KINGSBARNS, Scotland – Lexi Thompson’s first appearance in the Ricoh Women’s British Open came in 2012 at Hoylake. Conditions were brutal that year, and 17-year-old Thompson tied for 17th. Not bad for a Florida kid.
Thompson comes into her sixth Women’s British Open No. 2 in the world, the highest ranking of her career. Her dad, Scott, was the one who delivered the news. Thompson said she doesn’t follow rankings, and that’s easy to believe. She’s a simple golfer, simply chasing wins.
Over the rolling two-year ranking period, Thompson has amassed 26 top-10 finishes in 45 starts. She’s had four victories (3 LPGA, 1 Japan LPGA) and seven runner-up finishes.
Nearly every area of her game has improved, most notably her putting. The LPGA keeps only two stats for putting. In putts per green in regulation, Thompson rose from 49th to 10th. In putting average, she’s 61st, up from 139th.
Asked for the secret behind her sand save ranking vaulting from 100th on tour to 1st: “I’m making a lot more of the putts from the bunkers that I was hitting into. I think that’s why the change is so dramatic.”
Thompson’s on track to become only the second player in history to break 69 in season-long scoring average, joining Annika Sorenstam. She ranks third in both official money and driving distance and second in greens in regulation.
Karen Stupples, a former British Open champion and current Golf Channel analyst, appreciates the fact that Thompson meets her weaknesses head on and publicly.
“Everybody says she’s a bad putter and everything else,” said Stupples, “and she acknowledges that very publicly and openly, and because she’s in contention all the time, it highlights that aspect of her game because everything else is so good.”
This has been, without question, the most tumultuous season 22-year-old Thompson faced. Her mental toughness shown through time and again, with a record-breaking performance at the Kingsmill Championship after the ANA Inspiration fiasco and a pair of runner-up performances in the wake of her mother’s cancer diagnosis.
Life came at Thompson hard, and she fought back admirably.
This week it’s Thompson’s grinding off the course that has caused her to lose sleep. A longtime sufferer of TMJ Syndrome, Thompson slept only two hours on Tuesday night.
“It just comes and goes,” she said of the pain that comes from grinding her teeth.
She’ll have a nice “lie in” as the British say on Thursday as she’s in the 12:16 group with World No. 1 So Yeon Ryu and No. 3 Ariya Jutanugarn.
While this marks the LPGA’s first time at Kingsbarns, Thompson has a bit of a leg up with caddie Kevin McAlpine on the bag. McAlpine, a fine former player in his own right, caddied at Kingsbarns for several years before ultimately joining Thompson on the LPGA in March.
At the 2004 British Amateur, McAlpine, a Scot, set the amateur record at the Old Course with a 10-under 62. The former Colorado State player might have as many ticket requests as some of the Brits in the field.
Thompson describes McAlpine as a “best friend” and said she has never felt more relaxed on a golf course. The way McAlpine helped Thompson in the heat of the ANA controversy – only three weeks into the job – showed his value at critical times.
“He was able to be the exact person she needed at that time,” said Jerry Foltz, who worked as an on-course reporter for Golf Channel that week. “He was able to interfere with us trying to get the close-up emotional shots of her shedding tears and what have you. He was able to say just the right thing at the right time, and for me anybody can add numbers, anybody can point you in the right direction, but not everybody knows what to say at the right time, and I think he does that as good as anybody.”