ORLANDO, FL – As usual, the Orange County National Golf Center was buzzing with activity last week as thousands of PGA professionals participated in Outdoor Demo Day on the eve of the 60th PGA Merchandise Show. The event features a mammoth circular driving range lined with tents where virtually every equipment manufacturer encourages the PGA pros to try out their latest innovations.
Nowhere was the activity level greater than at the Cobra Puma tent, where some of the top celebrities in golf entertained fans while upbeat music blared away and orange-colored beverage concoctions were liberally dispensed. Ian Poulter and Jasper Parnevik made appearances, as did LPGA star Lexi Thompson, about to embark on her second year on the tour as she approaches the ripe old age of 18 next month.
After Lexi enthralled the crowd by displaying her prodigious driving ability, she took some time to chat with us about her rookie year on the tour and her thoughts for 2013. Lexi won over $600,000 in 2012, which was good for 21st place on the LPGA money list, finished in the top-10 four times, and had two second-place finishes. Along the way, she completed her high school degree, and now can focus primarily on golf.
“I feel like it [last season] went really well,” said Thompson. “I played consistently and made good progress. I improved on a lot of little things.”
Thompson said one of the biggest challenges of 2012 was playing in many more events (23) and travelling across the world to Asia and Australia. “I played a lot more golf. You really have to pace yourself.” Her manager, Bobby Kreusler of Blue Giraffe Sports, added: “She learned a lot about stress and playing a full schedule. She learned what works. She developed physically and mentally and showed flashes of brilliance.”
Obviously one thing that continued to work well for Thompson was her driver. She was second on the tour in driving distance last year with an average distance of 272 yards. Her putting statistics were less stellar (119th with an average of 31 putts per round), and Thompson said she spent a lot of time in the offseason working on her short game under the tutelage of Jim McLean. “I’ve been working a lot on putting and chipping,” said Thompson. “That’s what it all comes down to. I’ve made progress.” McLean commented last year that Thompson “has a work ethic like nobody you see.”
A major adjustment Lexi faced last spring was hiring a new caddie – veteran Greg Johnston — to replace her father Scott, who had caddied for Lexi since she began to play competitively. The relationship had worked well (see http://www.mynegm.com/golf/whats-news/the-father-caddie-relationship-is-working-smoothly-for-lexi-and-scott-thompson/), but it was time for a change given the demands of playing on the tour full-time. Kreusler noted that it is more important at this point for Scott to just be a father for Lexi. Lexi is pleased with the new caddie relationship. “The first few tournaments were an adjustment, but it’s going really well. Greg has 25 years of experience and knows all the courses. He also keeps me loose.”
Lexi was also thrilled to meet Tiger Woods last August at the Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge, and to be included in the new edition of Woods’ video game (Tiger Woods PGA Tour.) “Getting to meet him was an honor,” said Thompson. “He really has a good sense of humor.”
Lexi was only the second woman since Paula Creamer to be fitted with a full-body motion-capture suit for the production of the newest version of Woods’ video game. “It really captures my style and emotions,” said Thompson, who has played the game but has yet to receive a copy. No doubt Tiger will be happy to oblige with a copy of the game to afford Lexi some entertaining diversion and stress reduction during the demands of the 2013 LPGA tour. Who knows? Maybe it will even help her short game.