Lexi Thompson becomes LPGA's youngest winner

Sunday afternoon at Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail's Capitol Hill course in Prattville, Ala., Lexi Thompson shot a final-round 70 to polish off a four-round, 17-under-par performance and win her first LPGA title.


Except that Thompson is no ordinary first-time LPGA winner.

Although she turned professional a year ago and has been playing tour events periodically for four years, Thompson isn't even an LPGA member. There's something about a bothersome LPGA bylaw that does not allow tour membership until a player darn-near hits old age. You know, like her 18th birthday.

None of that is important any longer. Competing in the Navistar Classic on a sponsor's exemption, Thompson -- 16 years, 7 months and 8 days old -- became the youngest player ever to win an LPGA event. And she did it by a ton.

Marlene Hagge was 18 years, 14 days when she won the 1952 Sarasota Open, which was an 18-hole event. The youngest winner of a multi-round event on the LPGA Tour was Paula Creamer, who captured the 2005 Sybase Classic when she was 18 years, 9 months and 17 days.

Now the American-star-starved LPGA may no longer need to hope Michelle Wie gets around to saving women's golf in the United States.

There's a new sheriff in town -- and this one shoots at the flag.

Thompson strung together rounds of 66-68-67-70. She led by two shots after two rounds and five shots going into Sunday's final round. She led by seven shots when she made Sunday's turn and eventually finished five in front of runner-up Tiffany Joh. For the week, she averaged 276 yards driving distance. She hit 63 of 72 greens in regulation.

Although Thompson's victory will reverberate throughout all of sports, in the inside circle of golf, few will consider the performance shocking. This train has been on the tracks for quite some time.

At age 12, Thompson played in the U.S. Women's Open, the youngest ever to qualify. Two years later, in 2009, she played in her third U.S. Women's Open and made her first cut, finishing tied for 34th. Later that year she Monday-qualified for the Navistar, shot an opening-round 65 and finished tied for 27th, 12 strokes behind winner Lorena Ochoa.

In 2010, still an amateur, she made the cut in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, finishing tied for 24th. She represented the winning United States team in the Curtis Cup competition and went undefeated, winning four matches and tying in a fifth. She turned pro the next week, stating she believed her game was ready to make the jump to the LPGA.

She had six LPGA tournament appearances in 2010, including a tie for second at the Evian Masters in France.

There have been no second thoughts.

"Oh yes, I'm really glad I made the decision," Thompson said emphatically earlier this year at the LPGA Championship. "It was my decision all the way. I've always wanted to turn pro. It has been my dream. I will never regret this decision. Having all of the support from family and friends has been a great thing for me."

Thompson's potential already was so readily acknowledged that she recently received a special LPGA exemption that allowed her to enter the three-stage qualifying school process for next season. In the first stage, played several weeks ago, she advanced by winning the tournament by 10 shots. She was scheduled to play the second stage two weeks from now in an effort to advance toward full exempt status for 2012.

Plans have changed. With Sunday's victory, Thompson earned $195,000, and even better, positioned herself for full exempt status for next season.

Technically, Thompson's win does not earn the usual automatic year-long exempt status because of the tour's age restriction. But the South Florida teen already had been informed full exempt status in 2012 would be granted if she advanced through Q school, so she undoubtedly will petition for an exemption with every reason to anticipate it being granted.

"I don't really know right now," she told reporters Sunday when it was over. "I mean, this is the only thing going on right now. We'll just have to see where it goes over the next few days."

Her desire is no surprise. Thompson is part of a serious golf family.

Two older brothers play, Nick on the PGA Tour and developmental Nationwide Tour, and Curtis, a freshman on full scholarship at LSU.

All the kids got the golf bug from their mother, Judy, who played junior golf in South Florida in the 1970s. They got a fearless, competitive edge from father, Scott, who always supplied a challenge.

Lexi grew up trying to match her brothers. She now plays like a seasoned veteran.

"Oh, I was a little nervous on the first tee. I'm not going to lie," Thompson said. "But if you are not nervous, then you don't care. So … I had a lot of fun."

Something suggests the future could be a real hoot.

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