Judy and Scott Thompson have raised their children—Nick, Curtis and Lexi—in golf, and all have done extremely well. The question is: Which of the three will be the first to be great?
This is an article from the March 14, 2011 issue
In the dreary golf-parenting business today, there's no couple like Scott and Judy Thompson of Coral Springs, Fla. Their oldest, Nicholas, 28, is a tour pro with a homemade swing and more than $3 million in earnings. Curtis, 18, is a freshman at LSU on a full-ride golf scholarship. Lexi, 16, turned pro last June and the next month finished second in the Evian Masters, earning nearly $250,000. The kids inherited the golf gene from Judy, who played junior golf in South Florida in the 1970s. It was Scott who gave them their edge.
At tournaments, on those large electronic scoreboards, Nick is sometimes identified as the brother of Lexi Thompson. After Curtis mocked him for that, Nick said, "If I'm the brother, you know what that makes you? The brother's brother."
Scott Thompson is √ºbercompetitive. He's not trying to win any popularity contests. He can't stand how LPGA courses are set up, to penalize bombers like his daughter. "I get so tired," he says, "seeing Lexi hit her hybrid past the other girls' drivers." She has played in seven LPGA events.
Scott is nothing like your AJGA parent from central casting. He's 49 and has a teenager's temper. His grammar would make any English teacher shudder. He hasn't read Training a Tiger (but he wishes he could have met its author, Earl Woods). He doesn't know about C.B. Macdonald or the Redan hole at North Berwick. An enjoyable golf conversation for him is imagining the construction of the perfect golfer by combining Lexi's discipline, Curtis's hands and Nick's heart. He's impatient. When Lexi started beating him at age nine, he quit golf. "That ain't fun," he says. His philosophy is to play golf to win or not at all. The guy's alive. The kids are too.
In 2007, when Lexi was 12, she became the youngest golfer to play in a U.S. Open. On the driving range Cristie Kerr walked by Lexi and said, "Have fun." When she left, Lexi turned to her father and said, "Yeah, right. I'm here to play good."
The parents, Lexi and Curtis live next to the 12th hole of TPC Eagle Trace, where the Honda Classic was played for years. Nick grew up there and recently bought a house nearby. Now the Honda is held 45 minutes north, at PGA National. Nick played there in the 2008, '09 and '10 Honda events. Last year Curtis, as a man-boy of 17, missed Monday qualifying for the tournament by a shot. Lexi has been there a bunch over the years, checking out the various driving-range actions. She swings like a man. She learned to play by trying to keep up with Nick and Curtis. She's always ready when it's her turn to play, and she putts with her glove on.
Last week Nick, who lost his PGA Tour card last year, was in the field at the rain-plagued Nationwide stop in Bogotà, Colombia. On very short notice Curtis, a freshman, decided to make a quick trip home. Lexi was having the most productive week. On Thursday a Cobra equipment guy drove from PGA National to Eagle Trace to have her check out a new three-metal. On Friday she had the new stick in her bag when she played in a one-day, low-level mini-tour event. The field featured 59 men and one teenage girl.
The event was held on a housing-development course called the Links at Madison Green. The organizers had Lexi play the par-72 course at about 6,700 yards, 200 yards shorter than the setup for the men. There was no rough, but the greens were fast and the palm trees were doing the wave. Her father was her cart driver and caddie. She made the turn at three under par. She was in position to win. First-place money was $975, but it wasn't about the money. It was about grinding out a round and beating everybody else.
She made a bogey on 10, her first of the day. She ripped a drive on 11, a short par-5, close to 270 yards into the wind. She had about 240 to the hole. Lexi wanted to lay up. Father talked daughter into going for it. Out came the new three-metal from an old Cobra carry bag, its ball pocket hand-marked LEXI THOMPSON in block letters with a black Sharpie, written by the golfer herself. She pushed the shot badly and slapped her hip hard. Her ball stopped on a dreadful hardpan lie about 10 yards short and 30 yards right of the pin. She took four more from there. Her caddie stood on the edge of the green, legs crossed, flagstick in hand and spat, mad at himself, taking the blame. Lexi shot 72, four shots behind the winner.
The next day father and daughter had an introductory session with Gio Valiante, a sports psychologist and the author of Fearless Golf. They liked him. They plan to watch the video version of the book, and they'll be going back for more.
On Friday night, in their big, beige home, Judy Thompson folded laundry while Scott manned various phone lines. For 30 years Judy has been the office manager at a dental practice. Scott was the co-owner of a business that made transformers. He left the company in 2007, but it was nothing like one of those you're-set-for-life deals. The spotless family Ford Expedition has 100,000 miles on it. Many of these Friday-night calls were from Lexi, who drove her new custom Camaro SS to the mall with a friend and promptly lost her credit card. Nick called from Bogotà with a weather report (rain and more rain). Curtis, on his way home, called from the New Orleans airport.
Nick is represented by a management company called Blue Giraffe. When Lexi was turning pro, the family considered two companies to represent her: Blue Giraffe and IMG. Mark Steinberg and several IMG colleagues visited the Thompson home and made an impressive two-hour pitch. The names Annika Sorenstam and Tiger Woods, IMG clients, were mentioned more than once. Soon after the IMG visit, Scott called Steinberg to tell him that the family was going to stay with what they knew and have Lexi sign with Blue Giraffe. "I think he was in shock," Scott says. Blue Giraffe has little experience in women's golf. IMG's is vast. Scott takes pleasure in doing his own thing.
Blue Giraffe has set up deals for Lexi with Cobra-Puma, Red Bull and Rolex. Recently she hung out with Rickie Fowler for a day while shooting a Puma ad. Her bright blue eyes flared open at the mention of his name, and she said, "He's barrels of fun." Red Bull gave her a tricked-out golf cart, but it's hard to imagine her loading up its drink holders with cans of Bull. She's more the mineral-water type. The watch from Rolex has already arrived.
Rolexes for Mom and Dad are part of the deal, but they haven't arrived. Judy doesn't care. Her father was a milkman—Julius Boros was on his route—and she's not into the sparkly life. She arrives at the dentist's office most mornings before five, and a night out for her is a trip to Pasquale's, a strip-mall Italian restaurant. Scott's the one spending more time with the Rolex catalogs. He says he hasn't taken a penny from what Nick and Lexi have earned in golf. But if he gets a nice watch out of the deal? What the hell.
Were it not for her age, Lexi would be an official LPGA member. Members are required to be 18. It was agents at Blue Giraffe who prepared a 22-page petition to LPGA commissioner Mike Whan seeking an age exemption for Lexi so that she could play a full schedule. Whan turned it down. Scott doesn't get it. "I think the best should play," he says. "I don't care what age you are."
Lexi, who is homeschooled and doesn't plan to go to college, doesn't follow LPGA politics. Her father keeps up on all of that for her. It has been a tough time for women's golf, and more bad news came last month when State Farm announced that after 19 years, this would be the last year it would sponsor an LPGA event.
"If the LPGA goes out of business, I'll bulk her up, get her to hit it 320 and have her start playing the men," Scott said the other day. He was joking. He believes that Michelle Wie's experiment, in which a female golfer plays a handful of PGA Tour and Nationwide events, was a serious mistake. He knows how good Nick is even on an off day.
On this Friday night, with Nick in Bogotà and Lexi at the mall, Judy and Scott climbed into their bright-white SUV for a drive to the Fort Lauderdale airport. The Expedition is the unofficial vehicle of U.S. junior golf, with its vast space for suitcases and golf bags and extra shoes and hanging rain gear.
Curtis was waiting for his parents curbside in front of the Southwest terminal. He's tall and lean and dark, with a movie star's chin. "Oh, my God, look at him," Judy said to Scott. She hadn't seen Curtis in two months, their longest separation ever. "He looks like a man."
It has been this way forever. One day a parent is putting sunscreen on a baby's blubbery thighs, and the next that baby is shaving and looking for the keys to the car. Judy and Scott Thompson raised their kids in golf. It has gone well. Where they will go from here, nobody can say, not even Scott Thompson. As for the Expedition, its days are numbered.
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The New Sabo
After a family crisis, Rory Sabbatini finally learned how to control his emotions, on and off the course
In their private conversations Tour players don't bother with title sponsors. They don't say, "Are you going to the Waste Management Open?" No. They say, "You playing Phoenix?" There is one exception. Guys say, "You playing Honda?" Honda has been sponsoring a Tour event for 30 years now. No sponsor has been at it longer.
The name brings this picture to mind: an exhausting week of golf in heavy winds, balls lost in murky water, a winner with exceptional distance and trajectory control of his irons. An Ernie Els (2008). A Y.E. Yang (2009). Or a Rory Sabbatini (2011).
Sabbatini, 34, has now won six times on Tour, and last week at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.—at Honda—he showed a golfing maturity he had not exhibited before. He won by a shot over Yang with rounds of 71-64-66-70. The two middle rounds were stunning, almost crazy low given the course's 16 water hazards and the wind that blew 20 to 30 mph. But the key was his grind-it-out, U.S. Open--style closing 70, even par, while paired with Yang and Jerry Kelly. Remember the old Sabbatini, so fast, so shiny, so sharp? (Sorry, Bruce.) That man has left the building. He's all grown up now.
Three months ago the golfer's wife, Amy, delivered the couple's third child. There were complications for Amy, and she spent four days in intensive care in a cardiac unit. (She's fine.) Sabbatini played last week with a delivery-room photograph of Amy and himself and their baby boy that was covered in plastic and sewn into the headcover of his driver. Not every golfer would want that staring in his face every time he pulls a club. Sabo has learned how to funnel emotion to some worthy cause, like winning a $1 million first-place prize and a car to go with it.
Yang and his wife, Young Ju Park, are still shuttling their kids around Dallas in the Honda Odyssey minivan he took home in 2009. If you win Honda, Honda will give you any Honda ride you want, and the Sabbatinis, who also live in Dallas, have their eye on an Odyssey minivan too. Soccer balls not included.
Yeah, Yang and Sabbatini could drag 'em on the edge of town. But they're much more likely to cross paths some night in a 7-Eleven parking lot after purchasing an emergency gallon of 2%, and one will say to the other, "You playing Honda?"
Of course the answer will be yes.