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Alexis Thompson, 12, Is Youngest U.S. Women's Open Qualifier

SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. - You do not need to conduct a poll to determine which player brings the most intrigue to this week's U.S. Women's Open. Golf votes with its attention, and based on the early week buzz at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, nobody is generating more curiosity than 12-year-old Alexis Thompson. The South Florida home-schooled seventh-grader earlier this month became the youngest to qualify for a Women's Open when she shot 72-71 at Heathrow Country Club outside Orlando and finished sixth in a 41-player field. At 12 years, 4 months and 18 days when she tees off in Thursday's opening round, Thompson displaces Morgan Pressel (2001) as the youngest qualifier in the event's 62 years. 'Just seeing LPGA golfers, signing a lot of autographs, it's been a great experience so
far,' Thompson said. 'I like seeing kids my age coming up to me asking for my auto- graph. It's really cool. I like it.' Otherwise, there is no outward indication the girl is about to make history. She giggles a lot during conversations, is polite and mannerly, and lists her favorite TV shows as 'Whose Line Is It Anyway' on ABC Fam- ily, 'Hannah Monta- na,' 'The Suite Life of Zack & Cody' and 'anything on Disney Channel.' When asked her height and weight, she reported standing 5 feet 6 before adding, with an adult level of dismay, 'but don't really feel like giving out my weight.' Back home in Coral Springs, the Thompson family lives on the back nine of TPC at Eagle Trace, and there is little question why. Dad, Mom and two older brothers all take the game seriously. Brother Nicholas is a former Georgia Tech golfer who played on the 2005 U.S. Walker Cup team, and he is second on this season's Nationwide Tour money list. Lexi played her first tournament after turning 7, and at 11 - competing in the 13-15 age division - won five of six events. She is the second-youngest player to win an American Junior Golf Association event, the major leagues of under-18 golf. This summer will revolve around Lexi's golf, with Scott and Judy accompanying their daughter on a cross-country 10-week run through 10 cities in seven states for tournament appearances. 'We love it,' Judy said. 'It is our life. When we don't have something going on in golf, it's almost weird.' This week, however, is already promising to test the saturation point. No matter how well planned and meticulously crafted Thompson's career journey has been to this point, there is no adequate preparation for a golfer's first U.S. Open - and for a 12-year-old? Thompson, however, on Tuesday greeted the challenge with a youthful vow to enjoy the experience. 'Let's see, I'm just going out there to have fun, just play my game,' she said. 'I'll probably just try to shoot maybe 75 or 74. I think that's pretty good with all the woods I'll have to hit. And hopefully I'll make the cut. If I don't, it's all right.' So far, so good, as Thompson's youthful honesty supplied a few chuckles at the tournament's expense. Pressed by a USGA Women's Open official to reflect on how Annika Sorenstam might have inspired her, Thompson didn't have an answer. 'Well, I don't really follow women's golf,' she said. 'I do a little, but I mostly follow men's because my brother is on the Nationwide and going to be on the PGA Tour next year.' When asked to elaborate about her pets, she expounded on Angel and Smelly, the latter named because, well, he has a flatulence problem. Coincidentally, it was at Pine Needles in 2001 that Pressel played her first Open at age 12 years, 11 months, 21 days. On the way to shooting 77-77 she angered pro playing partners for what were considered several breaches in etiquette. Amid the mini-brouhaha, Pressel responded to the complaints with 'Whatever.' Pressel has since grown up to rank as one of LPGA's top young American stars. By coincidence, Pressel's younger sister Madison is one of Thompson's best friends in junior golf. Morgan Pressel and Thompson have yet to meet, but the LPGA player certainly knows the name. As for offering any advice, Pressel said be sure to have fun. 'That was my main goal, because I didn't expect to play well,' Pressel said. 'I'm sure she expects to play better than I did. She's probably a better player than I was - because that little girl can play. But just go out and have fun. 'It's a great experience. It was a great experience for me. It's one I'll never forget. I'm sure if we come back here in another six years or so, she'll hopefully have the same experience, to look back and say, wow. She might not realize it until then, until she comes back, or another five years down the road to just say, wow, I actually played in this championship when I was 12. It's pretty cool.'

Reporter Mick Elliott can be reached at (813) 281-2534 or melliott@tampatrib.com.

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