Two PGA Tour pros played with Lexi Thompson. What’d they think?
On Tuesday, some 48 hours ahead of her PGA Tour debut at this week’s Shriners Children’s Open, Lexi Thompson laid out her expectations for the week.
Just making the cut, she said, would be “at the top” of her career accomplishments.
That’s understandable. Thompson is teeing it up against the men for the first time, hoping to become the first woman since 1945 to make a cut on the PGA Tour.
But she insisted that her focus is on something she’ll be able to more easily control.
“Yes, good golf is a successful week,” she said. “If I can leave here inspiring others, and especially the kids, the Shriners kids, that’s what it’s all about and what this tournament is. There is more than just playing golf.”
Thompson’s own restrained approach to the week has set the tone, and thus far the response to her appearance has been decidedly reasonable. There has been some light pushback, as there always is when a sponsor’s exemption is used on a non-PGA Tour player, on who else could have filled the spot. And there are some well-meaning onlookers, this author included, expressing concern about Thompson, who has been an average LPGA pro this season, representing her entire tour during a down year. But one week from Thompson need not be a referendum on women’s golf as a whole and level-headed golfers seem to realize that.
Enter Michael Kim and Ben Griffin, Thompson’s playing partners during a Tuesday practice round, who acknowledged their own curiosity about how she’d stack up. So what’d they think?
“I thought she’s hitting it great,” Kim said. “This course is probably a little longer than what she’s used to, but I thought she’s hitting it really well, and she’s going to have a good chance heading into this week.”
“Yeah, I thought she was striping it, added Griffin, who just lost in a five-man playoff at the Sanderson Farms on Sunday. “She was hitting it closer than us on a few holes — which is to be expected. She has a ton of talent, and she can handle it out there. It’s a little different out here being a little firmer, a little different conditions, but I think she’s adjusting well, and she played awesome today, and I think she can really compete this week and have a good chance at at least making the weekend. It’ll be fun to watch.”
It’s worth taking their assessments with a grain of salt; what else are they supposed to say? But Griffin’s nod to the cut line was an acknowledgment of where our attention might be trained come Friday afternoon. Thompson playing her way through the 36-hole cut would be an accomplishment for the history books (Thompson will be the seventh woman to play in a PGA Tour event; Babe Zaharias was the only one to make a cut, in 1945) and for the sportsbooks, too (Thompson’s make-the-cut odds are roughly 15-1). Still, her companions insisted it’s more than possible.
“I think her iron game was definitely a surprise to me,” Kim said. “She’s naturally going to have a little bit longer in, but she was hitting it close, like Ben said, so it’ll be fun to see how it goes.”
Even when Griffin expressed his reservations he did so with a certain optimism. While early-2000s appearances from the likes of Annika Sorenstam and Michelle Wie drew high-profile sour feedback from various others in the field, this sample size of two seemed excited to have Thompson in the field.
“Yeah, that’s going to be the only tough part is the distance side, just having a little bit longer and us being able to reach maybe the par-5s and the drivable par-4. So we’ll see how the course is set up. But honestly, her game is very good. She’s not that far behind us off the tee. It was probably 20 yards on average, which makes obviously a difference — you can look at the stats and see that — but she can definitely handle this golf course,” Griffin said. “It’s going to be really fun and exciting to have her on this side. It spices up the Fall Series a little bit. Hopefully it brings more attention to it, and I think it’s good for growing the game. Really excited for her, and it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Kim reiterated that feeling.
“I think it’s great. The Fall Series might need a couple more stars, and Lexi being out here definitely brings more attention to her and the PGA Tour. I think it’s great. There’s going to be I’m sure lots of little girls out here following her, and it’s great for the game of golf, for sure.”
Thompson seemed to enjoy the grouping, too, praising Kim and Griffin and referring to it as a “very chill” practice round. She said it was refreshing to be able to rip driver everywhere, a contrast to more restrictive setups sometimes found on the LPGA. Still, she swapped out a wedge for an extra long iron in an acknowledgment of the reality of this course versus those she’s typically tested on. Thompson is among the longest players on the LPGA Tour, averaging some 270 yards off the tee, but playing the men on 7,200-yard TPC Summerlin will still mean overcoming a power gap with precision. There’s also the pressure, which won’t be easy or familiar; she’s never been in a situation quite like this one.
Still, two things are working to her advantage.
The first? She’s used to playing with the boys.
“Growing up with two older brothers that play I always grew up playing with them and their friends, so I’ve been used to it,” she said.
Taylor Montgomery seconded that in particularly hilarious fashion. “I think it’s cool,” he said. “I haven’t seen her play but I played a lot with her brother, Curtis. Curtis Thompson and I are really good buddies. That’s one crazy dude, Curtis. I can only imagine what Lexi is like.”
She has also played in the QBE Shootout a half-dozen times, giving her plenty of comfort teeing it up alongside PGA Tour pros.
The second reason? Thompson has lived most of her life in the public eye. She expects some blowback this week. But she insists that whatever may come, she’s seen worse.
“I wouldn’t say it adds pressure. Playing golf and being a top woman golfer I just want to inspire people in general. Male-dominated sport, I guess. Just to show that anything is possible and that I’m following my dreams.
“I’ve been in it since I was five years old, in the spotlight since I was 12. You just have to block out everything and believe in yourself and go after what you want. No added pressure. That’s what I want. I want to have women support me and me support them. That’s what it’s all about.”
There’s some comfort in this perspective. There’s a freedom that comes with letting go. If her week is defined by making or missing the cut, Thompson is likely to be on the wrong side of that binary. But her playing partners already see the week as something of a win.
“It’ll be inspirational for the kids to look up to someone like Lexi and make them believe that they can do it one day, too,” Griffin concluded.