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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    Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

    Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

    ''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

    Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

    First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

    ''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

    David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

    The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    ''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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    The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

    By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

    Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

    I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

    One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

    So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

    You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

    Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

    I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

    This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

    Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

    On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

    The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

    “What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

    Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

    Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

    Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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    Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

    Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

    “I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

    After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

    Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

    The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.