U.S. Open

Pinehurst Resort & Country Club (Course No. 2)

The Loop

Lexi Thompson holds her own and more playing with the men at Franklin Templeton Shootout

December 08, 2016

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NAPLES, Fla. -- Justin Thomas called it a joke.

Bryson DeChambeau said he didn’t want to hit his next shot.

Smylie Kaufman couldn’t get anywhere close.

They were talking about Lexi Thompson’s approach from 217 yards with a 5-iron on the par-5 17th at Tiburon Golf Club that settled just seven feet from the hole to set up an easy eagle.

As Thompson walked off the green someone in the gallery shouted, “Girl power!”

The atmosphere at the Franklin Templeton Shootout on Thursday was decidedly un-intense compared to 2003 at Colonial when Annika Sorenstam became the first woman to tee it up with the men in a PGA Tour event since Babe Didrikson Zaharias in 1945. This tournament is unofficial and features a relaxed mixed format (a scramble in the opening round) with a small field of just 24 players divided into two-person teams on an easy golf course.

But Thompson, who prepared for this by playing the last few weeks from the tips at 7,326-yard Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach with her two pro-golfer brothers, 24-year-old Curtis, who is on the Web.com Tour, and 33-year-old Nicholas, who has spent a decade on the PGA Tour, held her own and then some.

More than once, Thompson stuck her approach shots closer than DeChambeau and others in the group. She also rolled the ball well and helped her team to a 10-under 62, one stroke better than the team of Thomas and Kaufman.

“I was definitely a little nervous over the first tee shot,” she said. “I just tried to focus on my own game and not try to over-swing or try to hit it too far. I had a lot of long irons from yardages I’m not used to, but I like the challenge.”

Thompson was just nine when Sorenstam teed it up against the men more than a decade ago and shot 71-74 to miss the cut by four at Colonial.

She doesn’t remember much about the tournament, other than “what a big deal it was.”

While other women have pegged it against the men in competition in the years since -- including Sorenstam teaming with Fred Couples in this event in 2006 -- Thompson was the big deal on Thursday. Even as she played alongside DeChambeau and his newly implemented side-saddle putting style, and popular rising young players Thomas and Kaufman, both already winners on the PGA Tour, most eyeballs were on her.

At times there were as many as a couple of hundred fans following along. As her group prepared to hit into the green at the ninth, two fans were wagering on if Thompson would hit it the closest (she didn’t).

At the 13th, she flighted a terrific low wedge to a back pin, getting the ball to check up to six feet on the back shelf. One hole later, she hit it right over the flag from 130 yards to just inside 10 feet, again closer than DeChambeau.

The highlight of the day, though, came on 17. It wasn’t just the best shot Thompson hit but the best anyone in the foursome had all day.

“The chances of me getting it closer than her [on 17] was almost impossible,” DeChambeau said of his playing partner. “She’s a fantastic iron player.” Thomas and Kaufman each hit 9-iron in and neither fared any better.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Thompson played well as she did.

The 21-year-old is fifth in the Rolex Rankings and has seven LPGA wins, the first of which came in 2011 when she was just 16. She also averaged 277.40 yards off the tee this season, good for second on the LPGA Tour.

Thompson also played here three weeks ago in the LPGA’s season-ending CME Tour Championship -- although the setup played at 6,540 yards then, compared to 7,271 yards for this week’s 54-hole event that also features modified alternate shot and better-ball formats.

It was the second time this year Thompson has played alongside DeChambeau as well. The two teamed up at the CVS Charity Classic over the summer, though most of Thompson’s drives were played from forward tees in that event.

If there was any pressure on Thompson, she didn’t seem to feel it.

More than a decade since Sorenstam’s voyage, Thompson’s entry into this event, at least in her eyes, was more about breaking par than breaking a glass ceiling.

“I’ve been working on my game really hard, a few swing changes and have a new driver in the bag,” she said. “Just come out here and trust my swing. I’m just using it as practice going into next year.”

Not that Thompson would mind more opportunities to compete against the guys, or even a tournament that features PGA and LPGA players teeing it up alongside one another in a team event.

“I think it would be huge for golf,” she said. “It would grow the game tremendously.”