No doubt the biggest story in golf this week is Lexi Thompson winning the LPGA Navistar Classic by a decisive five shots and becoming the youngest-ever winner in the 61-year history of the LPGA at 16 years, 7 months and 8 days.
“It feels amazing,” said Thompson who lives in Coral Gables, Florida. “I can’t even describe it. It’s been my dream my whole life just to play out here. Getting a win right now, I can’t describe the feelings, but it’s the best feeling ever.”
Lexi entered the final round with a five-shot lead — a comfortable margin, but could she handle her nerves? Last time she entered the final round tied for the lead was also in Alabama — at the Avnet LPGA Classic, where she carded two double-bogeys on the back nine and shot 78. Which was forgivable considering her youth, but more important, how would she perform the next time she was in that position?
Today was proof she learned from the experience. Other than two consecutive bogeys on Nos. 11 and 12, she kept her composure and even posted two birdies coming in. She admitted to feeling shaky before teeing off (I mean, who wouldn’t be??), but after the first drive, she was fine.
Thompson’s closest competitor was Tiffany Joh, who closed the margin to just three strokes at one point — that was the only time Lexi’s emotions felt a little shaky.
“I was just really calm actually, until Tiffany started on started on her birdie train there,” said Thompson. “Then it got a little exciting. So, you know, she got momentum going her way. It was great playing with her. It was so much fun. She is a great player.”
Lexi’s dad, Scott Thompson, caddied for her and they couldn’t hide their smiles as they walked up the 18th green. What an incredible father-daughter moment.
“Just being there with my dad, he was like, ‘Lexi, just enjoy that walk. I am going off to the side because I might cry,'” she said. “I definitely cried after I finished. Just finishing that with my dad on the bag, it was the best experience. I wouldn’t be out here without my dad — and my mom, of course.”
With the win, Lexi earns a spot in the season-ending CME Titleholders, but she still has to go through two more stages of Q-school to secure LPGA membership, which is ridiculous. If you win a tournament, you should automatically receive your card — and non-members with victories have the option to accept membership, but Lexi is only 16.
Commissioner Mike Whan already gave her permission to play Q-school, so now she’d have to petition for an exemption to the 18-year-old age requirement. In July at the first stage of Q-school, she dominated and won by 10 shots.
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan didn’t seem inclined to give her the equivalent of a qualifying school GED.
“Should Lexi qualify for LPGA membership via her Q-School performance, she will be an LPGA member for the 2012 season,” Whan said in a statement after the Navistar LPGA.
Veteran Juli Inkster thinks Thompson is ready for membership socially and as a player.
“It’s kind of silly, isn’t it?” Inkster said. “I think it makes us look bad, too. Now, you have to go to qualifying school? To me, that’s silly.”
Lexi should petition the LPGA to grant her membership with her big victory. She’s a teen phenom and an American. With the difficulties the LPGA has faced in the last several years, Lexi would be a helpful draw for fans and sponsors. Let’s hope it works out and she doesn’t have to endure two more stages of Q-school.
(AP Photo/Montgomery Advertiser, Lloyd Gallman)