x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Teenager Lexi Thompson's historic LPGA win

At just 16, the Florida golfer becomes the youngest ever winner on the ladies tour by taking the Navistar LPGA Classic.

Lexi Thompson plays a tee shot during the final round of the Navistar LPGA Classic.
Lexi Thompson plays a tee shot during the final round of the Navistar LPGA Classic.

PRATTVILLE, ALABAMA // Lexi Thompson has become the youngest player to win an LPGA Tour event, taking the Navistar LPGA Classic.

The Floridian, just a 16-year-old, closed with a two-under 70 last night to win in Alabama, beating Tiffany Joh by five strokes to finish at a 17-under 271.

Thompson shattered the age record for winning a multiple-round tournament held by Paula Creamer, who won in 2005 at 18. Marlene Hagge was 18 years and 14 days old when she won the single-round Sarasota Open in 1952.

The victory brought a piece of history and US$195,000 (Dh716,235)

"This has been my dream like my whole life," Thompson said. "It's the best feeling ever."

Thompson, who turned 16 in February, led by five strokes entering the final round and built that to seven through 10 holes at the Robert Trent Jones Trail's Capitol Hill complex. Then came the teen's only big lapse on the pressure-packed day, bogeys on the next two holes that allowed Joh to surge to within three strokes.

Thompson erased any concerns of a collapse with birdies on the 16th and 17th, and then the celebration and the kind words began.

"Paula Creamer came up to me and said, 'If anybody was going to change the record, it should have been you,"' Thompson said. "That meant a lot."

Cool under pressure most of the day, Thompson and her father, who is also her caddie, could not contain their joy as they approached the 18th green with the win, and a spot in LPGA history, in their grasp.

"It's just awesome watching your kid do something like this, but it is very nerve-racking, though," Scott Thompson said. "This is a very special day.

"It was an unbelievable feeling to hear people cheering your kid like that. A very proud moment."

Thompson said her father told her he was "going off to the side, because I might cry."

The home-schooled teenager from Coral Springs, Florida, tapped in for par, hugged her father and got a celebratory dousing of bottled water over her head from Joh.

Now, the question is will she be granted LPGA Tour membership? Thompson will have to petition for an exemption of the 18-year-old age requirement.

The LPGA already granted her petition for qualifying school, and she won the first stage by 10 strokes in July with two more to go.

"We haven't even really talked about that yet," Scott Thompson said. "We'll worry about that as it comes, so we'll see."

In the meantime, she's still a kid having fun. She spent the evening before the tournament at Outback Steakhouse with fellow teen golfer Janie Jackson.

Joh, who opened the day seven shots back, finished with a 68 after closing the gap with four straight birdies starting on the 12th. Her previous best finish was 12th at the CN Canadian Women's Open.

Angela Stanford shot a 66 to surge into third place at 11 under, posting three sub-70 rounds after an opening 73. Brittany Lang (67) and Karen Stupples (68) were 10 under.

Meena Lee, who opened the day in second and five shots back, finished with a 73 and tied with Stacy Lewis at nine under.

Thompson got a little relief from the pressure, laughing along with Joh after her tee shot rolled inches to the right of the hole on the par three 16th.

She birdied to push her lead back to four strokes, acknowledging the fans with a brief grin and a tip of her visor.

"When it goes from seven to three in four holes, who isn't going to worry?" Scott Thompson said. "Tiffany was playing great.

"Lexi said, 'I think I'm going to have to make a birdie or so coming in.' It turned out she made two."

Thompson closed with a tap-in for par and a drama-free finale.

She had flirted with history before. Thompson shared the 2009 Navistar LPGA lead after two rounds as a 14-year-old amateur. In May, she entered the final round at the Avnet LPGA in Mobile tied for the lead, but dropped to 19th with a closing 78.

This time, she built such a cushion that her bogeys only cut her lead to five strokes over Lang and Lee. Thompson recovered with tap-ins for par on the next hole and the 15th and coasted from there.

Thompson sailed through the first nine holes with one birdie and a bogey. Only once did she flirt with serious trouble, when her approach shot sailed well over the hole and within a couple of feet of a downhill slope into bunkers.

No problem. She two-putted for par and then made an eight-foot birdie putt on the 8th.

Thompson said the jitters never got too bad.

"I definitely had a little nerves out there but they were controllable," she said. "Once I hit the first tee shot I was like, 'OK, I'm good."'