Their matches were defined by an almost unhealthy competitiveness. Three Thompsons would set out together, but often only two returned. "If someone was getting beat pretty bad, they'd walk off the course," says Lexi. "We were really mean about it."
The result is that this ponytailed pixie developed an Annika-like determination that cannot be taught at a fancy golf academy.
"The kids would go play every afternoon, and at some point the boys would come home and relax, but Lexi would always stay on the range," says Judy, whose easygoing manner balances her husband's intensity. "I'd tell her, 'Dinner is at seven, and that's not negotiable.' But after dinner she'd often want to hit more balls. She'd say, 'Mom, I won't be able to sleep tonight if I don't fix my swing.' So when people say Lexi was pushed into this, we can only laugh. Lexi has pushed herself so incredibly hard from a very early age."
This want-to is invaluable, but what makes Thomspson such a tantalizing prospect are her physical gifts. She has the broad-shouldered, long-limbed build of an Olympic swimmer. (Her weight is classified information. "A woman never tells," Lexi said to the inevitable question ... when she was 12.) Says her instructor, Jim McLean, who has worked with many brand-name pros, "Think about Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman in their primes, think about the young Tiger Woods; it was awe-inspiring to watch them swing the club. That's Lexi. You stand near her on the tee and you feel the power. The sound of the ball being compressed—wow!"
At the Navistar, Thompson decimated The Senator course, all 6,460 yards of it, regularly booming 280- and 290-yard drives, which allowed her to reach all four of the par-5s in two and hit wedge into all but one par-4. (She used an eight- or a nine-iron on that one.) Paired with Thompson, veteran Jane Park was giving up 40 or 50 yards off the tee. "I enjoyed watching Lexi smash the ball," Park says. "Her strength is unbelievable, and watching her play was very humbling."
Worse still for the would-be competition is that Thompson is only beginning to harness her latent athleticism. It wasn't until the start of this year that she committed to a more disciplined diet—"I love Oreos, but I haven't had one in forever"—and working with Craig Slaunwhite, the strength-and-conditioning coach for the NHL's Florida Panthers. One of his favorite toys is a wall-mounted cable machine with weighted resistance. It builds what Slaunwhite calls "rotational power." The machine uses watts to measure the force generated. Thompson can reach up to 1,300 watts. Some of Slaunwhite's NHL studs top out at 1,400. "Her explosiveness is phenomenal, but that's not the most impressive thing about Lexi," says Slaunwhite. "I can show her an exercise she's never seen, and if I demonstrate it only once, she picks it up immediately and with perfect form. Her motor skills and ability to acquire new technique are among the best of any pro or Olympic athlete I have ever worked with."
Thompson's smile is pure Madison Avenue, and she favors pink hair ribbons to complement her bright, feminine outfits, but the way she mauls a golf ball is reflective of the tomboy toughness imbued by her brothers. "I'm not that girlie," says Lexi, who drives a black Camaro SS with blacked-out rims and trim. "I want to be sporty and cool. I'm never going to be skinny like a model, and that's fine. I like being portrayed as athletic. If people want to call me powerful, that's great!"
Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez says that the ideal formula for an LPGA player to achieve popularity is "to look like a woman but play like a man." Which is why McLean, in a nod to the LPGA commissioner, says, "Lexi Thompson is God's gift to Mike Whan."
On Sept. 30, Whan made the no-brainer decision to waive the tour's minimum age requirement of 18, granting Thompson full playing privileges for next season. That she belonged was self-evident, even before her breakthrough victory; in 2010, in only six starts, Thompson would have placed 34th on the money list. (She was a nonmember of the LPGA, so her $336,472 was unofficial.) In petitioning Whan, Kreusler focused on Thompson's strong support system and the maturity she had demonstrated since turning pro in June 2010, at 15. Case in point was last spring's Avnet LPGA Classic, at which Thompson shared the lead heading into the final round but shot a crushing 78. Plenty of top players of either sex have responded to rounds like that by petulantly stomping past fans and reporters. After the 78, Kreusler gingerly asked Thompson if she'd be willing to do an interview for Golf Channel. "Of course," Lexi said with a touch of bafflement. "All those people watched me for the last two hours, why wouldn't I talk to them?" Then she signed autographs.
In announcing his decision, Whan was asked about the notion that Thompson will be expected to carry the tour. "She doesn't have to carry any more weight than the weight of her bag," he said.