Lovely Lexi has the look of a champion
LEXI Thompson is a walking billboard for the LPGA Tour – naturally gifted, charming and charismatic – and after claiming her tenth title only two weeks ago she can further advertise a wonderful recovery from adversity by completing an unprecedented double.
The 23-year-old American, popular with the fans for her inspirational play and fairway interaction, brought the curtain down on the 2018 LPGA season by capturing the CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club where 12 months earlier a missed two foot putt on the last green cost her the title.
Now she is swiftly returning to Tiburon – 100 miles from her home in Coral Springs – to partner Tony Finau in the QBE Shootout, also played on the Greg Norman-designed 7,382-yards (par 72) Gold Course.
Thompson’s troublesome year was triggered in 2017 by her being penalised four shots for replacing her ball incorrectly in the ANA Invitational, costing her a clear-cut win in the Major Championship she won in 2014.
She followed on by missing that tiddler in the CME Group Tour Championship, then suffering a wrist injury which ruled her out for a month before feeling obliged to take time out, missing several important events, to visit a therapist, as she struggled through a summer of stress exacerbated by her mother battling serious illness.
“This year was an eyeopener,” she said. “It all kind of hit me and got me really down.
“I needed time off to be with my family, to figure out things that made me happy off the course. It’s been a long year; the ups and downs and things I’ve been dealing with.
“They all kind of hit me this year. So to be able to end the year like this and keep on fighting has meant the world to me.
“It shows anything is possible – you have to fight through whatever you’re going through.”
Thompson, who skydived onto the first tee at one tournament to support the military, became, aged 12, the youngest golfer to qualify for the US Women’s Open and, following her first win of this year, she is now linking again with Ryder Cup man Finau in the otherwise all-men QBE Shootout.
The partnership finished tied fourth 12 months ago – they shot 63-66-66 in the 54-hole event comprising one round each of scramble, greensomes and foursomes – and Finau declared:
“Lexi just has the It factor. She’s one of those talents that has the whole package – impressive as a player and as a person.”
Finau has enjoyed an excellent year, which included making his Ryder Cup debut, but losing a recent play-off for the WGC-HSBC Champions means he is still without a win since 2016 so he will be super-keen to lift this title.
Americans Sean O’Hair and Steve Stricker are the defending champions, following their two-shot win ahead of Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell and McDowell returns with a sixth different partner – he was also second with Darren Clarke in 2010 – as he teams-up with Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo.
But two other all-American partnerships – Cameron Champ with Kevin Kisner and Bryson DeChambeau with Kevin Na – look the main dangers to Finau and Thompson.
Champ, 23, followed his maiden win in the Sanderson Farms Championship with two top tens in his latest two events and now leads the PGA Tour driving distance category with 328.2 yards with the help of a clubhead speed of 130.2 mph – five mph more than the next fastest player.
DeChambeau, 25, has won four PGA Tour titles in five remarkable months – two of those were in FedExCup play-off events – and, like Champ, should find the Greg Norman design to his liking for the 30th edition of the tournament.
Star pair: Lexi Thompson Inset: Tony Finau
Danger men: Cameron Champ and Kevin Kisner