With poise and maturity that seem far beyond her years, Lexi Thompson appears to be settling into life on the LPGA tour quite easily. It seems to be a smooth transition though one that has been in the making for the past couple years. This is her official “rookie season”, however Lexi’s electric smile and 300 yard drives have been gracing the tour’s events for several years. And with the pace that Thompson’s career is moving it is hard to believe that she only celebrated her 17th birthday a few months ago.
She first caught our attention when she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open five years ago when she was only 12. At the age that most girls are getting fitted for braces, she became the youngest to qualify for one of the greatest championships in women’s golf. She failed to make the cut at her first Open tournament, but it was clear that she had the game to keep up with the field. At 14 years old she made her first cut at the U.S. Open and finished T-34.
Thompson comes from a golf family with older brother Nicholas having spent time on both the Nationwide and PGA tours. Her other brother Curtis is currently on scholarship playing for LSU’s golf team. Her dad who serves as her coach was also up until this year her caddy. He has now turned his attention trying to help Nicholas break back into the PGA tour ranks. Thompson denies ever being pressured to turn pro; rather it is something that she said she sought out on her own. She left public school in 2007 to be home schooled so that she could devote more time to practice. Her family has long maintained it was always Thompson’s own decision to pursue golf full time and then to forgo her amateur career.
“If we had talked her out of it, then her enthusiasm would leave,” her mom Judy stated in an interview last year. “We never tried to talk her out of it; we just tried to postpone it for as many years as possible. Finally, it came to the time when she was just wearing on us … you do know how a child can wear on you? Then, one day we just said, OK, we’re going to call the whole family together. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, godmothers and godfathers. We wanted everybody’s input, not just our own, and not just hers. She kept saying, ‘I want to follow my dream.'”
In 2010 Thompson at only 15 years of age missed her first cut as a professional at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. However she then went on to finish T-10 that summer at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. A few weeks later she backed up her play by finishing T-2 at the Evian Masters. It didn’t take Thompson too long to finally break through and achieve a win when she won the Navistar LPGA Classic last fall in Alabama. With that win she became the youngest winner in the history of the LPGA tour at age 16. Thompson then petitioned the LPGA for membership to the tour although she was two years younger than the allowed age of 18. Michael Whan the commissioner of the LPGA approved the membership and Thompson went on to win again at the end of last season on the Ladies European Tour in Dubai.
For the LPGA and to Whan in particular the addition of Thompson to the tour is a huge gift. Though Whan has downplayed the importance of having Thompson as a full time player, no doubt she is bringing fans to a tour that has struggled the past few years. Whan however has been wise to try not to put any added pressure on Thompson and rather give her the space she needs to grow as a young golfer. The LPGA went through a similar situation several years ago when a young golf prodigy from Hawaii started making waves on the mainland. Her name was Michelle Wie and her career has had mixed results largely due to injuries, parental pressure and lately perhaps a lack of passion for the game. It is obvious why Whan has chosen to avoid putting additional pressure on Thompson in hopes of avoiding a similar outcome.
Although it appears that Thompson was in a rush to turn pro, she doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry to grow up. Though polite and quick to smile when being interviewed about her golf game, she also clearly enjoys turning the conversation to more traditional teenager fare. She loves to talk about driving her car and in a few weeks she will take part in a teenage rite of passage and attend her first prom. She hasn’t ruled out taking college courses once she receives her high school diploma this spring, but it is doubtful she will be attending a university full time as Wie did at Stanford.
Thompson clearly has the skills and ability to be an elite golfer and by all accounts has a personal passion for the game. In an era where young gifted athletes tend to be pushed towards success by their parents, Thompson seems to be the one doing the pushing. Barring injury she has all the tools to perhaps when all is said and done be one of the greatest golfers the LPGA has ever seen. That of course remains to be seen, but hopefully she will be able to continue to grow as a golfer at her own pace. Though so far her pace has been pretty tough to keep up with.