Teenager steals the show with LPGA win
I’m not saying your 16-year-old kid is a slacker, but Lexi Thompson is 16, and has already played in five U.S. Women’s Opens.
Then again, maybe I am saying your 16-year-old kid is a slacker.
Don’t feel bad. Lexi does this to everyone. She takes your preconceived notions of what kids can do, and golfers can do, tees ‘em high and lets them fly.
We speak of Alexis (Lexi) Thompson, born Feb. 10, 1995, because she took an NFL Sunday – a day of Tom Brady and Mike Vick and Tony Romo – and forced golf into the headlines. This teen queen took a golf day in which the PGA Tour was soggy wet with irrelevance in a Justin Rose-John Senden snoozer of a race to the finish in the snoozer FedEx Cup playoffs at rainy Cog Hill, and shoved the women’s game onto the front page.
That’s about as easy to do as winning an LPGA event at age 16, which Thompson did on Sunday by cruising past the best women in the world at the Navistar LPGA Classic in Prattville, Ala. Thompson won by five shots, the sort of butt-kicking that carries weight.
What you need to know about Lexi Thompson: She’s nearly 6-feet tall. She hits the ball 280 yards. The runner-up Sunday, Tiffany Joh, said: “She hits golf shots other ladies can’t hit.” Lexi’s been knocking on the doors of the big time for a while now, ever since she set a record by qualifying for the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open as a 12-year-old. Heck, she even was tied for the final-round lead at an LPGA event in May before stumbling down the stretch. She comes from a family of golf nuts, including her brother, who plays on the Nationwide Tour, and her father, who caddies for Lexi. She’s a Floridian, which means we can automatically label her the “Great American Hope” in a game that seems to be producing fewer and fewer female American stars.
And she’s 16!
How young is that? Even the Beatles, in attempting to quantify the essence of youth, sang: “Well, she was just 17/You know what I mean … “
Were the Liverpool Lads still collaborating, they may have to write a “Ballad of Lexi,” and include the new lyrics: “Well, she was just 16/Bummed-out LPGA Tour players know what that means … “
And yes, while golf has taught us that premature anointment is the golf writer’s biggest weakness – here is where the obligatory Michelle Wie spell-check comes into the editor’s eye – there is something quite substantive to Thompson’s arrival.
Whereas Wie won only one U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links event before we all started breathing in brown paper bags, Thompson is different. She logged a youngest-ever win on the Junior PGA circuit, and qualified her way into those Opens. Wie, probably to the detriment of her development, was granted exemptions into some of her teenage Open appearances.
As we’ve noted in this column: Wie, by all accounts, is doing the most important thing she can do. She is living the life she wants to lead, and is, by all accounts, happy and productive at Stanford, chasing her bliss as a college student who moonlights on the golf tour. However, there seems to be little question that the avalanche of hype that came her way, and the sponsor’s exemptions that followed, hurt her evolution as a player.
Thompson isn’t getting 1/100th the hype. And she doesn’t appear desirous of attending Stanford, or any other college, for that matter. She’s home-schooled, looking for a high-school degree and looking to kick some more rear on the golf course.
She’s well on her way. And she’s 16.
Scorecard of the week
• 63-68-69-71 – 13-under 271, Justin Rose, winner, BMW Championship, FedEx Cup playoffs, Lemont, Ill.
Then again, there are always careers like Justin Rose’s. Not every teen prodigy torches the fields when he or she shows up every week.
In 15 years, when Lexi Thompson is 31 – Rose’s current age – she might be disappointed with 10 professional wins and no major championships. Rose, however, should be quite content with his lot – including career earnings of $16.6 million on the PGA Tour – and his continued good play, even on a Sunday at Cog Hill, where it seemed even golf fans were bored out of their heads with the FedEx Cup point projections.
For those who don’t remember, Rose was once the teen star of the United Kingdom, an apple-cheeked 18-year-old who stole the home country’s heart with a tie-4th at the 1998 British Open at Birkdale. He turned pro immediately after, then endured 21 consecutive missed cuts and four years before a victory, earning rueful shakes of the head from those who knew better. Worse, he was forgotten.
But Rose’s career is a testament to perseverance. He’s now a world-class talent, and by topping the field of 70 at Cog Hill – aided greatly by a chip-in bird on 17 to fend off Senden’s charge – Rose has 10 international wins, a world ranking of 17 and a chance to win the cool $10 million next week at East Lake.
The premise of Rose as a talent who never quite cashed in on his teen promise becomes quite laughable if, indeed, he cashes in on $10 mil. And even Lexi Thompson, if offered that bargain 15 years down the road, might take that trade-off.
Broadcast moment of the week
• “He’s got to be the star of the future. He does everything well, and he’s got a good attitude. If you’re looking to buy stock in somebody, Webb Simpson could be the man.” – Johnny Miller, NBC, sprinkling holy water on Winnin’ Webb Simpson.
Part of me wondered if Miller gushed about Simpson – he said it during Sunday’s final round – because Simpson looks like, and sort of has the feel of, a young Johnny Miller. You know, blonde-haired, clean-living, God-fearing, married-young, low-scoring Webb Simpson … just like blonde-haired, clean-living, God-fearing, married-young, low-scoring Johnny Miller.
Only difference: Miller rocked plaid pants in fine mid-’70s fashion. Simpson opts for lavender shirts on Sunday. I prefer the plaid.
So, by praising Simpson, Johnny Miller was, essentially, praising a young version of himself, right?
Oh, that’s too cynical. Instead, Miller recognized yet another steady performance from Simpson, who has won twice in the past four weeks and added a fifth place at Cog Hill. Setting aside Simpson’s odd missed cut at the PGA Championship, he hasn’t finished outside the top-16 since May – 10 of his last 11 starts, counting that PGA Championship blip.
Simpson has 18 top-25s in 23 starts, the sort of steadiness that makes a guy like Phil Mickelson scrunch his face and say: “What’s the fun in that?”
You’ve been warned, East Lake. Webb Simpson is coming, and he’s looking to buy more milk and apples with his winnings.
Mulligan of the week
• So many storylines have sprung up this spring and summer in golf. We’ve had Tiger’s plummet off the face of the Earth (he’s 49th in the world rankings, and if you don’t think that stings, consider who’s 48th: Sergio Garcia). We’ve seen Rory McIlroy’s coronation at Congressional, Darren Clarke’s feel-good win at Sandwich, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson headlining the “We’re In Our 20s Using Belly Putters, And Screw You If You Don’t Like It” brigade and, of course, Stevie Williams’ one-man show, headed to Loughlin, Nev., for an extended run after the golf season.
But with the passing of months, it seems like we sometimes forget how the major championship season started months ago in Augusta – when a guy named Charl Schwartzel birdied the final four holes on a shootout Sunday and said, leaving a patch of rubber down Magnolia Lane Sunday night, “Have the springbok on the barbecue when I return, Jeeves.”
I’ve always like Schwartzel’s swing, and especially his putter, and thought for sure we’d hear from him again this year. Turns out we heard from him on Sunday – the wrong way.
Schwartzel bogeyed three of his final four holes to fall out of the top 30 and miss next week’s big payday at East Lake.
What? No Charl (May The Schwartzel Be With You) Schwartzel at the year-end bash?
This saddens me. So, let’s go back out to the 15th tee at Cog Hill, let Schwartzel know there’s no way the Masters champ should go out like a chump, remind him not to bogey three of the last four holes and … give that man a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
• Cue the theme music from a spaghetti western. Some Enrico Morricone, perhaps: Five men eye each other nervously, drawing drivers from their bags. Luke, Dustin, Webb, Kooch and Justin stare at each other on the tee box as tumbleweed blows through the foreground … now starring in the PGA Tour’s version of “A Fistful of Dollars … Ten Million Dollars, To Be Exact.”
Coming soon, to a TV likely tuned to the NFL near you.
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