This time it’s Lexi Thompson in Dubai. After three rounds at the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters at the Emerates Golf Club, she has a one-stroke lead over Tour veteran, Sophie Gustafson.
It used to be that there was an apprenticeship you went through in the professional game before you were “ready” to win. Am I the only one who remembers Tiger Woods in tears at Riviera when he missed the cut on his sponsor’s exemption at age 16? Something has changed and the answer doesn’t seem to lie in that Lexi has been at this for years already. Tiger was at it for years already.
Maybe it’s that the young players of today have “old souls.” Thompson and Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson and Rickie Fowler to name just the most topical ones now, seem not to be worried about anything. Asked how she was going to approach Saturday’s final round, Thompson said, “I’m sure I’ll be a little nervous on the first tee, but who isn’t going to be?” How does a 16-year-old come by that wisdom and then truly buy into it?
Keegan Bradley was other worldly at the PGA Championship. The guy threw the tournament away on the par-3 15th and it didn’t faze him. I mean, really threw it away. He chipped his ball across the green and down into the pond and made triple-bogey. He was done. But he was the only one who didn’t think so. And he came back to win the playoff against Jason Dufner. His low-key, fierce look of determination seemed to never change.
Webb Simpson just couldn’t seem to win. He was doing okay, everybody had their eye on him, but he just couldn’t seem to get the job done. In 2010, he had no wins and only two top 10 finishes. And then he went off. He had a 2nd in Tampa early in the season, lost a playoff in New Orleans in May, won in Greensboro in August and won a playoff in Boston two weeks later. When it was over, he had two wins, three seconds and twelve top 10 finishes. Oh, and had a great Presidents Cup. And made $6.3 million.
Now everybody has their eye on Rickie Fowler, not particularly because of what he’s accomplished when he plays but because of who he is when he plays. He always had this sort of swashbuckling style because of his natural and instinctive swing. But when he clenched his jaw at the Ryder Cup last year and put on a show of grit and determination in halving his match with Eduardo Molinari, that was something; he made four birdies over the closing six holes. I think everybody believes he’ll finally win in 2012.
Thompson notched her first win back in September at the Navistar in Prattville, Alabama. She won by four shots, cruising. This was before she was even on the LPGA Tour and forced the hand of the commissioner, Mike Whan. After a sufficient number of days to raise the drama quotient and get the buzz going, he announced that he was granting her an age waiver and membership on the Tour for 2012.
And so here she is, still 16, and on the brink of her second win. But she has to get by Sophie who’s a little on the hungry side. She’s had a nice year financially at $427,600, but her best finish is a 3rd way back at the British Open in July and she’s only had 2 top 10s.
So will Thompson be able to just play her game as she did in Alabama? Or will she spend too much of her precious attention watching Sophie? She already experienced collapse when she lost to Sophie’s sidekick, Maria Hjorth, in Mobile in early May. So she has that learning tucked away in her experience base…at 16. It’ll be interesting to watch.
The Golf Channel will have the re-broadcast at 3:00 to 6:00 PM (ET).