Pitfalls of superstardom

By John FeinsteinSeptember 20, 2011, 8:57 pm

The first time I heard of Lexi Thompson was almost six years ago when I was working on a book about PGA Tour Qualifying School.

One of the young guns in the event that year was Nicholas Thompson, who had just graduated from Georgia Tech and had played on the Walker Cup team that summer. Thompson made Q-School look easy, breezing through all three stages to get his card at the age of 22. When I talked to him about his background he told me he was certain he wasn’t the best player in his family.

“My younger brother is a good player, too,” he said. “But my little sister – she’s the one to watch.”

Lexi Thompson was 10 back then. Her brother has yet to find stardom on the PGA Tour but he has certainly proven to be a good judge of talent. His little sister – who is now almost 6-feet tall at the age of 16 – was the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open at the age of 12; turned pro at 15 and just became the youngest player in history to win on either the LPGA or the PGA Tour when she won the Navistar Classic by five shots.

Women’s golf, it appears, may finally have the American star it has been searching for the past several years.

But let’s slow down for just a second.

There is no doubt Lexi Thompson can play. She had contended in other tournaments before her victory and she should continue to improve with experience. While it is certainly admirable of LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to want to make it difficult for teenagers to become full-time tour players, Thompson’s victory is going to make it nearly impossible for him to stop her.

The tour currently has a rule that states anyone under 18 cannot become a member. Whan had agreed earlier this year to make an exception for Thompson and allow her to go to Q-School. She breezed through the first stage. Now though, with her victory, her agent is going to petition Whan to grant her membership either right now or at the beginning of 2012. Whan will have to at least grant the latter request: His sponsors will be screaming at him to do so; Thompson’s golf clearly merits membership and, by then, she will have turned 17, which should make him feel better about allowing the exception. Clearly, this is an exceptional player.

But there is a lot more to this story than whether Thompson is ready to play golf at the highest level. The larger issue is what comes with all that because it isn’t as simple as it looks.

Michelle Wie was good enough to contend in major championships when she was Thompson’s age – and younger. Before she turned 17, she had six top-5 finishes in majors. Like a lot of prodigies, she wasn’t ready for the pressures heaped on her when she signed lucrative endorsement contracts after turning pro and put herself into a harsh spotlight by continuing to play in men’s tournaments before winning against women.

It doesn’t appear likely that Thompson or her parents will make the same kinds of mistakes that Wie made when she was a teenage superstar. But there are still plenty of pitfalls. The fact that a PR agency was emailing TV stations around the country on Monday offering Lexi Thompson interviews and pointing out that Thompson is a Red Bull athlete is not an encouraging sign.

Lexi Thompson doesn’t need to endorse Red Bull or any other non-golf product right now. She certainly doesn’t need to spend time in a TV studio banging out one interview after another while representing a sponsor. Given her talent, her age and her looks, she will make plenty from an equipment deal and a clothing deal. If her golf goes where it should go she is going to make all the money she ever needs by the time she’s 21.

This is where the trouble begins. The prodigy is going to have to deal with plenty of pressure: continuing to improve their game; being the subject of inevitable jealousy in the locker room; handling all sort of media demands; the pressure to cash in big right now when there is no guarantee of superstardom in five years from now.

It is worth noting that, for all the mistakes made in the handling of Tiger Woods, one thing his father and IMG did was let him go to college for two years before he turned pro. That meant he was 21 by the time he spent his first full year on tour and, although he didn’t handle some off-course responsibilities well, he certainly handled playing golf well.

Wie, on the other hand, turned pro in high school (like Thompson, who is home-schooled) and struggled on and off the golf course within a couple of years. The smartest thing she ever did was enrolling at Stanford to bring some normalcy to her life.

Thompson is going to wear the “Next One” label that Wie once wore. She is going to be promoted as the young American who can challenge Yani Tseng at the top of women’s golf. She appears to have everything it takes to be the game’s next superstar.

Let’s hope she is allowed to walk into the spotlight, not run after it. There’s no rush. If there’s one thing Lexi Thompson has plenty of right now, it is time.

Getty Images

Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

Getty Images

Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

Getty Images

Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

Getty Images

Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.