Lexis ride in the fast lane


Alexis Thompson is accustomed to hurrying to catch up. That’s the way it is when you’re the baby sister playing with two older brothers.

After slinging her little golf bag over a shoulder and hopping a bike, she had to pump her legs as hard as she could to keep up with the boys when they raced around the corner to tee it up at Eagle Trace Golf Club in their Coral Springs, Fla., neighborhood.

It’s funny how things work, though.

Who knew keeping up could be the best way to get ahead?

Who knew that chasing as the pup in the back of the family pack could get her so far ahead in the game?

Because with this 15-year-old pro preparing to open the season in two weeks at the Handa Australian Women’s Open, figuring out how she got so good so fast is an easy calculation. She wasn’t pushed as a prodigy so much as she was pulled along.

Competing regularly and feverishly with older brothers Nicholas, 28, and Curtis, 17, has more to do with her development than any other factor. She’ll tell you that. It was a factor in her becoming the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 12, in winning the U.S. Girls’ Junior when she was 13 and in nearly winning the Evian Masters after turning pro when she was 15.

It’s a factor in why so many folks around her think she’s ready to win an LPGA event this year.

Yeah, it’s always a sensitive area to skate around, ramping up expectations for a young player based more on potential than limited record, but she’s made believers with her performance against the world’s best in the world’s biggest events.

Paired with Jiyai Shin and Ai Miyazato in the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open last summer, playing brutish Oakmont, Thompson shot 70, besting Shin by two shots and Miyazato by 10. Shin and Miyazato both held the No. 1 ranking last summer and Shin holds it today.

Thompson tied for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Two weeks later, Thompson buried a clutch birdie putt at the 72nd hole at the Evian Masters, forcing Shin to birdie the same hole behind her to avoid a playoff.

“I’m biased, but she definitely can win right now, absolutely she can win,” said Jim McLean, her swing coach, who also works with Cristie Kerr. “Obviously, with a limited schedule, the chances are less than if she were playing a full schedule.”

Alexis Thompson
Alexis Thompson made $336,472 in four LPGA starts in 2010.

Thompson’s already one of the longest hitters in the women’s game.

“I’ve seen her hit it past Yani Tseng and Suzann Pettersen in practice rounds,” McLean said.

There are lots of reasons Thompson got so good so fast. She’s a golf machine. She lives, sleeps and eats golf. She’s hard working, ambitious and disciplined. She’s got a golf body, tall and powerful with a long swing arc. But she’ll tell you that practicing and playing against her older brothers most made her the player she is today.

“They’re the reasons I started playing golf,” Lexi said. “If it wasn’t for them, I’d probably be playing soccer right now.”

When the Thompson kids were younger, they played each other for the highest stakes. They played for chores. Loser did the others’ chores: making beds, washing dishes, cleaning toilets . . .

“I’m sure we’ve played thousands of rounds together,” Lexi said. “We played all the time together. When we’re all home, we still play together.”

Nicholas has played five years on the PGA Tour, Curtis just enrolled as a freshman at LSU on a golf scholarship.

“Playing with her brothers is probably the biggest reason for her length,” said Scott Thompson, Lexi's father. “When you’re trying to keep up with boys your whole life, you learn to swing harder and bust it farther.”

Scott loves watching his children play together, and he talked Nicholas into playing a Minor League Golf Tour event in South Florida with Lexi last week. Lexi’s been playing the men’s mini-tour a lot this winter, sometimes with Curtis as her caddie, to prepare for the upcoming season.

Nicholas won that 18-hole event with a 5-under-par 66. Lexi tied for third, three shots back with a slight advantage from forward tees. Nicholas played from 7,000 yards, Lexi from 6,800.

“I’ve beaten him before, but not playing back from the same set of tees with him,” Lexi said.

If you thought Lexi hit the fast lane in style in her pro debut last year, just wait until she turns 16 in three weeks.

The little girl who had to ride her bike so hard to keep up with the boys will steer into the new season in sporty fashion. She just bought a Chevy Camaro SS.

“She bought it with her own money,” Scott Thompson said. “She wrote the check herself. She’s the first of my kids I didn’t have to buy a car for.”

The home-schooled sophomore is growing up fast on and off the golf course.

Thompson made $336,472 in just four LPGA starts as a pro last year. She also has endorsement deals with Puma, Rolex, Red Bull and Cobra.

Scott Thompson’s heard speculation that money was the motivation behind the decision to turn pro so early.

“You mean the people who say she’s my meal ticket?” said Thompson, who made his money as a partner in manufacturing transformers and is now an investor. “Yes, I’ve heard that, and it really irritates me. I haven’t touched her money. My wife hasn’t touched her money. I keep an eye on her account, because you don’t want anyone taking advantage, but I don’t even take a caddie fee. She pays my expenses. That’s it.”

With new rules in play this year, Lexi is on the verge of starting a season that may be unlike any the LPGA’s ever seen.

The tour might have closed a door last week denying Thompson’s petition for a dozen sponsor exemptions – double what’s allowed for non-members – but it opened another door to unprecedented access by a teen phenom. She isn’t eligible for LPGA membership without a waiver until she is 18, but the tour made it possible for Thompson to play as many as 16 LPGA events this year by announcing it was opening up its Monday qualifiers to non-members.

Don’t expect that to happen, though. Thompson’s family doesn’t want her to play in that many, but it’s now possible.

“We’re still looking at a schedule of 15 to 17 events overall this year,” said Bobby Kreusler, Thompson’s agent.

That includes events outside the LPGA schedule.

Thompson is opening the season at the Handa Australian Women’s Open (Feb. 3-6) and ANZ RACV Australian Ladies Masters (Feb. 10-13). She’ll likely end the season at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters (Dec. 14-17).

With top-10 finishes at the Evian Masters and U.S. Women’s Open last year, Thompson earned returns to those events this year. She’ll also be trying to qualify to get into the Women’s British Open. Plus, she is eligible for six sponsor exemptions.

That’s 12 overall events without any Monday qualifiers.

“We’re still really working out the schedule,” Scott Thompson said. “I don’t know how many Monday qualifiers she will try.”

Thompson will make her first Monday qualifying attempt at the Kia Classic on March 21 in suburban Los Angeles. It’s one of seven Monday qualifiers the LPGA’s staging. With new rules opening play to non-members, nobody’s sure how strong the competition’s going to be with just two spots being awarded berths into the week’s LPGA event.

“People are saying those will be easy for Lexi, but there are no guarantees in 18-hole qualifiers,” Scott Thompson said.

It’s the cruel beauty of the game.

Nobody will give her anything, but she learned that from her brothers. They wouldn’t give her a 3-foot putt.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell