Lexi Thompson is still a rookie.
Forgive folks in Alabama if they find that hard to believe, because it seems as if she has been playing there forever. Thompson, 17, returns this week to defend her Navistar LPGA Classic title, marking the fourth year she will play in the event.
Thompson has a lot of reasons to be excited about coming back to The Senator Course in Prattville, Ala., on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. There’s the memory of her triumph there last year, when she became the youngest winner of an LPGA title at 16, a record Lydia Ko broke, winning at 15 last month. There’s also the memory of Thompson’s second-place finish at the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic just down the road on the RTJ Trail earlier this year. And there’s the memory of grabbing a share of the 54-hole lead in Mobile last year.
There’s also Thompson’s devotion to the military, a special emphasis of her charitable efforts.
Navistar is partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project with tournament proceeds benefitting the organization. Admission to the tournament is free this week with tournament officials welcoming donations to the project.
After winning last year, Thompson donated $20,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project. She also has raised money with her brother, Nicholas, for Birdies for the Brave. She even picked her date for her high school prom this past spring from among military men applying for the honor. She chose a Wounded Warrior and Purple Heart recipient, Marine Lance Cpl. Mark Scott.
“It all started pretty much here with the Wounded Warriors,” Thompson said. “I've done a lot of events just trying to give back and bring awareness to anybody in the service.”
Thompson first played the Navistar LPGA Classic as a 14-year-old amateur on a sponsor’s exemption in 2009. She played it again as a pro the following year and has been back every year since. She won as a non-member of the LPGA last year and based on that victory was granted membership this year with a special waiver of the tour’s age restriction.
In 17 LPGA starts this season, Thompson has two top-five finishes. She’s a distant second in the Rolex LPGA Rookie of the Year points race, behind So Yeon Ryu, and ranks 28th on the LPGA money list ($360,137).
After enduring three consecutive missed cuts this summer, Thompson has bounced back in her last two starts, tying for 17th at the Kingsmill Championship and tying for 14th at the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
“Before those last two events, I struggled a little bit, but it's golf,” Thompson said in her pre-tournament media session. “You've got to stay strong. You've just got to work through it. I feel pretty good about my game, just working to improve on little things.”