Tuesday 20 February 2018

Lexi taking fast lane to big time

Alexis Thompson, who will be in action at Killeen Castle ths week, is tipped to be the next big star of American women’s golf
Alexis Thompson, who will be in action at Killeen Castle ths week, is tipped to be the next big star of American women’s golf
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

ALEXIS 'Lexi' Thompson considers herself a typical teenager when she's not playing golf, but how many normal teenagers do you know that have banked over $370,000 dollars and own a fancy Chevrolet Camaro SS?

Most 16-year-olds baby-sit to earn some extra pocket money, but Lexi has already shown her ability to rake in the green stuff.

But money doesn't concern her. Lexi has only one wish -- to play golf on Tour, and lots of it. Many people also want to see her get her full playing rights, as she is tipped as the next big star of American women's golf.

Her problem is that LPGA rules dictate that girls should be 18 before they can take a full-time place on the Tour.

Lexi, who became the youngest player in history to qualify for the US Women's Open when she was 12, turned professional at the age of 15 after the 2010 Curtis Cup won by the USA.

Tour commissioner Mike Whan wouldn't allow a total dispensation, but Lexi teed it up in six LPGA events last year and has six more definite opportunities this year plus sponsor's invites for some international events. She can also play in Monday qualifying in Tour events.

Her case for full inclusion has been supported by Lexi's devastation of the field at stage one qualifying of the Tour school in Daytona Beach, Florida last week, when she won by 10 shots, shooting 66, 66, 66, 67.

It was all the more remarkable, as the youngster from Coral Springs, Florida had made the return trip across the Atlantic from the Evian Masters in France the previous Monday, then teed up and shot 66 on the Tuesday.

On Tuesday last, Lexi did the reverse trip to Europe, arriving in Dublin after some flight delays, but she will be ready for action in the Ladies Irish Open supported by Failte Ireland at Killeen Castle. She'll play the Pro-Am today and be primed for tomorrow's first round.

Talking to her, you sense the enthusiasm to just get out and play, and also her impatience to get her full playing rights.

She has been taught by top US coach Jim McLean for the last three years, and he had no doubts her game was ready for the professional arena.

Lexi's father Scott took his time before giving the go-ahead, but once he did, his daughter was off and running.

"This is what she wanted to do her whole life. She bugged me for some time, 'when can I go, when can I turn pro?' We talked about it for a long time and then finally we figured it was time," said Scott.

"She got to a point where it was time to go to the next level. She loves it. We'd love to have played more. Six times is not a lot, but we're getting there."

As for Lexi, the 5ft 11ins, athletically built young lady knew what she wanted a long time ago. One brother, Nick, is on the PGA tour and her other brother, Curtis, is also an accomplished player.

She said: "Golf was a big thing in the family as child growing up. I played soccer and basketball but golf was pretty much where my heart was at the whole time, so that 's what I chose."

How do you go from being an enthusiastic kid to a seriously good player?

"I've been working with Jim McLean for about three years now, but mainly it's just a lot of practice. And I'm home-schooled so that gave me a lot more practice time and then it just went from there," she said.

As always, with prodigies such as Thompson, Michelle Wie and Tiger Woods, the question arises as to whether they miss out on anything when they have so much focus on golf.

Not a problem for Lexi. "Not really. I still hang out with my friends when I'm off the golf course," she said.

"I go to movies, just hang out and have some fun. I'm not missing out on anything. This is what I want to do. It's been my dream my whole life. On the average week off I'm the best relaxer.

"I'll just sit down and watch TV for hours if there's a good movie on. I love just relaxing at home with family and friends," she said.

Considering she has won so much money from so few outings last year, Lexi could be excused for going on a spending spree, but her car was her sole big present to herself. "I don't know how much money I made, but I did get a car, so that was my purchase. That's been my only purchase," she said.

No doubt there will be a mini teenage pride battle going on this week as Lexi comes face to face with Leona and Lisa Maguire, who are also 16. The American played against Leona in fourballs and foursomes in the 2010 Curtis Cup, winning each time, but has plenty of respect for the girls from Cavan.

"They 're both such great players and I'm sure they're going to be out here (on Tour) soon too," she said.

Lexi does not intend to follow Wie and challenge the men on their own turf, although she has played in some men's mini-tour events in Florida -- and won.

"I'll play the little one-day Fuzion Tours down where I live... I won't go to the big Tour like Nationwide or PGA Tour. I'll stick with the women's Tour."

On the Fuzion Tour, women pros operate from slightly forward tees, so they play 94pc of the course. Lexi won an event last February in a play-off -- her first win as a professional.

Incidentally, keep an eye out for another 16-year-old, Klara Spilkova of the Czech Republic. She is a multi-winner as an amateur and is on the European Tour on the same basis as Lexi is performing in the USA -- as a professional but with restricted access to tournaments.

Irish Independent

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