Lexis ride in the fast lane

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2011, 9:15 pm

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

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Four top finishers in Japan qualify for The Open

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:19 am

IBARAKI, Japan – Shota Akiyoshi of Japan shot a 2-under-par 70 on Sunday to win the Mizuno Open and qualify for The 147th Open.

Akiyoshi offset three bogeys with five birdies at the Royal Golf Club in Ibaraki, Japan, to finish 1 under overall and secure his first ever tournament win on the Japan Golf Tour.

Michael Hendry of New Zealand and Japanese golfers Masahiro Kawamura and Masanori Kobayashi were tied for second one stroke off the pace to also qualify for The Open at Carnoustie, Scotland, from July 19-22.

Hendry, who led the tournament coming into the final round, came close to forcing a playoff with Akiyoshi but dropped a shot with a bogey on the final hole when he needed a par to draw level.

Hendry will make his second appearance at The Open after qualifying at the Mizuno Open for the second year in a row.

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told LPGA.com at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told LPGA.com last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."