Older And Bolder, Lexi Thompson Is As Intriguing As Ever

Older And Bolder, Lexi Thompson Is As Intriguing As Ever

The first image we have of Alexis Thompson is the one that endures. The bow securing her braided pony. The carefree smile of a typical 12-year-old in the unlikely position of U.S. Women’s Open competitor.

In many ways, she is not unlike the youngest kid at a perpetual family reunion.

“Oh yeah, it’s ‘I remember you when you were this tall,’ ” she says with a laugh. “Or they’ll talk about these sparkly visors I used to wear. I know some people still think of me as a 12-year-old.”She’s 20 now, long since known as Lexi. And on top of her stack of youngest-ever records, Thompson added the biggie last year at age 19 with her first major, a title she will defend this week in Rancho Mirage, California, at the newly named ANA Inspiration.

But it is how far she has come since last March and where she is now, seemingly on the cusp of that coveted crossover from burgeoning LPGA star to mainstream endorser and celebrity, that both entices and confounds her.

As Thompson continues to assert her independence within the tight-knit and protective cocoon of family and advisers and make more of the decisions affecting her future, it is that delicate balancing act between being everyone’s kid sister and being an adult, those close to her say, that may be the biggest challenge of all.

Stardom has always beckoned

It was in place all along, this plan for stardom. Driven not by a marketing strategy as much as by a precocious little girl who could hit a golf ball a mile by age 6, it became obvious early on that something very special was in the making.

By her teens, it also became evident the girl was a beauty, something that, like it or not, could certainly help drive a marketing campaign in a sport that needs as much exposure as it can get.

The year Lexi Thompson turned 15, Cobra Puma (Puma’s golf division) was formed. Its president, Bob Philion, wasted little time in making the teenage phenom and newly turned pro both the first golfer he signed to an endorsement deal and the face of his company.

“At the end of the day, we thought she was a game-changer,” Philion says. “We felt she could really transform women’s golf with her power and aggressiveness, and it was ultimately the perfect fit for us in terms of having world-class performance mixed with style and swagger.”

Marketing talk, to be sure, but when she was 18, the company re-signed Thompson, adding to her cache of sponsorship deals that now includes Red Bull, Rolex, EA Sports and Zurich Insurance, on top of her official career winnings that stand at $2,837,596.

After winning the then-Kraft Nabisco for her first major championship, the obvious question became “What’s next?” But in women’s golf, even a major title is not necessarily a guarantee of worldwide or even national celebrity.

“To be honest, it was bad timing from a media perspective for Lexi when she won the Kraft because that was the first week of the Masters, and that dominates the coverage in golf, and it was also the Final Four,” says Thompson’s agent, Bobby Kreusler. “So from a sports perspective, a lot of other things drowned out her accomplishments.”

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is not averse to seeing his players become stars. But the tour’s stance when talking about the subject of promoting its golfers has generally been along the lines that it needs to sell the LPGA and not the players, that the women will sell themselves through their play.

Kreusler disagrees, and he did something about it.

“Lexi is a 5-11, blond-haired, blue-eyed, all-American beauty who is even more beautiful in person,” he says. “I don’t think it’s ever a bad thing to let the world know that these are amazing athletes, powerful, strong, athletic but also beautiful.

“I hate to use the word sex appeal, but in my opinion, if it’s done in a healthy manner, I don’t think it’s in any way negative.”

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