Lexi Thompson, Tony Finau excited about first-time pairing at QBE Shootout

By Greg Hardwig
Published on
Lexi Thompson, Tony Finau excited about first-time pairing at QBE Shootout

Tony Finau and Lexi Thompson had a quick hug hello before they went up the stairs to the QBE Shootout's media center Wednesday.

That's the extent of their relationship at this point. But the two will get to know each other and their respective golf games well over the next few days at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.

The long-hitting Finau, routinely among the top drivers on tour and currently leads it at 336.6 yards, said he had committed a bit late to Greg Norman's PGA Tour team event, and was given a list of committed players without partners to select from.

The name of Thompson, the top-ranked American on the LPGA Tour, jumped out at him.

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"I thought Lexi would be a great choice," Finau said. "I know she's the only LPGA Tour player in the field. I figured maybe I would just mix it up a little bit. Obviously I heard great things about her game but especially as a person, so I feel like it would be a great mix. So I think I chose her more than she chose me."

"I feel flattered," Thompson countered. "I didn't really have a say in the pairing. I'm honored just to be invited back here. Whoever I was playing with I was going to have a good time. But Tony's such a great guy. I haven't played with him yet, just heard he bombs it, so I'm looking forward to watching him play."

Thompson, who played in the Shootout with Bryson DeChambeau last year, obviously has a history at Tiburon outside of this tournament. Just over two weeks ago at the LPGA's CME Group Tour Championship, Thompson missed a 2-foot par putt on No. 18. Making it would've ended up putting her in a playoff it turned out -- Ariya Jutanugarn birdied the final two holes to win the tournament.

"It's unfortunate what happened, I couldn't even tell you what I did, but yeah, you just have to forget about it," she said. "There's so many things that will happen on the golf course bad and good. You just have to remember the good and move on. I played amazing golf that week and I made some amazing putts that last day, so I'll just remember those and move on and take the positive from it."

Still, the 22-year-old from Coral Springs won the $1 million Race to the CME Globe and the LPGA Tour's Vare Trophy for lowest stroke average. And there won't be any thoughts of what could've happened if that putt fell.

Thompson helped drive any of that away, too, with her planned purchase after winning the $1 million. She bought a Nissan GTR on Tuesday, and drove it over to Naples on Wednesday.

"First road trip," she said with a smile. "... I wore it in with the bugs on Alligator Alley."

Shootout founder and host Greg Norman has had some of the highest highs -- two British Open titles and a streak of 331 weeks as the No. 1 player in the world -- and lowest lows -- losing the Masters on Larry Mize's miraculous chip shot in a playoff in 1987 and blowing the lead at the Masters to Nick Faldo in 1996 -- in high-profile tournaments.

Just like Norman overcame those disappointments, he's very confident Thompson won't be sidetracked from a season that also included a controversial four-stroke penalty with six holes to play while she was leading the ANA Inspiration, an LPGA Tour major.

"That's golf," Norman said. "She's a classy gal and she's going to work her through it. That stuff happens to every player. It really does. You just have to accept that it's part of golf and we screw up. She's a strong-minded gal."

While this still is competition this week, Thompson can rest her mind -- albeit just a bit -- knowing Finau can bomb it off the tee and that she has a teammate. Starting out with a scramble format -- the easiest of the three formats (modified alternate shot and best ball are the others) -- will give them a chance to get to know one another.

"I think it's cool that we start with a scramble as our first time playing with each other," Finau said. "I. It will be an enjoyable round. Obviously, we're both very competitive, so it will be fun. At the same time, I think we'll be competing as well."

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Finau, 28, and Thompson have one thing in particular in common.

Both turned professional as teenagers -- Finau out of high school when he was 17, and Thompson when she was 15. Finau played on two Junior Ryder Cup teams (2004 and 2006) and Thompson played on one in 2006 as well as the Junior Solheim Cup in 2008 and the Curtis Cup in 2010.

Their roads to their partnership are quite different after that.

Finau finished second on The Golf Channel's "Big Break Disney" in 2009, played the Mackenzie Canada Tour and the Tour, then made it on the PGA Tour in 2014. He got his first and only Tour win at the Puerto Rico Open in 2016 and has built off that to sit ninth on the FedEx Cup points list.

Thompson was on more of a fast track, qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open when she was 12 and was playing in LPGA Tour events as an amateur soon after. She has nine LPGA Tour victories.

Now they get to merge those talents together and see what they come up with. Finau played with good friend Danny Summerhays in the Zurich Classic -- which switched to a new team format this year -- but doesn't have much team event experience otherwise. On the other hand, Thompson has played on three Solheim Cup teams.

"This is definitely a little bit more chill than the Solheim Cup -- super-intense cheering and yelling in my ear when I'm teeing off," Thompson said. "It will be a little different this week, and being the only girl it's a different atmosphere.

"I love being around the guys. Growing up with two older brothers, I'm definitely comfortable here. But it's great. Team events are always so much fun. We don't get the opportunity very often."