PRATTVILLE, Ala. – Alexis Thompson thought the Navistar LPGA Classic would be a nice warm-up for next week’s big junior golf event.
It had, after all, been six weeks since the 14-year-old from Coral Springs, Fla., last teed it up in competition.
With school back in session, she knew she needed to knock off some rust before playing in the American Junior Golf Association’s Ping Invitational in Oklahoma.
“I haven’t played for awhile, and my dad was like, `You want to go up and try to qualify for this [LPGA] event?” Thompson said. “I was like, `Yeah, sure, why not?’ I might as well get some competition out of it and get me ready for my other events coming up.’”
Thompson didn’t mean to make light of leaping into contention in the first-round Thursday at the Senator Course at Capitol Hill on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. She was just being honest. This wasn’t in her grand golf plan this year. It wasn’t in her schedule until just recently. She played her way into the field through a qualifier after making the 11-hour drive from South Florida with her father, Scott, who also caddies for her.
There has to be something exasperating for tour pros to watch a ninth grader turn up at the last minute and shoot 7-under-par 65 after nearly a month-and-a-half away from any kind of competition. By the way, it was Thompson’s lowest score in competition, bettering the 66 she once shot in the PGA Junior Championship.
As it turns out, Thompson didn’t need to knock off any rust. She birdied her first two holes Thursday. She posted her score in the morning wave and her name stayed atop the leaderboard until nearly sunset. That’s when Janice Moodie birdied the final four holes, six of the last seven, to take a one-shot lead on Thompson.
Michelle Wie is in the hunt, too, two shots back with Lorena Ochoa. Wie seemed to rediscover her brilliance with a new putting stroke honed by Dave Stockton at the Solheim Cup. Her performance there motivated American teammate Juli Inkster to predict Wie would break through to win her first LPGA event before this season ended. The season’s nearly over. Wie will play just two more LPGA tournaments after this week.
Wie, 19, is in position to end a certain slump going on in women’s golf.
No player from the United States has won an LPGA event in 14 consecutive tournaments, the longest American drought within any of the LPGA’s 60 seasons.
Thompson and Wie, an amateur and a rookie, are the top two Americans on the leaderboard.
Thompson, of course, has a long way to go, but if she somehow keeps the magic going to Sunday she’ll be bidding to shock the world. She’ll be trying to become the first amateur to win an LPGA event since JoAnne Carner won the Burdines Invitational 40 years ago. She would be the youngest LPGA winner by about three-and-a-half years. Marlene Hagge was 18 years and 14 days when she won the Sarasota Open in 1952. Thompson would be 14 years, seven months and 24 days old on Sunday.
Yeah, that’s a large dream, but nobody who knows anything about Thompson was shocked to see her on the Navistar LPGA Classic leaderboard.
At 12, Thompson became the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. She has already played in three of them and made the cut this year at Saucon Valley in Pennsylvania. Thompson tied for low amateur honors at the Kraft Nabisco earlier this year while playing on a sponsor’s exemption. She won the U.S. Junior Girls’ last year, has claimed two Junior PGA championships and made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur this summer.
In her post-round interview, Thompson was asked if she planned to go to college or turn pro. She gave the day’s best answer.
“I have no clue,” Thompson said. “I mean, I’m in ninth grade. I’m going to take it one grade at a time.”
Spoken like a true golfer.