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.

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M. Jutanugarn eyeing first win with L.A. Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:50 am

LOS ANGELES - Moriya Jutanugarn took the lead into the weekend at the Hugel-JTBC L.A. Open in her latest bid to join younger sister Ariya as an LPGA winner.

Moriya Jutanugarn shot a bogey-free 5-under 66 on Friday at Wilshire Country Club to get to 8-under 134 in the LPGA Tour's first event in Los Angeles since 2005. The 23-year-old from Thailand started fast with birdies on the par-5 second, par-4 third and par-3 fourth and added two more on the par-4 11th and par-5 13th.

Ariya Jutanugarn has seven LPGA victories.

Marina Alex was second after a 68.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

So Yeon Ryu was 6 under after a 69, and fellow South Korean players Inbee Park(71) and Eun-Hee Ji (69). Park was the first-round leader at 66. Lexi Thompsonwas 3 under after a 71.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng followed her opening 74 with a 67 to get to 1 under.

Ariya Jutanugarn (71) was even par, and Michelle Wie (70) was 1 over. Brooke Henderson, the Canadian star who won last week in Hawaii, had a 79 to miss the cut.

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Garcia tosses driver, misses Valero cut

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

It wasn't quite to the level of his watery meltdown earlier this month at the Masters, but Sergio Garcia still got frustrated during the second round of the Valero Texas Open - and his driver paid the price.

Garcia had a hand in redesigning the AT&T Oaks Course along with Greg Norman several years ago, but this marked his first return to TPC San Antonio since 2010. After an opening-round 74, Garcia arrived to the tee of the short par-4 fifth hole and decided to get aggressive with driver in hand.

When his shot sailed well left, a heated Garcia chucked the club deep into the bushes that lined the tee box:

It took considerable effort for Garcia to find and retrieve the club amid the branches, and once he did things only got worse. He appeared to shank a chip once he got up to his ball, leading to a bogey on one of the easiest holes on a demanding track.

Garcia closed out his round with four straight pars, and at 2 over he eventually missed the cut by a shot. It marks the first time he has missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour since 2003, when he sat out the weekend at the AT&T Byron Nelson, Fort Worth Invitational and Memorial Tournament in successive weeks.

Garcia entered the week ranked No. 10 in the world, and he was the only top-20 player among the 156-man field. He missed the cut at the Masters in defense of his title after carding an octuple-bogey 13 on the 15th hole during the opening round.

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Johnson, Moore co-lead Valero Texas Open through 36

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 1:00 am

SAN ANTONIO - Zach Johnson was going nowhere in the Valero Texas Open when it all changed with one putt.

He made an 8-foot par putt on the 13th hole of the opening round to stay at 2 under. He followed with a big drive, a hybrid into 12 feet and an eagle. Johnson was on his way, and he kept right on going Friday to a 7-under 65 and a share of the 36-hole lead with Ryan Moore.

''You just never know. That's the beauty of this game,'' Johnson said. ''I felt like I was hitting some solid shots and wasn't getting rewarded, and you've just got to stay in it. You've got to persevere, grind it out, fight for pars. You just never know.''

Moore had three birdies over his last five holes for a 67 and joined Johnson at 9-under 135.

They had a one-shot lead over Grayson Murray (69) and Andrew Landry (67).

Ben Crane (66), Martin Laird (65) and David Hearn (68) were three shots behind. Billy Horschel and Keegan Bradley shot 71 and were four shots behind at 5-under 139.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio, had a short stay in his first time at the Texas Open since 2010. Garcia shot an even-par 72, and at one point became so frustrated he threw his driver into the shrubs.

Garcia finished at 2-over 146 and missed the cut.

It was the first time since 2010 that Garcia missed the cut in successive starts. That was the PGA Championship and, 10 weeks later, the Castello Masters in Spain. This time, he missed the cut in the Masters and Texas Open three weeks apart.

Johnson, a two-time winner of the Texas Open, appeared to be headed to a short week until the key par save on the 13th hole, followed by his eagle, par and three straight birdies. He began the second round Friday with five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine, a sixth birdie on the par-4 first hole, and then an eagle on the short par-4 fifth when he holed out from a greenside bunker.

The only sour taste to his second round was a three-putt bogey from about 30 feet on his final hole. Even so, the view was much better than it was Thursday afternoon.

Moore thought he had wasted a good birdie opportunity on the par-5 14th hole when he left his 50-foot eagle putt about 6 feet short. But he made that, and then holed a similar putt from 8 feet for birdie on the next hole and capped his good finish with a 15-foot putt on the 17th.

''That was a huge momentum putt there,'' Moore said of the 14th. ''It was a tough putt from down there with a lot of wind. That green is pretty exposed and ... yeah, really short and committed to that second putt really well and knocked it right in the middle.''

The birdies on the 14th and 15th were important to Moore because he missed a pair of 10-foot birdie tries to start the back nine.

''So it was nice to get those and get going in the right direction on the back,'' he said.

The cut was at 1-over 145, and because 80 players made the cut, there will be a 54-hole cut on Saturday.

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Daly-Allen team grabs Legends of Golf lead on Day 2

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 11:14 pm

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - John Daly and Michael Allen took the second-round lead Friday in the cool and breezy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Daly and Allen shot an 8-under 46 on the Top of the Rock par-3 course with wind gusting to 15 mph and the temperature only in the high-50s at Big Cedar Lodge. They had three birdies on the front nine in alternate-shot play and added five more on the back in better-ball play to get to 13 under.

''Michael and I go back to the South African days in the late 80s and playing that tour,'' Daly said. ''We've been buddies since. He's just fun to play with. We feed off each other pretty good. And if he's not comfortable guinea-pigging on one hole, I'll go first.''

On Thursday, they opened with a 66 on the regulation Buffalo Ridge course. They will rotate to the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course on Saturday, and return to Top of the Rock for the final round Sunday.

''I went to high school in Jeff City, so it's cool to have the fans behind us,'' Daly said.

Allen won the PGA Tour Champions team event with David Frost in 2012 and Woody Austin in 2016.

''I'm just here to free up John,'' Allen said. ''It was fun. Luckily, I started making good putts today. We just want to keep the good times rolling.''

Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf

Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco were a stroke back along with Bernhard Langer-Tom Lehman and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett. Singh and Franco had a 7-under 32 in best-ball play at Mountain Top, and Lehman-Langer and Broadhurst-Tripplet each shot 6-under 48 at Top of the Rock.

''Part of the issue here is all the tees are elevated, so you're up high hitting to a green that's down below and the wind is blowing, and there is more time for that wind to affect it,'' Lehman said. ''If you guess wrong on the wind, you can hit a really good shot and kind of look stupid.''

Former UCLA teammates Scott McCarron and Brandt Jobe were two strokes back at 11 under with Steve Flesch and David Toms and the Spanish side of Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez. McCarron-Jobe had a 47, and Jimenez-Olazabal a 48 at Top of the Rock, and Tom Flesch shot 34 at Mountain Top.

First-round leaders Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik had a 52 at Top of the Rock to fall three shots back at 10 under. Madison, Wisconsin, friends Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly also were 10 under after a 32 at Mountain Top. Jay Haas aced the 131-yard seventh hole at Mountain Top with a gap wedge. Haas and fellow 64-year-old Peter Jacobsen were 8 under after a 32.