Youth being served at recent LPGA Tour stops

04/30/2014 6:27 PM

04/30/2014 6:29 PM

Lexi Thompson, 19, has enjoyed a three-week victory lap since claiming her first career major championship as an LPGA Tour competitor.

Thompson, the No. 6 player in the women’s world golf rankings, has received a congratulatory letter from Arnold Palmer and a heartfelt text from Nancy Lopez. She’s filmed a Puma commercial with Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, a six-time gold medalist.

But she no longer is the youngest winner of an April event on the 2014 LPGA Tour, a status she held after her breakthrough victory at the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Heading into Thursday’s opening round at the North Texas LPGA Shootout, which will mark Thompson’s debut as a reigning major champion, that status now belongs to Lydia Ko, Sunday’s 17-year-old winner of the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic.

In between, former teen phenom Michelle Wie, 24, claimed an event in Hawaii to reinforce the notion that youth is being served on the LPGA Tour. Average age of the last three winners at tour events: 20.

That is two years younger than Sammi Stevens, one of two college golfers who earned spots in the Irving field by posting matching 68s in Monday’s collegiate qualifier at Las Colinas Country Club. The theme, Thompson said, is clear at the par-71 facility.

“The game is getting younger and younger,” said Thompson, who turned professional at 15 and has four career triumphs at LPGA events. “You see really young girls out here, coming out and playing well. I mean, I’m not even the young one out here.”

Indeed, two high school qualifiers (Houston’s Annika Clark, a TCU commit, and Allen’s Maddie Szeryk) will be among the competitors in Irving younger than Thompson. But the trend is clear to Inbee Park, 25, the tournament’s defending champion and the No. 1 player in the world rankings. Her closest pursuer in the world rankings is Ko, 17, who climbed to No. 2 with Sunday’s victory but is not entered this week at Las Colinas Country Club.

“I definitely think we’re seeing a lot of new names, and obviously a lot of the names and rankings are changing really quickly the last few weeks,” Park said. “I think it’s good to see. There is, like, 20 girls that can win out here this weekend. You just never know what is going to happen.”

Among the potential contenders is a long list of tour veterans, topped by four Texans who competed on the 2013 U.S. Solheim Cup team: Fort Worth residents Angela Stanford and Gerina Piller, McKinney resident Brittany Lang and Stacy Lewis, a native of The Woodlands who is the No. 3 player in the world rankings. But none of those veterans are under 25, like the past three tour winners.

For Wie, who backed her victory in Hawaii with a top-10 finish Sunday, this has been a breakthrough season that has seen her climb to the top of the money list ($651,812) with no finish lower than a tie for 16th in eight tournaments.

“The main goal this year is consistency,” Wie said. “I just want to keep improving a little bit every week. … It’s great seeing all the young players out there. I look at them and I feel very happy just because they’re going to be the future of our tour. They are stars right now.”

One of the biggest is Thompson, who vowed that her perspective will not change when she is announced as a teenage major champion Thursday.

“It doesn’t change who I am personally. It doesn’t change my outlook on how I go into an event,” Thompson said. “I’m going into it with the same attitude. I’m still just going to go out, have fun and be relaxed out there. I think that’s when my game shows the most.”

Briefly

•  Paula Creamer, the No. 9 player in the world rankings, has withdrawn. She will be replaced in the field by Stacey Keating.
• Stanford will join Wie and Park, the defending champ, in the morning featured group (7:59 a.m. tee time). Piller will join Jennifer Johnson and Na Yeon Choi in the 1:11 p.m. group.
• Stevens, a Hereford native who plays college golf at New Mexico, celebrated her 22nd birthday Wednesday. It marked her latest big event in a five-day stretch that included Saturday’s Mountain West Conference team championship and Monday’s performance that secured her first berth in an LPGA event. “It really does feel like a magical week,” Stevens said. “I haven’t even come down yet from our win at the conference tournament yet.”

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