Lexi Thompson leads LPGA youth movement with 2nd tour win

Stanley Chou

Lexi Thompson scores her second LPGA Tour win with a four-stroke victory in Malaysia.

Lexi Thompson, by earning her second LPGA victory on Sunday, gave notice that youth must be served on the women’s tour.

Thompson, who routed a strong field in last week’s Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia with a four-shot win over Shanshan Fen, was the second teenager to notch a W on tour this year. The 18-year-old Floridian joined Canadian Women’s Open victor Lydia Ko, 16, in the winner’s circle and hinted at a brewing rivalry between the two teen phenoms.

"I mean, it's great to have that family and fan support system behind us and to have Lydia coming up, too, being young, and she's going to be great out here," Thompson told reporters after firing a final-round 2-under 69 that put her at 19-under for the four-day tournament. "So it will be interesting to see how we all do."

Ko, who defended her title in Canada and dislodged Thompson from the record books when she became the youngest winner of an LPGA contest in 2012, announced last week she will turn pro before competing in the season-ending CME Group Titleholders tourney.

The youthfulness of the two prodigies had at least one fellow competitor feeling a tad over the hill.

"I think she's making us look old," said Feng, a decrepit 24 years of age. "Going with her yesterday, watching her swing, she can swing like so hard and it doesn't hurt her body. I was like, oh, very nice to be 18."

Thompson, who went 43 starts between tour wins, carded four rounds in the 60s for the first time in her young career.

"Just a bunch of happiness right now, that's for sure," said Thompson. "Words can't even describe the feeling I have right now. It's sort of like a rerun from Navistar, just having that feeling walking up to the 18th green, embracing the fans and just knowing you have the win under your belt. It means so much, especially to get it here in Malaysia."

The win marked Thompson’s first as a member of the LPGA. Her 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic triumph sparked the then-16-year-old to seek, and receive, a waiver to join the tour before the required age of 18. Ko, who finished second at the Evian Championship last month with Thompson in third, has also petitioned commissioner Michael Whan to set aside the age provision and let her attain membership.

For Thompson, who deferred her rookie season until 2012, the second trophy was more difficult to procure than the first.

"Yeah, probably," she said. "I mean, it took a little longer than I thought. But it's the top players in the world here, so it's not easy. Every tournament you have to shoot super low and you have to have your ‘A’ game, and that's what I had this week."

Feng opined that Thompson’s performance would motivate more young U.S. players to leave the amateur ranks behind.

"It's going to encourage a lot of the junior players to actually turn pro, and turn pro earlier," said Feng. "So I think it's really good if we can have a lot more good young American girls to come on the tour, because it is the American Tour, right? We want to see more Americans."

Despite her tender years, Thompson is an old hand on tour. She played in her first LPGA match when she was 12 and qualified to play in the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open.

Her win in Asia sent Thompson rocketing up the world rankings leader board, moving from 21st to 14th and putting her behind only Stacy Lewis (No. 3), Paula Creamer (11th), and Cristie Kerr (12th) among the top Americans.

Thompson will take her new-found confidence and some gaudy stats (second in average driving distance, ninth in greens in regulation) to this week’s LPGA KEB-HanaBank Championship in South Korea, where she’ll try to unseat defending champion Suzann Pettersen.

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