Lexi Thompson, on the par-4 4th at Tiburon Golf Course, rolled in a 4-footer for birdie. On the 225-yard, par-3 5th, after knocking her 3-wood tee shot off the pin, she dropped a 3-footer for birdie. On 7, she sunk a 7-footer for birdie. On 8, a 10-footer for birdie. So good, in fact, was Thompson’s putting during Friday’s first round of the QBE Shootout that her teammate in this team event, Bubba Watson, had to …
Call in a rules official?
“She made some key putts,” Watson said. “It was funny, we weren’t sure of the rules. She made five putts in a row so I didn’t get to putt for a few holes, so I was like, am I allowed to like putt the same putt, like finish the hole? So I had to ask the rules official because I didn’t putt for a few holes.”
They were good. There’s putting well, there’s putting great, and there’s putting that somebody better call the police, and that’s where Thompson was living in Friday’s scramble format, where both players hit from the same spot throughout the hole (and the putting order is up to the team). In all, the Watson-Thompson team shot a 13-under 59 and are three strokes out of the lead.
Of course, mention Thompson and putting, and you hear the murmuring. Of Thompson’s struggles on the greens at this year’s U.S. Open, where she coughed up a five-stroke lead in the final round. Or of Thompson’s disaster during the final round of the Pelican Women’s Championship, where she three-putted from 25 feet on 17 and bogeyed, missed a 4-footer on 18 that would have won her the event and lost in a playoff. One of the best ball-strikers in the women’s game, not to mention one of the longest, Thompson can get the ball to the green, but from there, it’s a bit of an effort to get the ball in the hole.
So she went to work. The week after the Pelican, at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, she revealed that she had brought aboard a new putting coach (though she declined to say whom). Before this week’s QBE, about two and a half weeks after the CME, she told reporters that “I’ve been working extremely hard, especially on my putting and my short game.” Then came Friday, where, with a claw grip and a green glove on her left hand, Thompson had her partner feeling left out on the greens.
On the back nine, she just missed a 40-footer for eagle on 14, rolled in a 7-footer for birdie on 16 and just missed a 60-footer for eagle on 17.
“She hits so many greens she can’t expect to make everything, but if this part of her game does get better, look out,” analyst Arron Oberholser said on the Golf Channel broadcast.
“Well, I think she’s really made a commitment to the claw,” analyst Karen Stupples said. “I think this is a grip now that she’s going to stick with it. She’s been known for changing quite a bit, but the short putts I’ve seen her make today have been pretty solid.”
Of course, the event is a scramble, where while putting first, Thompson also knew that Watson would putt next if need be. And the QBE is played on the same Tiburon course — and greens — where the LPGA Tour’s CME is held. Still, partners and past performance don’t make putts.
“I liked what Lexi had to say, though, before the tournament started,” analyst Curt Byrum said on the Golf Channel broadcast. “You know, she’s had some time off since the CME, and she went home, took a few days off and relaxed a little bit. But then she said the last couple weeks, she’s really been in grind mode. She’s been working hard. And especially on her short game and her putting, which, for her, if that gets incrementally better, it’s going to be a good year next year.”