Season preview: Lexi's time has arrived

Lexi Thompson, hitting balls at last month's Demo Day during the PGA Merchandise Show.

Lexi Thompson, hitting balls at last month's Demo Day during the PGA Merchandise Show.

It seems like only yesterday that a 12-year-old Lexi Thompson battled with the big girls at the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles. Few could’ve predicted then that four years later, she would win on the LPGA, becoming the youngest in tour history, at 16 years, 7 months and 8 days. Last month, she added a Ladies European Tour title at Dubai.

What’s a girl to do? Join the LPGA, naturally.

Thompson petitioned the tour to join as a 16-year-old (tour rules stipulate players must be 18), and LPGA commissioner Mike Whan approved. As a rookie, Lexi will have more flexibility with her schedule, though it’s difficult for anyone to gather much momentum these days with the tour’s light offerings. Thompson, a homeschooler, hasn’t yet finished her high school education, so there will be homework.

Looking back on 2011, Thompson’s early struggles show how much she progressed mentally. At the season-ending CME Group Titleholders, Thompson said the Wegmans LPGA Championship in June was her low point. She “had the hooks” and missed the cut with rounds of 74-78.

She spent time with instructor Jim McLean, who said Thompson needed to cut down on the number of folks whom she let give her advice.

“When you’re a star,” McLean said, “you get the hangers-on. Everyone has an idea of what she should be doing.”

One thing is certain: Nobody has to tell Thompson when to practice. When it comes to golf, she’s as self-motivated as they come.

That comes in part from watching her older brothers, Nationwide Tour player Nicholas and LSU freshman Curtis.

Thompson’s expectations are great, but she learned the value of patience last year, and that will prove invaluable in her first full season on tour.

“It is never a chore or a duty,” she said. “I just love going out and practicing.

“Growing up, we always played competitions like chipping, hitting. We still play matches on the course, usually for money now. We play probably 36 holes a day sometimes. It’s fun; I love it.”

For now, Thompson said she will keep her father, Scott, on her bag.

When it comes to big courses, Thompson’s tremendous length – she led the Navistar LPGA Classic field in driving distance en route to her breakthrough victory – gives her a sizable advantage over most of the field. Thompson and McLean spend most of their time on the short game, building her creativity on flop shots, chip shots and bunker play.

Thompson – a youthful, explosive American – brings promise to a tour that is struggling on home soil. This rookie won’t “save” the tour, but she should be great fun to watch.

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