetails with conventional wisdom, Watson’s not exactly known for his patience.

“Oh, for sure I do. Haven't you seen me in the last 12 years?” Watson laughed when asked if he had patience on the course. “The tougher the golf course, the more focus I have. The tougher the shot, I've been able to focus better. When I get my mind on something, I can focus and do pretty well at the game of golf.”

While Bubba drifts between artist and antagonist with ease, both on and off the golf course, his primary challenge on Sunday is the picture of thoughtful composure.

Patrick Cantlay, who returned to the Tour last season after struggling with back issues for years, began the third round with a share of the lead but quickly faded on the front nine. He rallied on the closing loop with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 18, where he capped his day with a 54-footer that assured him a spot in Sunday’s final threesome. Although he’s just 25 and playing his first full season on Tour, Cantlay’s approach to the game is patently different from Watson’s.

“I feel like if I can just engage and not worry about where I am on a particular hole or what's going on and I just engage and stay present in whatever I'm doing at that particular time, it all turns out better than what you would expect,” explained Cantlay, who attended nearby UCLA and played dozens of practice rounds at Riviera. “Making sure you stay present and having that confidence in yourself that if you just click in and focus, it all will be good and that's kind of the head space I'm in.”

It will be a clash of wildly contrasting styles on Sunday – Watson, who admitted he “(doesn’t) focus very well,” and Cantlay, whose approach to the mental side of the game borders on the clinical.

One player relishes the challenge of hyper-focus, the other is Bubba, but that’s not to say Watson is void of patience, only that he needs to be properly motivated.

“Like last night when Tracy McGrady was coming at me, I was focused on not getting hurt and I didn't, so it worked out,” Watson smiled.

And besides, T-Mac can’t bomb it like Bubba.