She’s Got Game: Lexi Thompson

Teenage golf prodigy Lexi Thompson continues to break sports records while proving she’s all grown up.

SWING TIME: Bursting onto the golf stage at 12 years old, Lexi Thompson looks to shed her preteen image while adding more major championships and trophies to her name.

By Craig Dolch
Portrait by Christopher McEniry

Age has always been just a number for Lexi Thompson,  like the 18 digits she writes on her scorecard every round. When the Coral Springs resident was the youngest player (12) to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open in 2007, she giggled and started working on her signature. She wasn’t even a teenager, but she knew she would be asked for countless autographs at Pine Needles.

On September 18, 2011, Thompson, then 16, became the youngest winner of an LPGA Tour event, capturing the Navistar LPGA Classic by five strokes. Three months later, she became the second-youngest champion of a Ladies European Tour event, winning the Dubai Ladies Masters by four strokes.

Notice a trend? It certainly wasn’t surprising earlier this year when the 19-year-old won the Kraft Nabisco Championship, becoming the second-youngest winner of an LPGA major. Thompson, who turns 20 on February 10, already has won four LPGA titles and earned more than $2.7 million during her pro career. With 75,000+ Twitter followers, she is connecting with fans beyond the sport.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of age,” Thompson says. “If you’re good enough, you’re good enough to win.”

In a sense, Thompson grew up on South Florida fairways. She was just 5 when she took up the game, chasing around older brothers Nicholas and Curtis at the TPC at Eagle Trace course where the family lives.

These sibling competitions, which sometimes got very intense, laid the foundation for her future success. If she could hang with Nicholas, who plays on the PGA Tour, and Curtis, who turned pro this summer, she could play with anyone.

“I grew up watching my brothers play and always competing against them and trying to beat them,” she says. “The game just grew on me. Once I made a decision to play golf and take out other sports, I knew I wanted to do this.”

Thompson became so good so fast, it created a dilemma for her dad, Scott, who taught and caddied for her throughout her young career. When she would show up for junior events, the courses would be set up so short—and she hit the ball so far—that she could reach par 5s with her tee shot.

Thompson, who was home-schooled, would win most of her junior events by margins so large it was difficult for her to focus and work on her weaknesses. That’s why Scott made the decision to have her start trying to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 10. He was criticized for the move, especially when she would get emotional on the course, but he didn’t flinch. “There really was no competition for her to face,” he says.

After leading the U.S. to a victory in the Curtis Cup, 15-year-old Thompson turned pro in the summer of 2010, signing endorsement deals with Red Bull and Cobra Puma Golf. She then finished third in the Evian Masters. After that tournament, she would have ranked 18th on the LPGA Tour’s Money List with more than $300,000 had she been recognized as a member. The tour required a player be 18 to become a member, denying her waiver request. Thompson could only play on six sponsor exemptions and in tournaments like the U.S. Women’s Open.

“It was hard because I was used to playing golf every week,” she says. “It’s been quite a journey. There have been ups and downs, but the ups are just so much better because you go through those struggles, and it just makes the wins or the successes along the way so much better.”

Yes, Lexi Thompson has grown up. That means she won’t be setting many more “youngest” records. But that’s OK, because winning never gets old.

Originally appeared in the Winter 2014 issue.