Lexi Thompson is accustomed to making history. This week, she'll make some more in the Franklin Templeton Shootout, when Thompson becomes just the second woman to ever play in Greg Norman's PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament at Tiburon Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla.
Thompson, 21, came to Naples as a 10-year-old to try to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open at Imperial Country Club. She didn't make it out of the local qualifier, shooting a 77, but qualified two years later when she was 12. Thompson qualified the next two years as well, finally making the cut when she was 14 in 2009, and later Monday-qualified for an LPGA event, tying for 27th.
Thompson played the revamped Tiburon layout, designed and redesigned by Norman, at the LPGA Tour's season-ending CME Group Tour Championship from Nov. 15-20. She didn't play well, tying for 40th, but ended the season as one of only two Americans to win on the LPGA Tour and the highest-ranked American in the world at No. 5. After she played the CME, Thompson came to a greater realization of what playing in the Shootout will mean.
"I haven't thought much about it but this week being around all the volunteers who are excited I'm realizing the experience that week will be fun," Thompson said during the CME. "I'm going to treat the invitation to play as an honor for sure."
Her fellow LPGA Tour golfers and Commissioner Mike Whan are excited for Thompson's opportunity.
"As a fan I'm looking forward to watching," Whan said. "It's neat exposure and great experience for her. It'll be fun.
"These team events, it's attractive to fans watching because we've played in some of them before."
LPGA Tour player Brittany Lincicome, a long hitter like Thompson on the tour, was kind of hoping she'd be playing, too.
"That's amazing," Lincicome said. "I'm really jelaous. ... I'm super-jealous.
"I think she's going to do phenomenal. This course is a long hitters' course and she hits it plenty far. Fingers crossed that she does do well, and that 'Hey, we are good. We do deserve to play.' Maybe that'll get more girls involved."
The Golf Channel's Karen Stupples and Jerry Foltz both see Thompson adding to the TV element for the Shootout as well.
"Lexi is one of the most exciting players that the LPGA has," Stupples said. "Not only does she hit it far, she hits it straight too. It'll be fun to see her playing in that type of format ... It's nice to see her on that stage with the guys. I think she'll have fun with it. She has brothers that she's used to playing with as well. It won't be something strange for her."
"There'll be people watching that that might not tune into an LPGA event," Foltz said. "She's most marketable young American player on tour. From a TV standpoint, I would say she's one of the big needle-movers for women's golf."
Thompson and DeChambeau, a 23-year-old who was the U.S. Amateur champion at SMU in 2015, then turned professional in 2016. After playing in PGA Tour events and not earning enough to retain his card, DeChambeau got his first professional victory at the Web.com's DAP Championship, a finals event that led to him securing his 2017 PGA Tour card.
"It's going to be fun paired up with Bryson," Thompson said. "We're a Cobra-Puma team (both are sponsored by the company), so it's a pretty big deal. Greg asked, so it's a huge deal. ... I love team events and to get an invite from Greg Norman, you don't get that very often. I'm going to have a good time and see how I do."
Thompson and DeChambeau tied for sixth in the 10-team event that also had LPGA Tour players Paula Creamer, Brooke Henderson and Morgan Pressel.
"We had fun, no problems," Thompson said. "But we failed to win."
Foltz wonders about DeChambeau's extremely analytical thought process and how it pairs with Thompson.
"She plays a lot by feel," Foltz said. "For him to get up on the green and get out his Cliffs notes and hieroglyphics and calculations and say 'Depending on the acceleration of the ball and then the rate of decceleration with the constant slope ... .you have to aim this 1.32 inches outside the right edge. He's going to give her an exact spot to hit every putt. But that's really going to help her."
In 2006, Sorenstam was paired with Fred Couples, and the two finished last, just behind Norman and Nick Faldo. Norman made a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole, just after Sorenstam made a 20-footer for birdie and pointed at Faldo and Norman. Faldo missed his birdie try in the scramble, but Norman made his and pointed right back at Sorenstam and Couples.
"This is a great honor for me to be invited to such a great tournament, and I've been watching this on TV for several years, and when I got invited early in the year, I was thrilled," Sorenstam said prior to the tournament. "It made it even more special for me to get a chance to play with Freddie here. I want to thank him for wanting to play with me."
Chris DiMarco, who's played in a handful of Shootouts, wouldn't mind seeing more women play in the Shootout.
"I'd almost like to see two or three women's teams anyway and then have a different set of tees for them," he said. "I think it'd be good for the PGA and it'd be good for the LPGA Tour."
Norman said he's been asked about having an LPGA Tour player a few times, and was happy this time it worked out. Thompson averages 277 yards off the tee, second on the LPGA Tour. That'd put her around 200th on the PGA Tour, just ahead of fellow Shootout players Luke Donald, Jerry Kelly and K.J. Choi.
"I actually played a few rounds with Lexi," Norman said. "Very impressed. I have to do everything in my power to out-drive her. She gets it out there to a point where I don't think it's a problem no matter where the PGA Tour puts the tee markers. She's going to be able to hold her own. She's obviously a lot longer than I ever was.
"I'm a big fan of the LPGA Tour. I'm a big fan of the Chinese team to go to the Olympics. You see the evolution of where the women's game has gone. They've kept up with technology. In the last few years I've never had so many requests to be involved with the LPGA in some way, shape or form."
Correspondent Dave Kempton contributed to this article.
What They're Saying About Lexi ...
"I think she will be terrific and what a great opportunity to showcase her talent." -- LPGA Tour player Paula Creamer.
"It's been a while since we had a woman in the Shootout so I hope she does really well. I'm pulling for her, for sure. Lexi has the length to compete with the guys and the biggest challenge might be mental, keeping everything in focus. The coverage will be great for the LPGA." -- LPGA Tour player and Naples resident Mo Martin
"This is awesome for Lexi and she has so much special talent, a special person." -- LPGA Tour player Beatriz Recari of Spain.
"It's a great accomplishment to be asked to play with the guys but she has the distance to stay with them." -- LPGA Tour player Angela Stanford.
"She'll be fine, taking two days of the pro-am to learn any different nuances in the course setup for the men because she'll hit back there with them." -- Curtis Thompson, Lexi's brother and tour golfer.
This article is written by Greg Hardwig from Naples Daily News, Fla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.
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