The youngest player to ever qualify for the U.S. Womens Open at age 12 last year, Thompson has returned with 5 more inches on her now 5-foot-8 frame. She has full-fledged status as a teenager, one of 28 players at Interlachen 19 or younger.
Sure, Thompson is still the youngest of them all, but its not as if shes the only one who cant yet vote. She has already played this tournament, an experience that cant be claimed by 40 first-time participants in 2008.
It definitely helped me a lot, Thompson said, reflecting on last years 16-over par finish after two rounds at Pine Needles. It just showed me how good I have to be and how I, like, have to present myself out there'with attitude.
Argentinas Victoria Tanco is one of two 14-year-old qualifiers. Her bio in the players guide lists attends grade school in the college section. OK, so thats a little lost in translation. Despite her age, though, shes not necessarily lost in this field.
Tanco finished first, one spot ahead of Thompson, at the sectional qualifying tournament in Florida earlier this month and boasts a wire-to-wire win in the 2007 junior world championships.
Nervous? A bit, she acknowledged Wednesday with a sheepish smile and a laugh.
I try to take it like normal, because never in my life are so many people following the tournament. Never I sign so much autographs, Tanco said. Its really nice to play with all the best players in the world, and its really exciting.
The U.S. Womens Open has the potential for excitement on the final hole because the dogleg 18th is a par 5 that measures 530 yards and can be reached in two shots. Lorena Ochoa was among those who cleared the pond easily with a 5-wood.
Some players found it to be even shorter. It only took a few practice rounds for players to realize they could blast a drive through a gap of trees down the adjoining 10th fairway, then play away from the pond to the green.
I was able to cut off 40 yards, said Karrie Webb, who hit a hybrid equivalent of a 3-iron to the green.
Webb and Meg Mallon, who could also reach the green playing the 10th fairway, both figured it wouldnt be so easy when the first round began Thursday. And they were right.
One option was to play the hole as members at Interlachen do: The 10th fairway is declared out-of-bounds while playing the 18th. Mike Davis, senior director of rules and competition for the USGA who sets up the golf course, found a more practical solution. He said the tees will be moved forward about 10 yards, eliminating the gap in the trees.
Im not going to plant a Hinkle tree. This is a much easier fix, Davis said.
The tree reference was to Lon Hinkle, who took a shortcut during the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness. The next day, a tree was planted to discourage players from going down the wrong fairway.
Yani Tseng of Taiwan, the McDonalds LPGA Championship winner this month, was asked how she learned to speak English so well.
I talk a lot, she said.
Tseng, though, was speechless at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines two weeks ago while she helped out NBC analyst Dottie Pepper. She was in awe of the power Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott, but she really took interest in Scott, a heart throb for so many teenagers. Tseng finally met him after the round.
He was a great-looking guy, she said. And when I saw him, I almost pass out. I was so nervous talking to him. I couldnt speak.
NOT YET READY TO AGE
The popularity of the womens game is growing, but United States Golf Association executive director David Fay said its still too soon for a U.S. Senior Womens Open to match the men. Finding the right amount of prize money and a willing TV network to broadcast such an event would be the first hurdle to clear, Fay said. The LPGA Tour also would have to be on board.
So for now, no plans.
Thats been a question thats been asked probably about 10 years, Fay said. And Im sorry it sounds like a Groundhog Day answer, but our position remains the same. Were just not ready to do something like that yet.
TO THE ISLAND
The USGA has selected Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., as the site of the 2013 U.S. Womens Open. The course, which opened in 2006 with a design by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak, is nestled against Great Peconic Bay on Long Island. It features rolling fairways, big bunkers and dunes, and undulating, challenging greens. Several holes have a striking view of the water, and others are surrounded by inland forest.
The U.S. Womens Open hasnt been held in the state of New York since 1973, when it went to The Country Club of Rochester.
GOLFING WITH GULBIS
Natalie Gulbis has been long known for good looks and a high off-the-course profile, and she was predictably tabbed in a recent poll at Golf.com asking readers which LPGA Tour player theyd most like to golf with.
Well, one lucky guy or girl will get that chance.
Gulbis is promoting a contest with accounting firm RSM McGladrey that asks entrants to write an essay describing a person who has influenced their success in life. The winner will join Gulbis in Las Vegas for a morning workout, nine holes in the afternoon and a celebratory dinner.
Gulbis named her father, John, as the man behind her success. He worked an overnight shift as a juvenile probation officer in Sacramento, Calif., and used to take his only child to the course for practice as soon as he finished in the morning.