The Young and Relentless

By Randall MellApril 3, 2009, 4:00 pm
2007 Kraft Nabisco ChampionshipRANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. ' Alexis Thompson will make you forget.
 
At 5 feet 9, with her long and fluid swing, shes launching tee shots past many of the tour pros here at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
 
With her name moving within striking distance of the leaders Friday, shes looking as if she belongs out here.
 
But after Thompson posted a second consecutive even-par 72 to make her first cut in a major championship, her mother reminds you that not-so little Lexi is barely 14, the youngest player in the field this week.
 
Alexis Thompson
Alexis Thompson shot 72 Friday at the Kraft Nabisco. (Getty Images)
Do you see the bling on her hat? Judy Thompson asks. She thought the hat was too plain, so she did that herself.
 
Lexi pasted sparkly crystal beads all around the bill of her white cap. When you look closer, her father reminds you that his champion golfer is just an eighth grader who loves her lady bug earrings. He reminds you that she collects all things lady-bug related. Whether its jewelry, knickknacks or clothing, she wants it.
 
Once people found out she loved lady bugs, they just started sending her things, Scott Thompson. You wouldnt believe what people send.
 
Thompson, a Coral Springs, Fla., resident, is the No. 1 junior in the United States, the No. 3 womens amateur. Shes the reigning U.S. Girls Junior champion as well as the youngest winner in the history of the PGA Junior Girls Championship, the Doral Publix Junior and the Doherty Cup. Oh yeah, shes also the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Womens Open, making it when she was 12.
 
Add in a nice little story Friday with her older brother, Nicholas, grabbing the first-round lead at the Shell Houston Open, and the Thompson story becomes even more compelling.
 
The Thompson family is a collection of remarkably gifted golfers.
 
Nicholas, a 26-year-old PGA Tour professional vying to claim his first Masters invitation by winning in Houston, is the oldest of the trio. Lexis the youngest. Curtis, 16, is the middle child whos coming into his own this year. He finished fourth in the Azalea Invitational last week, a mens amateur event littered with top collegians.
 
In February, Curtis and Lexi became the first brother and sister to win the Verizon Junior Heritage, both claiming their divisions in playoffs ending just minutes apart.
 
Judy Thompson, the mom, was a decent high school player who competed as a freshman in community college, but she doesnt play any longer.
 
Scott says he was shamed out of the game.
 
When your 8-year-old daughter beats you, its time to get out, Scott said.
 
Lexi learned a long time ago that keeping up is the best way to get ahead.
 
She can thank her older brothers for the wonder of this paradox.
 
She did more than tag along. She competed.
 
Scott joked that Nicholas was motivated to seize the early lead in Houston for reasons that reach beyond a Masters invite.
 
I dont think he wanted Lexi to get more TV time than he did, Scott said.
 
Back at the TPC at Eagle Trace, the Coral Springs development where the Thompson trio was raised, Scott encouraged all kinds of practice games on the range that included Lexi. The stakes were high. The loser was forced to do chores for the others. That could be anything from washing the dishes and making the beds to doing laundry.
 
It definitely helped me having older brothers, Lexi said.
 
With a driving distance average of 255.5 yards this week, Lexi ranked 20th in the field midway through Fridays afternoon round. She can thank Curtis for that. Playing alongside him so often as juniors, she did her best to hit it past him.
 
This week marks Lexis third LPGA appearance. She missed the cut in her first two U.S. Womens Open appearances as a 12- and 13-year-old. She was scheduled to make a fourth LPGA appearance later this month after winning a qualifier to get into the LPGAs Ginn Open, but the tournament folded.
 
Thompson would welcome playing in more LPGA events, but she hasnt been offered any sponsor invites.
 
I dont feel comfortable writing and asking when shes only 14, Scott said. If she were to be invited, she would play.
 
Scott isnt a swing coach ' he recently brought in Jim McLean to help with that ' but he is a coach in a larger sense of the word. He raised his children believing they were best served playing up in class. He endured some heat for that over the years, especially when Curtis struggled as a 14-year-old competing against 18-year-olds. There were parents who thought Curtis was getting beaten down. In the end, though, Scotts approach is paying huge dividends.
 
Lexis played up and played up and played up, and now theres no more up beyond the LPGA, Scott said.
 
The Thompsons are frequently asked if Lexi plans to skip college to join the LPGA ranks.
 
I would like to play the LPGA, but its a little early to say, Lexi said.
 
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  • Monday Scramble: For money and love

    By Ryan LavnerNovember 20, 2017, 3:00 pm

    Lexi Thompson falters, Jon Rahm impresses, Justin Rose stuns, Austin Cook breaks through and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

    It’ll be a long two months for Lexi Thompson.

    She’ll have plenty to think about this offseason after a strong 2017 season that could have been spectacular.

    She won twice, led the LPGA in scoring average and took home the $1 million first-place prize … but she also finished second six times – none more excruciating than the careless spotting in the first major of the year and the 2-foot miss in the season finale – and dealt with the crushing off-course distraction of her mother, Judy, battling cancer.

    Thompson said all the right things after the CME Group Tour Championship, that those types of short misses happen in golf, that she’s overcome adversity before.

    “It didn’t stop me,” she said, “and this won’t either.”

    But at 22, she has already accumulated an incredible amount of scar tissue, especially for a player with world-beater talent.

    What will 2018 bring? For Lexi’s sake, hopefully it’s more wins, not heartbreak. 


    1. The Thompson miss was plenty awkward. So was the end to the LPGA season.

    In a fitting result for a year in which no dominant player emerged, So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park shared the Player of the Year award, after both players finished with 162 points. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1966.

    Can’t there be some way to break the tie? Low scoring average? Best finishes in the majors? A chip-off content? Rock-paper-scissors?

    2. Some of the other awards ...

    Vare Trophy: Thompson, who finished the year with a 69.114 average. Maybe the players this year were just really good, but it’s a bit of a head-scratcher than 12 players finished with a sub-70 average, besting the previous best total of, gulp, five. Easier setups?

    Money title: Park, with $2.336 in earnings.

    No. 1 ranking: Shanshan Feng, though Thompson had a chance to take over the top spot. Alas, that final green … 



    3. Oh, and there was also the tournament winner: Ariya Jutanugarn, who capped a bizarre year with a satisfying title.

    Perhaps only Thompson boasts as much talent as Jutanugarn, and yet the Thai star showed her vulnerability this year. After reaching No. 1 in the world, she struggled through a shoulder injury and then missed five cuts and withdrew from another event in a seven-start span.

    Here’s hoping she learned how to deal with that spotlight, because she’s going to be challenging for the No. 1 ranking for a while.

    4. Of course, we wrote that about Lydia Ko, too, and she just wrapped up her first winless season on tour since she was 15.

    She had 11 top-10s, including three runners-up, but failing to earn a victory was a massive disappointment for a player who was No. 1 in the world for 85 weeks. Perhaps next year she’ll get back on track, but you never know – she changed swings, coaches, equipment and caddies. That's a lot of turnover.



    5. So much for that “controversial” Rookie of the Year award.

    Jon Rahm, named Europe’s top newcomer despite playing only four regular-season events, left little doubt about who was the breakout star of the year with a comeback victory at the DP World Tour Championship.

    Though it wasn’t enough to claim the Race to Dubai title – he finished third – it should serve as a warning to the rest of the European Tour that the 23-year-old Rahm be the man to beat for the next, oh, decade or so.

    6. Ranked fourth in the world, particularly impressive because he hasn’t yet hit the minimum divisor in the rankings, Rahm wrapped up a season in which he won in California, Ireland and Dubai.

    Just imagine how good he’ll be when he’s not seeing all of these courses for the first time. 

    7. The biggest stunner on the final day was the play of Justin Rose, who entered the final round with a one-shot lead.

    He seemed to be on cruise control, going out in 4 under, but he encountered all sorts of trouble on the back nine, making three bogeys a variety of ways – wayward drives, flared approaches into the water and missed shorties.

    Not only did it cost him the DP World Tour Championship title, but it allowed Tommy Fleetwood – even with a closing 74 – to take the end-of-season Race to Dubai title.



    8. Austin Cook is now a PGA Tour winner – and what a circuitous journey it has been.

    After turning pro in 2014, he played the mini-tours, racking up five top-10s in nine starts on the Adams Tour. A year later, with a chance to earn his Web.com card, he finished bogey-bogey-quad-double. And then last year, Hurricane Matthew forced officials to cancel the Web.com Tour Championship. That left Cook without his card – by $425.

    He made it to the big leagues this fall, after finishing 20th on the money list, and then won in just his 14th career Tour start.  

    “I’ve been close on the Web a couple times but haven’t been able to get the job done, and to be able to do it on the biggest stage in the world, it definitely boosts my confidence and lets me know that I can play with these guys,” he said. 

    9. Sam Horsfield, who in 2016 was the NCAA Freshman of the Year, routed the field at European Tour Q-School to earn his card for next year. He shot 27 under (!) during the five-round event to win by eight.

    Expectations have been high for the 21-year-old ever since he received a public endorsement from Ian Poulter. His mentor chimed in again after Horsfield got his card:

    Another great story to come out of Q-School was Jigger Thomson, who is interesting not just because of his incredible height – he’s 6-foot-9 – but his back story, after battling leukemia as a kid.

    10. A limited fall schedule hasn’t cost Brooks Koepka any of his stellar form.

    The U.S. Open champion defended his title at the Dunlop Phoenix, shooting 20 under par – one off his own scoring mark – and winning by a record nine shots. The margin of victory was one shot better than Tiger Woods’ romp there in 2004.

    This was only Koepka’s second start since the Tour Championship (tied for second at the WGC-HSBC Champions).

    Xander Schauffele tied for second while Hideki Matsuyama finished fifth. This is the time last year, remember, in which the Japanese star was the hottest player in the world, taking four titles in six starts, but he admitted of going up against Koepka right now: “I feel there’s a huge gap between us.” 

    Um, has this ever happened before?

    I.K. Kim had a WILD third round at the CME Tour Championship, making only seven pars and recording everything from a 1 to a 7 en route to a ho-hum 71. 

    This week's award winners ... 


    Back Under the Knife: Davis Love III. Set to undergo replacement surgery on his left hip, Love is looking at another extended layoff, likely about four months.  

    Underrated Fall Performances: J.J. Spaun and Brian Harman. Spaun, who held the 54-hole lead at the Shriners, earned his first runner-up finish at the RSM, his third consecutive top-15. Harman, who won the Wells Fargo in May, had three top-8s. 

    Fill-In Duty: Cameron McCormick. Jordan Spieth’s swing coach will be on the bag for Spieth this week in Australia with his regular caddie, Michael Greller, at home with his wife and new baby.  

    Get Well Soon: Luke Donald. He withdrew from the RSM because of chest pain. He spent the night in the hospital, undergoing seven hours of tests, but was given the all-clear sign. 


    All the Best: Webb Simpson. Wishing the best to the Simpson family, after Webb chose to WD from Sea Island after rounds of 67-68 so he could spend time with his father, Sam, who, Simpson tweeted is “sick and living his last days.” 

    Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Charles Howell III. Red-hot to open the season, with three consecutive top-10s, Howell missed the cut at Sea Island where he was 7-for-7 with three top-10s and a tie for 13th. Sigh. 

    Love to undergo hip replacement surgery

    By Rex HoggardNovember 20, 2017, 1:08 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Two days removed from arguably the most hectic week of his year, Davis Love III will undergo replacement surgery on his left hip.

    Love, who hosted and played in last week’s RSM Classic, said he tried to avoid the surgery, but the pain became too much and he will undergo the procedure on Tuesday at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.

    “I had a hip problem the last few years, and I had a hip resurfacing trying to avoid hip surgery because I’m a chicken, but after playing [the CIMB Classic and Sanderson Farms Championship] I realized it was an uphill battle,” Love said.


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


    Love said doctors have told him recovery from the procedure will take between three to four months, but he should be able to start work on his chipping and putting within a few weeks.

    Love, who missed the cut at the RSM Classic, said earlier in the week that his goal is to become the oldest PGA Tour winner and that the only way to achieve that was by having the surgery.

    “Now I’m excited that I’ve crossed that bridge,” said Love, who will turn 54 next April. “Once I get over that I can go right back to the Tour. I won after a spine fusion [2015 Wyndham Championship] and now I’d like to win with a new hip. That’s the reason I’m doing it so I can get back to golf and keep up.”

    LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

    Parity reigned.

    Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

    Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

    Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

    Rolex Player of the Year
    Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

    It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.


    Vare Trophy
    Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

    There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.


    CME Globe $1 million prize
    Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

    By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.


    LPGA money-winning title
    Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

    The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

    Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.


    Rolex world No. 1 ranking
    The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.


    Rolex Rookie of the Year
    Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    “Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

    Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

    “Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

    Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

    Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

    In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

    She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

    How did she evaluate her season?

    “I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

    “It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

    Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

    “Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

    “I think everybody has little ups and downs.”