Lexi Thompson's moment has come
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- As a Southern California desert sun began its westerly dip behind the San Jacinta Mountains late Sunday evening, conceding the end of another day, likewise expectancy gave way to reality.
Nineteen-year-old Lexi Thompson made it official. The new face of women's golf now belongs to a 5-foot-11 athletic package of physical fitness and mental toughness, raised with the competitive ferocity of a pit bull. Powered by a final-round 68, the South Florida teenager finished 14-under-par and won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, dwarfing Michelle Wie in a final-pairing showdown and making her fourth career LPGA victory her first major title.
"This is what I've worked my whole life for and practiced my butt off for, especially the offseason," Thompson said. "To win a major has been a goal of mine my whole life, especially this year. I'm going to continue to work hard and set even more goals for the rest of the year."
A word of advice for the rest of women's golf: Duck.
Thompson played like a buzz saw, crushing driver, hitting greens, making putts.
"A great feeling," she said.
Playing with a controlled, low-risk attack, Wie shot a 1-under 71. She competed hard and played steady, mostly mistake free. She never had a chance. Thompson's day was a full-contact attack.
"She played amazing today," Wie said with resignation. "She played probably the best I've ever seen her play. She hit the ball so well. She made everything. It was just hard to catch up to her all day today, but I'm really happy for her. I'm really proud of her. She really played well today, and I thought I played OK, too.''
Thompson, swinging an 8.5-degree driver with a shaft stiff as rebar, played with power, aggression and single-mindedness, birdieing Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 9. Beginning the day deadlocked with Wie at 10-under, Thompson was up by four at the turn.
"Driver is her strength," said caddie Benji Thompson, no relation, who took over her bag last season after spending five years working the PGA Tour.
"So, no reason to hang back there where everybody else is. The first time I saw her hit a golf ball, I could not believe it. Wow. She's pretty sporty."
On Sunday, she was also nerveless as plant life, never showing the slightest indication of a stumble.
"It's unbelievable she's 19 years old," Benji said. "She birdied that first hole and just put the pedal down."
Nothing about the victory, except possibly the ease, comes as the slightest surprise. Like a tractor-trailer's headlines pointing down a desert interstate highway, this was something that anyone paying attention could see coming for miles. A trophy and a birthright attained.
With two older brothers who also play the game, Thompson was competing in junior tournaments by elementary school. Nick is now on the PGA Tour and Curtis plays at LSU. All the kids got the golf bug from their mother, Judy, who played junior golf in South Florida in the 1970s. They got an aggressive edge from their father, Scott.
And finally, Lexi got the best of all the mix.
"I think it was easy for me and Lexi, her having two brothers," said Scott, still dripping wet from, along with Judy, having joined the traditional champion's leap into Poppie's Pond after the trophy presentation. "I mean, she just wanted to follow in their footsteps. Everybody asks what I did. She had two brothers to follow. It was easy for me."
She learned how to compete. She learned how to overcome. And, boy, did she learn how to rip it.
She's as long as she is because she played with boys. There's no doubt. She plays aggressive because she played against boys.Scott Thompson
"She's as long as she is because she played with boys," Scott said. "There's no doubt. She plays aggressive because she played against boys."
The results: In 2007, at age 12, Lexi became the youngest golfer to play in a U.S. Open. A perfect footnote to that accomplishment came on the practice round when fellow South Floridian Cristie Kerr walked by Thompson and offered a friendly, "Have fun." After Kerr was gone, Lexi turned to her father, Scott, and said, "Yeah, right. I'm here to play good."
Two years later, playing in her third U.S. Women's Open, the 14-year-old Thompson made the cut and finished tied for 34th.
In 2010, still an amateur, she made the cut in the Kraft Nabisco Championship and tied for 24th. The next year, playing on a sponsor's exemption, Thompson, 16, won the Navistar LPGA Classic by five shots, becoming (at the time) the youngest winner in tour history.
Now she is the LPGA's second youngest major championship winner, short only of Morgan Pressel, who won on the same Mission Hills Country Club course in 2007 at age 18.
"It was an amazing day," Lexi said. "Starting off with a birdie definitely helped. But just hitting that first tee shot obviously a little nervous, but it was definitely what I've been practicing for, what I live for, to play under that pressure and to get a major win under my belt, especially the Kraft Nabisco. It's such a huge honor to win this tournament. It was such a solid day, and playing with Michelle helped out a lot, too."
Thompson now has three victories in her past 12 events. She will climb to the world No. 6 ranking. She did not make a bogey Sunday and had only one over her last 55 holes. She is a Humvee in a demolition derby.
"I think winning this tournament just overall helps out my confidence a lot," Thompson said. "I've always imagined myself winning this tournament and how I would win it, but it's been a dream come true winning the Kraft Nabisco Championship. But it doesn't change who I am. I mean, it obviously changes my confidence going into each event, but I'm still going to practice and work on improving stuff in my game that needs to be improved on."
She has arrived.