Thompson uncomfortable as LPGAs hot topic

By Randall MellJuly 28, 2010, 11:07 pm

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Women’s British Open defending champion Catriona Matthew thinks too much is being made of 15-year-old Alexis Thompson not being there this week.

She’s not alone.

Alexis thinks the same thing, according to her agent.

The Thompson family is uncomfortable that she’s the focus of so much attention with a major championship about to begin when she’s not even playing.

Matthew and Laura Davies came into the Women’s British Open media center at Royal Birkdale on the eve of the championship and were both asked multiple questions about Thompson. They had opposing takes that sum up the back-room debate Thompson’s inspiring with her stunning start to her professional career.

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Thompson’s T-10 at the U.S. Women’s Open and T-2 at the Evian Masters have made her a hot topic on tour. (Getty Images)
Bobby Kreusler, Thompson’s agent, said when he first explained why she wouldn’t be playing the Women’s British Open this week – Thompson’s request for a special exemption to final-stage qualifying was denied after a conflict with the U.S. Women's Open prevented her from going to prequalifying – he never intended for the fallout to take on a life of its own.

“At first, the reaction to not getting to play over there was, `Well, that’s a bummer,’ but she moved on quickly,’” Kreusler said. “Her reaction is, `Well, what are we doing today? Can we go to the beach?’”

Thompson’s tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago and her tie for second at the Evian Masters last weekend have made her a hot topic on tour. In the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open at brutish Oakmont, Thompson was paired with Ai Miyazato and Jiyai Shin. She beat Miyazato by 10 shots and Shin by two. Shin’s the No. 1 player in the world and took the top spot from Miyazato, who has won four times this season.

Jim McLean, Thompson’s swing coach, isn’t surprised the 15-year-old from Coral Springs is creating such a buzz.

“These tour pros see how fiercely competitive Lexi is, and how she can just rip her drives past them, and it definitely gets their attention,” McLean said. “It’s incredible how much she loves competition. She doesn’t shy from it. She can tee it up with anybody right now.”

The questions in the media center Wednesday at Royal Birkdale included whether someone 15 is old enough to be a professional. It’s likely to be a debate that will only grow if Thompson continues this torrid start. The conversation focuses on more than whether Thompson is ready competitively.

“I think probably she'd be better off at school,” Matthew said in her pre-tournament interview. “She's certainly proved she's a good enough player, there's no doubting that. But 15 is maybe just a little too young to come out on tour. I mean, it's still really only a child. She should be enjoying herself more. I don’t see the great rush.”

Davies took a different stance.

“If she wants to play, she should be allowed to play,” Davies said. “If you're good enough, for me, you're good enough. That's just the way it is. In tennis and other sports, just the fact that you're so young is probably a little bit of a bonus because it creates so much excitement for the tour. So, personally, let her come and play. But I'm sure there are a lot of people that disagree with that. You have to assume that the people around her are doing the right thing.”

McLean said people should understand that Thompson loves the game, loves to practice and that her parents didn’t push her toward turning pro early.

“It’s frustrating to the family, the criticism of her turning pro, because it really was Lexi’s idea,” McLean said. “She was ready to play. This was the interesting next step for her. She didn’t take the step wanting to beat the pros. She took it knowing she could win. This wasn’t her parents, Scott and Judy, pushing her at all.”

If Thompson were an LPGA member, after just three starts, she would already be 18th on the LPGA money list this week with $314,842 in prize winnings. That would rank her ahead of Michelle Wie ($283,784) and Azahara Munoz ($274,534). Munoz leads the Rolex Rookie of the Year points list.

LPGA rules require members be at least 18 years old. Kreusler said the family has no intention at this time of petitioning for a waiver of the age limit, but if she had won the Evian Masters, she could only have claimed the two-year LPGA exemption that comes with the victory by being granted a waiver. A victory, Kreusler said, might require a re-evaluation of plans.

As a non-member of the LPGA, Thompson can play on six sponsor’s exemptions a year. She also can play her way into the U.S. Women’s Open and Women’s British Open, giving her eight possible chances to play LPGA events. Kreusler said the family’s focus is on limiting her to 15 to 17 professional events next year. She would look at the Australian Women’s Open and Australian Ladies Masters, Japan LPGA Tour events and Ladies European Tour events in completing her schedule.

In the meantime, Thompson continues to be the talk of an event she’s not playing.

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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."