Lexi Thompson youngest ever for U.S.
As an 18-year-old, Lexi Thompson could be conscious of her youth in the upcoming Solheim Cup. But not this year. Not in this competition.
"Oh yeah, I might be the youngest on our side," said Thompson, who will, in fact, be the youngest women's golfer in history to represent the United States, "but there's 17-year-old Charley Hull on the other side."
With 10 rookies combined on the U.S. and European teams and two -- Thompson and Britain's Hull -- still in their teens, the theme for the biennial event is inexperience. But Thompson, who is ranked 26th in the world, is hardly a novice.
"I definitely feel older than what I am," said Thompson, who won't turn 19 until February. "I matured at a young age playing against older girls and two older brothers (Nicholas, who has played on the PGA Tour, and Curtis, a member of the LSU men's golf team). And I've been on tour for quite a while, since I was 15."
"But I have so much to learn out there, and I'm looking forward to learning more."
U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon did not sound particularly concerned about Thompson's last outing, when she failed to make the cut at the Women's British Open two weeks ago, and said she did not feel the necessity to pair Thompson with a veteran this week.
"Players with not a lot of match-play experience, you want to put with a veteran, but Lexi has a lot of experience, so we'll see," Mallon said. "We have some really good veterans on the team, but everyone wants to play with her."
Paula Creamer, 27, previously held the record for youngest Solheim Cup competitor, having made her debut at 19 in 2005 when she helped the U.S. to victory with a 3-1-1 record. She is a proponent of putting the inexperienced players with the veterans.
"It is comforting to have someone on your side that has been through the process before, just a small shoulder to lean on for a few holes,'' she said via e-mail. "Solheim Cup has so many variables that a little experience and communication can help get off to a good mindset and launch a great positive experience.''
Thompson said having team support will be a new experience and one she has always wondered about.
"Golf is such an individual sport, you don't get many opportunities like this, to get 10 to 12 girls together who get to know each other and play a team event," she said. "Whoever I get paired with, it feels amazing to be on a team that supports each other no matter what shot we hit and whatever the outcome is."
"Of course, it would also be nice to have someone who has been in the Solheim Cup who knows what to expect, to relax you."
Thompson said she sought the advice of Creamer, who assured her that first-tee nerves are not exclusive to rookies.
"[I wasn't] overwhelmed, but I did feel pressure for sure," Creamer said of '05. "It is certainly a time you will remember, but as soon as I played a hole or two, I was fine. . . . [But] the ball or golf course does not know how old you are, so I think Lexi and the other younger players just have to go out and play golf. They have all been in big events, so I think they will be just fine."
The ball or golf course does not know how old you are, so I think Lexi and the other younger players just have to go out and play golf. They have all been in big events, so I think they will be just fine.Paula Creamer
In her LPGA bio, Thompson said the most pressure she has ever felt at a tournament was at the first tee at the 2007 U.S. Women's Open when she was 12 and the youngest golfer ever to play in the tournament. It's just another reminder that this is no ordinary teenager.
But with three top 10 finishes in 2013, eight in her three-year professional career, and one tournament title (the Navistar LPGA Classic in 2011 when, at 16, she became the youngest winner of an LPGA tournament), Thompson's development has been gradual and not without occasional setbacks.
"I don't know what is fair to expect from somebody quite so young, regardless of how talented," said Golf Channel's lead LPGA analyst Judy Rankin, the U.S. Solheim Cup captain in 1996 and '98. "You still are dealing with more mature players who, in a lot of cases, are as good as you are.
"That is one of the things you have to learn to deal with when you break into professional golf. [Thompson] has made a good place for herself on the LPGA Tour. She is a part of everything. [But] for a young person, she is not a very strong putter. And I think if you want to see real results, you are going to have to hope that's just a bump in the road and not a characteristic of her game."
Thompson's forte has been her power (she is second in driving distance at 270.6 yards) and under-par scoring (she's second on the tour with 10 eagles).
"Lexi hits it a long way," Mallon said in assessing how she will fair on the Colorado Golf Club course. "Reachable par 4s are reachable for her. On 15, most won't (reach the green), but if she hits it really long, Lexi should have no problem. And the 18th is the longest par 4 on the course, but as far as a finishing hole, that can be very key for Lexi."
As for Hull, who turned pro at the beginning of the year, she has had five runner-up finishes in her first six months on the Ladies European Tour.
"I feel that Charley is playing fearless golf," said Europe's captain Liselotte Neumann. "She has a lot of energy, she's a long hitter, which is going to be great for Colorado. It's quite generous off the tees, and we are playing up at altitude and the ball will fly. I think she can bring a lot of great things for our team, and I am very excited about her."
Thompson said while conscious of her place in history, she is more aware of achieving something that has been a longtime objective.
"I always try to remind myself what I've accomplished, to keep that confidence and remind myself that all the hard work has paid off," she said. "It is the highest honor to represent your country and wear the red, white and blue. It has always been one of my goals, even as a junior and an amateur. You're not just playing for yourself, you're playing for your country."
Rankin related a conversation she had with Thompson at an airport last week.
"I assured her she was going to have the best time that she's ever had playing golf, and I believe she will," Rankin said. "[But] I do think the amount of pressure that you feel playing for that team is greater than anything you've probably experienced in golf."
"The setting of 25,000 people plus being there makes it even more so. So I think the young players are very good, just like Charley Hull, and they probably will rise to the occasion. But it is going to be an emotional experience they have not had before, and I don't think they completely believe that until it happens to them."
Thompson's youth, as well as that of rookie teammates Jessica Korda, 20, and Lizette Salas, 24, could well be an advantage. Michelle Wie, a captain's pick, is the third-youngest on the U.S. team at 23, but she will be competing in her third Solheim Cup.
"Age doesn't matter when it comes to our team," Creamer said. "No one player can win the Cup by themselves. . . . It takes a concentrated team effort. Lexi and others [need to] remember that they do not need to be perfect, just a part of a team and all will take care of itself. . . . Lexi and Jessica will do fine not because they are young rookies, but because they are good players."