Thompson heating up on, off golf course


PITTSFORD, N.Y. – She’s atop another leaderboard in a major championship.

She’s co-starring in an edgy, racy new Puma commercial that’s airing globally with Usain Bolt, Rickie Fowler, Mario Balotelli and other elite Puma athletes.

Whether it’s what she’s doing in golf spikes or in a bikini, Lexi Thompson’s creating quite the buzz at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.

Bombing and gouging her way around Monroe Golf Club, Thompson set herself up in an early run to win her second major championship this season. With a 6-under-par 66, she shares the first-round lead with Meena Lee. They’re one shot ahead of Brittany Lincicome, Lisa McCloskey and Jennifer Kirby and two ahead of Cristie Kerr and Shanshan Feng.

Thompson, 19, broke through to win the Kraft Nabisco for her first major in dramatic fashion back in April, beating Michelle Wie in a head-to-head Sunday duel. She won at Mission Hills overpowering the Dinah Shore course and she has the same game plan working early this week.

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“I knew this golf course was going to set up good for me,” Thompson said. “I get to hit driver on every hole.”

More like mash her driver.

Thompson is the LPGA’s longest hitter, leading the tour in driving distance with an average of 271.2 yards per drive. With Monroe Golf Club’s generous fairways, Thompson pounded drivers into 10 of 14 fairways, leaving her mostly short irons into all the par 4s on a course playing long at 6,717 yards. She hit 16 greens in regulation.

“Getting that Kraft Nabisco win has helped me out so much,” Thompson said. “Just pulling it off that Sunday, being relaxed and staying with it one shot at a time, gave me a lot of confidence going into every other tournament after that, especially majors.”

Thompson created a buzz before she hit her first driver this week. Her new Puma commercial began airing last week.

Titled “Calling All Troublemakers,” the commercial begins with Bolt sitting in a hot tub with three bikini-clad women. He makes a call to “all troublemakers for danger, risk and possible fugitive status.” The commercial winds and cuts its way through scenes with a number of Puma’s top athletes, including Thompson, who is shown in action hitting a golf shot before a quick cut to her sitting in a hot tub between two men with candles aglow around them. She's holding a driver over her shoulder.

“Impossible odds? ... Inevitable,” Thompson says as one of the commercial’s mantras.

Bobby Kreusler, Thompson’s agent, says it was a triumph to get women’s golf in the mix with these other athletes from big-time sports. She flew to Germany earlier this year to meet with Puma officials, and then flew to Milan, Italy, to film the commercials.

“It’s the largest advertising campaign in Puma history,” Kreusler said. “It was a huge coup to get a woman golfer in this Puma ad. We want to get people interested in women’s golf, and this takes women’s golf outside the golf niche.”

The nature of the commercial’s sex appeal harkens back to the debate Jan Stephenson created almost 30 years ago when she stepped naked into a bathtub to pose for a photo provocatively covered with golf balls. Kreusler said he understands the sensibilities the Puma commercial may challenge in golf circles.

“It’s going to shock some people, because some people still think of Lexi as the 15-year-old who turned pro,” Kreusler said. “She isn’t 15 anymore. She’s 19. She’s all grown up. ... We very much thought it was done tastefully, with some sophistication, and that there’s nothing wrong with showing that these world-class athletes are also beautiful women.”

Thompson hasn’t hid her fashion interests. She uses Twitter and Instagram to post photos of her in dresses and gowns she wears to galas and other formal functions. She even posted a photo of herself in a bikini in an Instagram encouraging her followers to check out her new Puma commercial. She said after Thursday’s round that she has interest in doing some modeling.

“I think the commercial came out amazing,” Thompson said. “I think it was quite an honor to be on a big Puma ad campaign with Usain Bolt and Mario Balotelli. It was an amazing experience.”

Thompson was asked what she wants people to know who might be uncomfortable with the ad’s sex appeal.

“I felt pretty comfortable doing it,” Thompson said. “I go in a bathing suit to the pool or the beach. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it was different. I’m hoping to get a little bit out of the golf world and not just be known as a golfer. Puma has done great doing that and being different.”

If Thompson wins another major this week, the opportunities to stretch her appeal beyond golf are likely to keep growing.