Interview: LPGA Tour star Lexi Thompson
We first became aware of Lexi Thompson back in 2007 which is some achievement given that she is only 16 now.
Then, aged 12 and four months, she was the youngest player ever to qualify for the Women’s US Open. By then she had already had two holes-in-one.
Incredibly she repeated the qualifying feat both the next two years and she made her first cut at the third time of asking, finishing in a tie for 34th.
Later that year she opened up with a 65 in the first round of an LPGA Tour event. The Curtis Cup remained a long-term ambition, if that’s possible for a teenager, and
Thompson dazzled with four wins and a half. A week later she turned professional.
Again she qualified for the US Open, this time finishing 10th, and two weeks later she almost won the Evian Masters, coming up one short of Jiyai Shin. A £200,000 cheque will have softened the blow.
This year began with Monday qualifying and Minor League action with the men before in April she made her first start on the LPGA Tour.
Missed cuts, lowly finishes and failed Monday qualifying tilts filled the next few months but all this was just a learning curve. A tour win was inevitable and in September at the Navistar LPGA Classic she romped to a five-shot success, eclipsing 18-year-old Marlene Hagge, who won in 1952, as the tour’s youngest winner.
Thompson continues to be home-schooled and, growing up, the family had chipping and putting contests in the backyard – the loser emptied the dishwasher.
On tour her dad, Scott, is on her bag – he was especially emotional after her tour win – while her half-brother Nicholas was a Walker Cup player and has played on the PGA Tour.
Despite being so young and not even a member on tour, was it a relief to win?
I had worked extremely hard coming up to that tournament, particularly the week before, and I knew it was close to when I was going to play really well so it was a case of being patient. Knowing I can win is a great feeling.
Your dad was understandably emotional afterwards, what were you like?
It was definitely emotional. My dad said I’m going to have to go off to the side as he might start crying and I had a cry after I tapped it in. All my emotions then just let go.
What is your dad like as a caddy?
I don’t do any of my yardages, he does all of them, but he doesn’t read many of my putts. He’s great at getting the clubs and getting the wind right but he lets me get on with it on the greens (laughs).
What was it like playing on the men’s mini tours?
I tried two Monday qualifying for the LPGA, and missed out on both, and played a few Minor Leagues earlier in the season. I played in them for practice and it’s not too strange as I’ve grown up playing with my brothers. That’s as far as I will go though, I can’t see me ever playing on any of the bigger men’s tours.
The US Open was really nerve-wracking, I can still feel that first tee shot. Luckily I was off the 10th but my legs were shaking as well as everything else. What will a 16-year-old do with $195,000?
I donated $20,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project. I wore the pin each day and that was the charity for that week. I’m lucky enough to already have a car so the rest will be put in a bank account.
How does your education work?
I have been home-schooled since sixth grade which is 12 years old. I do it all online and it follows the normal curriculum so I have the same lessons. I’ve got one year of that to go as I have doubled up on my classes and I’m a year ahead.
Can you explain what it was like to play in a US Open at the age of 12?
That experience was really nerve-wracking, I can still remember and feel that first tee shot. Luckily I was off the 10th so there weren’t too many people out there but my legs were shaking as well as everything else. I managed to hit a good shot, which I still don’t know how I did that.
Do you have any specifics for dealing with nerves?
Breathing is really important which sounds obvious but it is. The first tee shot is always a bit different but you have to just try and relax and see it as just another round.
How important was playing in the Curtis Cup to you?
Huge – that’s why I waited to turn pro. That was one of my big goals for a few years and once I got into that it was a dream come true. I thought it was going to be pretty close; I knew a lot of their team like Holly Clyburn, Sally Watson and the Maguire twins, and a lot of the matches went down to the last couple of holes.
And what was the Junior Solheim Cup like?
Another great experience, as was going to the actual Solheim Cup and playing in a four-hole match with Nancy Lopez. It was so much fun and she was like my mum for the week. She is so humble and was fantastic to be around.
Who were/are your golfing heroes?
Since I got to know her, Nancy would be one but I was always a fan of Annika Sorenstam growing up. And my brothers!
Natalie Gulbis and Christina Kim have given me some helpful advice since I’ve been on tour and, if there is anything I needed, I can call them.
Have you ever played a round of links golf?
No, never. The Irish Open at Killeen Castle was the closest I have got to playing one, geographically at least, but that was more an American type of course. I would have loved to try and qualify for the British at Carnoustie but I had to come back and go through the first stage of Q School. There will hopefully be a lot of other chances.
What is the key to hitting it enormous distances?
I don’t actually know if I’m honest (laughs). I work out every day and I do a lot of cardio but lately I have just been focusing on my tempo and making my swing more compact. Most days I would run for 2 1/2 miles and then do sit-ups and medicine ball work.
You work with one of the best-known coaches, Jim McLean. How did that come about?
I think he saw me play at Doral and we just went from there. He concentrates a lot on feel which is perfect for me. I’m not overly technical, I just prefer to see the shot and hit it. Recently I have worked a lot on my short game and putting. It has improved but I need to keep on going with it.
Had your win come a few weeks earlier might you have got a captain’s pick for the Solheim?
I’m really not sure, we’ll never know. I’m not even sure they could have picked me as I wasn’t a member so I guess there’s no real need to find out!
How do you relax away from golf?
I just hang out with friends, go to the movies, listen to R&B music, go bowling or go to the beach. My best friend and I have known since I was seven and we have always played golf together.
Was there ever a chance that you weren’t going to become a golfer?
It was the dream pretty much the whole time and was where my heart was always at. I played other sports, like soccer or basketball, and I had to choose between golf and soccer which wasn’t too hard.
What position did you play at soccer?
I’m not sure I had a position! I was always so much bigger than everybody I just ran around and just scared them!
What have you learned since turning professional?
I was surprised how well I started last year – I expected ups and down. I was leading the Avnet going into the last round and I learned there that I got too fast and uptight so, when I won, I slowed down everything, my routine, my walk and it paid off. I have also learnt a bit about dealing with the media. Red Bull have set up some sessions and it takes a bit of getting used to but it’s all good fun.
THE ROAD TO LPGA MEMBERSHIP
To be a member of the LPGA Tour you must be aged at least 18. Thompson’s first petition came in December 2010 when she asked if she could receive 12 sponsors’ invites instead of the usual six.
She was turned down but the rules were changed to allow non-members to play in Monday qualifying. She then requested a waiver just to enter ‘11 Q School where she won the first stage by 10 shots. She then won on tour, pulled out of second stage and petitioned for membership. That was approved in September so she is a full member for 2012.
Lexi wears Puma golf apparel and plays with the Cobra S3 range. For more visit www.puma.com/golf and
www.cobragolf.co.uk. She also has her own official website at www.lexithompson.com.