Lexi Thompson begins 2018 refreshed, armed with unique new putter

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Lexi Thompson begins 2018 refreshed, armed with unique new putter

LPGA Tour

Lexi Thompson begins 2018 refreshed, armed with unique new putter

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Lexi Thompson has a new putter in the bag at this week’s season-opening Pure Silk-Bahamas Classic. It’s called the Happy Putter, and it’s unique in that the alignment aids are interchangeable. Stacy Lewis used one in 2016.

“I just needed a little alignment change,” said Thompson, who said the shape of the new putter is similar to the Bettinardi model she had so much success with.

There’s merit to a fresh look, Lewis noted, something different that causes the eyes to focus more. As the last American player to be ranked No. 1 and win LPGA Player of the Year, Lewis’ opinions regarding her peers hold clout. She looks at the logjam of players who are vying for the top spot and sees one in particular who could separate from the pack – Thompson.

But in order for Thompson, 22, to dominate, Lewis believes she needs to further elevate her putting. It’s really just a matter of adjusting her setup on the greens, Lewis said, moving her head more over the top of the ball. She’d like to see her more athletic.

“Even a small gain in putting would allow her to dominate,” said Lewis, “because her ball-striking is so good.”

Thompson’s 2017 season concluded with a bad miss on the 72nd hole at the CME Group Tour Championship that cost her the chance at the No. 1 ranking, Rolex Player of the Year and the tournament title. Perhaps a new putter will make it easier to forget that misfire.

Thompson also has a new driver in the bag – Cobra’s King F8.

Last year at the Ocean Club, Thompson sizzled with a 12-under 61 in the second round. She ultimately lost in a playoff to Brittany Lincicome, but also played the last three holes of regulation in ghastly weather. It marked the first of six runner-up finishes for Thompson in 2017. She also won twice.

Thompson shut it down for a month over the offseason to rest her left hand, which was sore from overuse. It first flared up in Indianapolis, where Thompson won. She tapes the wrist to take strain off, but the pain is mostly in her thumb and the webbing area right beside it.

“It about killed me,” said Thompson of putting away her clubs for that long.

She did go on her first cruise, a three-day trip that stopped in the Keys and Nassau. The weather was on the chilly side, but she still plunged into the water parks at Atlantis Resort.

While Thompson is a regular here at the Bahamas, Shanshan Feng is making the first January start of her career. Feng stopped playing after the CME to get her rest in before the early start. The top-ranked Feng said she has no goals for the week, as she historically gets off to a slow start.

When asked if she’s feeling extra pressure in her second event as No. 1, Feng said “I don’t think so,’ as if she hadn’t given it much thought.

Thompson and the streaky Feng will be paired together for the first two rounds along with LPGA sophomore Nelly Korda. 2017 champ Lincicome will be alongside So Yeon Ryu and Michelle Wie, who’s eager to attack her 10th full season on the LPGA with gusto.

No. 2 Sung Hyun Park will start her season next month in Thailand.

Last year’s final round All-American shootout between Lincicome, Thompson and Lewis set a record as the most-watched LPGA regular season telecast in Golf Channel history. Gerina Piller and Korda finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

And it was tape-delayed.

Here’s to Thompson and the Happy Putter delivering smiles, and ratings, in 2018.

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