By Ken Klavon, USGA
SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. (June 27, 2007)-- As Alexis Thompson made her way from the driving range Monday, she wasn’t alone. No need for bread crumb trails. A throng of 15-some media members knew exactly where to find her.
That’s because no other 12-year-old girls in the 156-player field this week at Pine Needles Lodge & Resort will attract as much attention. That’s also because there are no other 12 year old girls playing.
There’s the hook.
Thompson, from Coral Springs, Fla., earned her way into the U.S. Women’s Open by qualifying at Heathrow Country Club in Heathrow, Fla., with a 72-71 on June 11. She was one of eight players to make it through the sectional qualifier. More impressive, she rewrote a small portion of the championship record book, eclipsing Morgan Pressel’s record as the youngest-ever qualifier. Purely a coincidence since she’s close friends with Pressel’s younger sister, Madison, right? The quirks don’t stop there. Add Pine Needles to the mix.
Pressel, then 12 years and 11 months old in 2001, qualified the last time the Women’s Open came to town. Pressel had turned 13 by the competition was conducted. Thompson is well aware of her lot and what she’s accomplished. She’s not unlike other 12-year-old girls in that she’s giggly, nervous, shy and sometimes ebullient. The future seventh grader likes watching TV and hanging out with friends. Her dangling butterfly earrings serve as a quick reminder that she’s a girl competing against adults this week.
"I’m just out here playing golf," said Thompson who picked up the game at age 4. "I’m having an awesome time."
The words are recognizable if one were to flip calendar pages back six years ago. Pressel, precocious and a media darling then, whirred her way into the media spotlight that week. Now 19 and one of the young stalwarts on the LPGA Tour, Pressel vividly recalled her experiences then.
"I remember just about everything," said Pressel Monday at Pine Needles. "I remember how nervous I was and how all the people were around on the first tee."
She even recalled all the ice cream she ate that week, although others are responsible for refreshing her memory on that one.
Pressel and Thompson didn’t cross paths during practice rounds Monday. Pressel, No. 6 on the Women’s Rolex World Golf Rankings, planned on seeing Thompson at some point prior to the championship. And when she does, what words of wisdom will she impart?
"Look forward to it and have a good time," said Pressel. "Just have fun."
Thompson is trying. Her dad, Scott, is acutely aware of the attention she may receive this week and has attempted to eschew interviews if they interfere with her preparation. He politely declined requests Monday as he walked with her to the driving range. He’ll serve as her caddie.
Thompson might be familiar to some. Not only is she a skillful AJGA player, one of the top young guns, she’s also the sister of former Walker Cupper Nicholas Thompson, who toils these days on the Nationwide Tour. He drove in Sunday night so he could at least catch a couple days of practice. He coaches her when he can.
There’s no doubt in his mind that his sister won’t fold from the pressure. He believes her game will stand up against those with oodles of experience. Off the tee she can drive the ball more than 240 yards. Her management on greens is "also good," said Nicholas, intimating that that applies to the Donald Ross humped greens that seem to define Pine Needles.
"And she’s as deadly with her irons as some are with their 3-woods," said Nicholas.
All in all, Alexis thinks she can withstand the pressure of being in a stressing spotlight. Her favorite moment thus far has been signing autographs since Sunday, her brother said. She sauntered around the locker room, hoping to bump into the likes of Karrie Webb. No dice. But she has watched from afar to see how the professionals go about their business.
It’s early yet but seeing the grandiose layout of a national championship has her thinking of trying her hand at the LPGA Tour one day, which in some ways, is yet another coincidental link to Pressel.
"It convinced me then that I wanted to play on the LPGA Tour," said Pressel, reflecting on her thoughts when she played in her first Women’s Open at 13.
For now, Thompson is trying to focus on just being a 12 year old. She knew she’d probably draw a good amount of media attention, but laughed it off as her dad moved in to dissolve the scrum.
"I’m just trying to go out and have fun," said Thompson before being whisked onto a shuttle cart.
--Story courtesy USGA