First full LPGA season awaits Thompson

BY Bruce Young | ALPG Tour | 2012 Gold Coast RACV Ladies Masters | Preview | 31 Jan 2012

As the weather did its best to provide tournament organisers with the confidence that the Gold Coast RACV Australian Ladies Masters would begin on schedule on Thursday, many of the competitors in the 23rd staging of this now iconic event in Australian golf prepared the best way they could on Tuesday.

The practice fairway was open and so was the practice putting green but in order to protect the sodden golf course from any significant damage prior to tomorrow’s Pro-Am, and the event getting underway on Thursday, the course proper was closed.

Sun broke through for the first time in over a week on the Gold Coast and as the course began to dry out there was hope that not only would the tournament begin on schedule but that the Pro-Am set down for Wednesday could also now be played.

Given the amount of rain that has fallen on the Gold Coast in the last ten days it is amazing that such is being contemplated but the Royal Pines layout is blessed with the sort of drainage system that has overcome similar situations previously.

Many were suggesting prior to the weather setting in in mid January that the golf course was in the best condition that is has been in for quite some time so hopefully this field and those who attend the event get to see just that.

While much of the pre tournament hype will focus on the brilliant 14 year old prodigy, Lydia Ko of New Zealand, it is another youngster that might also capture some of the headlines by week’s end.

Tuesday’s press conferences included the brilliant 16 year old American Alexis (Lexi) Thompson, who won on both the LPGA and Ladies European Tours in 2011 and whose success has forced the hand of the LPGA to make a special exemption to allow her to play the LPGA Tour in 2012.

The regulations on the LPGA Tour are such that a player must be 18 years of age to become a fulltime playing member but clearly Thompson is a special case. The rule is enforced to protect the possibility of burnout by youngsters and perhaps to encourage them living a life and gain an education before the grind of a professional career.

Thompson’s performances and the manner in which she has handled that success provided just too much momentum for the LPGA Tour to ignore. She now has the right to play their Tour and is expected to be perhaps the star American ladies golf is desperately seeking to counter the wave of highly successful international players

Thompson will turn 17 on February 10th but she is already contemplating a busy season in 2012, indicating that 23 events is what she has in mind at this stage.

Amongst all of this she is still completing her schooling which she expects to finish in the next few months. "I am home schooled and I doubled up on my copy so I can finish this Spring, said Thompson. "It is online so it is sort of ‘virtual’ and you have teachers that you can call or email.

“I like doing the home schooling as it is called as it gives me more time to practice plus I have been doing it for since 6th Grade now and I am enjoying it. I am studying economics, American history and Web Design.

“It is great to be finally on the LPGA Tour now so I am really happy to have done that. It has been a dream of mine to be out here playing against the best so I am happy to I have done that and will just try and keep my game going and try to improve."

At the age of just 12 in 2007 Thompson became the youngest player to compete in the US Women’s Open. Three years later as a 15 year old she finished 10th at the US Women’s Open and a few weeks later finished runner-up at perhaps the most significant event in women’s golf outside the major championships, the Evian Masters.

In late 2010 Thompson unsuccessfully petitioned the LPGA Tour to allow her special exemption to join that Tour in 2011 but was turned down and so in 2011 played several LPGA events on invitation along with events on one or two mini tours against the men one of which she won although she had the advantage of playing the forward tees.

Thompson again petitioned the LPGA Tour, this time successfully and she was allowed to attempt qualifying for the LPGA Tour in 2011. She won the First Stage in July by ten shots but in September and before the Second Stage was even played she would enhance her case for LPGA Tour membership.

Thompson won her first LPGA Tour event after being invited to play. She blitzed the field at the LPGA Navistar Classic in Alabama, winning by five shots and creating even further justification for her acceptance as a member of the LPGA Tour. Her victory would also set an age scoring record on the LPGA Tour, the previous best being by Marlene Hagge at the age of 18 nearly 60 years earlier.

Thompson went on to win the Dubai Ladies Classic on the Ladies European Tour in December, the last event she played before this week’s Australian Ladies Masters.

Thompson lives in a family which eats, sleeps and breathes golf. Her brother Nicholas currently plays the Nationwide Tour but is a player good enough to have won the New Zealand PGA Championship and played on the PGA Tour while her brother Curtis is still playing collegiate golf in the US but is expected to join his siblings in the professional ranks.

Thompson played this event last year without a lot of success but she has come a long way in those twelve months. “Just the way I look at the game,” said Thompson when asked the difference between her now and how she was when she played here for the first time last year. “I used to get really mad and frustrated when I played bad or hit a bad shot but now I am more subtle about it and take it easy and am more relaxed about it.”

Thompson is used to discussion about her age and that she is producing such great results at such a young age but she is also aware of the accomplishments of last week’s NSW Open winner, Lydia Ko. It is not often that Thompson is not the youngest player in a women’s tournament field but this week she is and the young lady who has claimed that mantle might also be stealing some of the American’s headlines.

“I didn’t get to see any of her win last week but I’ve heard so many things about her and obviously an amazing accomplishment and I was looking forward to playing with her (in a practice round) yesterday but hopefully we will get paired up in the future."

Thompson was not buying into providing Ko with any advice regarding her future despite the experiences she has been through herself. “Everybody is different and she is her own person and she has to base her decisions on how she feels about her game and what she wants to do. If she still has three years left to finish school then I would say finish but it is all up to her.”

The talk of the two classy youngsters and extraordinary talents in the field is already building momentum. If they were to be paired in the final group on Sunday then the event could well earn some of its biggest ratings in several years.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.


    Read all of Bruce's articles »




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