x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lexi Thompson takes Dubai Ladies Masters defence in her stride

The teenager, who can call on Tiger Woods for a game 'any time she likes', tells John McAuley how her hard work has paid off.

Lexi Thompson is back in the UAE hoping to defend her Dubai Ladies Masters title. David Cannon / Getty Images
Lexi Thompson is back in the UAE hoping to defend her Dubai Ladies Masters title. David Cannon / Getty Images
In a career that has provided so much so soon, it is sometimes easy to forget Alexis "Lexi" Thompson is still two months shy of her 18th birthday.
This week's defending champion has a CV that already boasts titles on the US LPGA Tour and the Ladies European Tour (LET). A first season as a full member on America's main circuit has been underscored with a pair of runner-up finishes, giving four top 10s in total.
Standing tall at 6ft, Thompson is a commanding presence on the course, too - she lies second in driving distance on the 2012 LPGA Tour - and often portrays a maturity that belies her age.
Yet upon her return to the Dubai Ladies Masters Thompson offers little glimpses that, despite the many accolades both secured and undoubtedly impending, there still remains a 17-year-old girl from Coral Springs, Florida.
Experiences are routinely described as "awesome", sentences typically concluded with a nervous giggle, and it should not surprise that Disney provides the destination to unwind immediately after her season finishes on Saturday at Emirates Golf Club.
And then there is this year's undisputed high point: being included in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14.
"It's pretty amazing; an honour to be in the video game," said Thompson ahead of today's pro-am.
"I've seen some of the pictures of my animation and it looks so real. I had the whole black suit on with the sensors all over my head to my shoes.
"I used to play Tiger in the game - the power drives where he gets the power swing going - with my brother when I was younger, so it'll be interesting to now play me. Be pretty weird, but awesome."
Thompson got to meet her "role model" earlier this year at the Notah Begay Challenge, and is visibly excited when recalling how Woods offered to share a round of golf - away from a PlayStation or an Xbox - any time she likes.
"That means a lot coming from a person at that level," said Thompson, before justifying her increasing celebrity.
"What I've achieved at a young age, I knew I would if I worked hard. It's what I've done my whole life.
"I've practised hard my entire life and that's what I'm going to continue to do. Because I know that's what it takes to be great at the game."
Thompson can claim to be an experienced hand now at her chosen profession. Having qualified for the US Women's Open at the age of 12, she excelled throughout junior golf before becoming, at 16 years and seven months, the youngest winner in LPGA Tour history when she won the Navistar Classic last year.
Only three months later Dubai would provide victory No 2, Thompson holding off the challenge of a 30-year-old South African, Lee-Anne Pace, to eventually win by four shots and usurp Ashleigh Simon as the LET's youngest professional champion.
Coming back to the Majlis Course this week for a third time, Thompson will use past experiences to her advantage.
"I know how to play this course pretty well," she said. "I'm pretty confident going into every tee shot, and winning last year brings back a lot of good memories. My biggest is coming up to the 18th green on the last day, all the fans cheering and having my dad with me [as caddie]."
"I'm going to remember that every time I walk up to the green. It definitely brings a lot of motivation coming into this event."
Bringing the curtain down on the 2012 LET with another trophy would represent the perfect sign-off to a remarkably steady season. Next year, though, even more is expected.
"Heading into this year I was just trying to improve on little things in my game and be consistent. Overall, I've accomplished my goals," Thompson said.
"I'm really happy with the way my game is and hopefully I can take that into next year and get some wins.
"I still have one more event to get it, but that's my goal going into every event. Although, it's golf: it's the hardest sport in the world."
jmcauley@thenational.ae
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