LPGA pro and South Florida native Lexi Thompson returns to conduct golf clinic

Lexi Thompson of the United States watches her ball from bunker on the 9th hole during the final round of the LPGA Thailand golf tournament in Pattaya, southern Thailand on Feb. 28, 2016.
Lexi Thompson of the United States watches her ball from bunker on the 9th hole during the final round of the LPGA Thailand golf tournament in Pattaya, southern Thailand on Feb. 28, 2016. AP

Lexi Thompson returned to South Florida on Monday, and those familiar surroundings always make her smile.

Thompson, who turns 22 in three days, was conducting a clinic in conjunction with this weekend’s Allianz Championship on The Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton.

Now, even if you are just a part-time follower of golf, you are most likely familiar with Thompson. She is the fifth-ranked woman golfer in the world and the top-ranked player in the United States.

But it’s her age that might puzzle you. Most people would say, “She’s been around forever — she’s a longtime veteran of the LPGA Tour. She can’t be 22.” And if you said that, Thompson would agree with you.

“It’s crazy to think I’m turning 22,” she said Monday. “It seems I’ve been playing golf for such a long, long time.”

That’s because Thompson, who was born, raised and spent much of her life in Coral Springs, was a wunderkind of staggering proportions in the world of golf.

Consider a few of the accomplishments she achieved before being able to legally drive a car:

▪ At age 12, Thompson played in her first U.S. Women’s Open (no, not the Jr. Open, but the real U.S. Open). At the time, she became the youngest person to ever do so. Pretty impressive, even if she did not make the cut. Thompson was so enthralled about playing in that Open she practiced signing her autograph on the ride to the course, and, yes, plenty of people were asking for the 12-year-old’s signature.

▪ At age 14, she made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open.

▪ At age 15, she turned pro.

▪ At age 16 years, seven months and eight days, she became the youngest winner of an LPGA event when she won the Navistar LPGA Classic.

So, in terms of winning and success at such an early age, Thompson these days as a soon-to-be 22-year-old is thought of as a wizened golf veteran even if she has many, many more years of golf ahead of her.

In her career, Thompson has already won $5,543,858 on the LPGA Tour alone (sponsorship money and earnings from other tours not included) and has 43 Top 10s and seven LPGA victories, including one major.

These days, Thompson can undoubtedly make the claim that she is the best woman golfer to ever come out of South Florida, an area close to her heart. She has moved from Broward’s Coral Springs, but only a few miles north to Delray Beach in Palm Beach. “I want to stay close because my family means so much to me,” she said.

That said, she’s not always home as she has won tournaments on seven continents.

Occasionally, one of her playing partners is now-President Donald Trump. What does she think about how Trump is doing as President? “I don’t know anything about politics,” she said, artfully dodging the question.

OK, if someone had $10 to bet, should they put it on Trump or Lexi? “I would have to go with me,” she answered, laughing.

So, on Monday at The Old Course as the Allianz prepares to tee off with an array of standout over-50 golfers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Thompson was celebrating her upcoming birthday, her success and the fact she had a chance to teach a bunch of golf-lovers how to improve their swings and, more importantly, how to enjoy the game.

Even with all her success, Thompson knows there is one truism that cannot be denied about golf.

“It’s a sport you can never perfect,” she said, then after a pause, she wisely added, “and that’s why we play the game.”

Thompson made her clinic students feel better about their golf by describing how even a golfer of her caliber can get frustrated.

“Last year, I went through five putters,” she said. “At one point, I was even putting with my eyes shut trying to get better. Seriously.”

There’s no doubt Thompson works hard at her game. That includes incessant practicing, working out in the gym, meditation and eating healthily.

Sounds like a lot of work and self-control, but with at least one exception.

Thompson, with a big smile and a laugh, admitted to the crowd, “I do eat Fruity Pebbles for breakfast.”