Lexi's leap: Thompson wins Kraft Nabisco

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – As Lexi Thompson enjoyed a beer bath on the 18th green, Michelle Wie took a lonely walk back over the bridge, past the waving arm of Dinah Shore. At 19, Thompson can’t legally sip that beer, but she’s already won more titles than most players earn in a career.

“It was everything I imagined,” said Thompson of her cannonball into Poppie’s Pond.

Thompson’s romp at the Kraft Nabisco Championship on April 6 gives her four LPGA titles at the tender age of 19. She played near flawless golf Sunday, obliterating what was supposed to be an epic desert duel against the biggest name in women’s golf.

“She played probably the best I’ve ever seen her play,” said Wie. “She hit the ball so well. She made everything.”

Thompson, the second youngest player to win a major behind Morgan Pressel, shot a Sunday best 4-under 68 for a 14-under 274 total and a three-stroke victory over Wie, who birdied the last.

While Wie took a calculated, deliberate approach to the Dinah Shore Tournament Course, Thompson let it rip. The aggressive game plan and precise iron play put her in prime position on nearly every hole.

“That’s her strength, so that’s what we try to use,” said Lexi’s caddie, Benji Thompson. “No need to lay back to where everybody else is.”

And then there was the putting.

She needed only 13 putts on the front nine to build a five-stroke lead over Wie and Pak heading to the 10th tee. She was so reliable on the greens Sunday, it erased any notion that putting remains a weakness in Thompson’s arsenal. In fact, she finished fourth in putting for the week.

“It’s a huge difference,” Thompson said. “Just knowing that I’m a great putter . . . I just get up to the putt confidently.”

Stacy Lewis has long considered Thompson one of the best ball-strikers on tour. She remembers watching a motivated Thompson try so hard on the greens at last year’s Solheim.

“To see a player hit a 5-iron to 5 feet and not even touch the hole,” Lewis said. “It’s hard to watch, hard to play with.”

That chapter clearly has ended.

Last fall, Thompson’s putting underwent a makeover with the help of instructor Jim McLean. They discovered she was standing too close the ball in an effort to get her eyes over the line. She moved back a touch, harkening back to the feeling of her youth, and found immediate improvement. McLean said there’s more to it than that, but he’s not sharing.

Thompson won twice in a span of four weeks to end 2013, with wins in Malaysia and Mexico. Her 19-under 265 at Sime Darby Malaysia set the scoring record for that event.

“Everybody gets on her for putting,” McLean said. “Bothers me a lot. Alexis is just 19.”

McLean, who first saw Thompson at his golf school in Fort Lauderdale at age 8, describes her driving as “out of this world.”

Before there was Lydia Ko, Thompson was the one breaking age barriers with a victory at the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic at 16 years, 7 months and 8 days. When she triumphed on the LET in Dubai in 2011, she was the tour’s second youngest winner. At age 12, she became the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open.

Thompson turned pro on June 16, 2010, at age 15. Scott Thompson, Lexi’s dad, attributes her aggressive swing and length off the tee to growing up with two older brothers. Nicholas Thompson tied for 24th Sunday at the Shell Houston Open and texted the family throughout the day as he watched on television. Curtis Thompson, a junior at LSU, led his team to a share of the Aggie Invitational title Sunday, playing 36 holes.

“Everybody asks what I did,” said Scott. “She had two older brothers to follow. It was easy for me.”

Lewis, who finished alone in third and helped douse the beer, looks at Thompson’s success thus far and said it’s expected.

“I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner,” she said.

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