Lexi Thompson's LPGA Kingsmill dominance just a beginning

.@KingsmillLPGA champion Lexi Thompson (@lexi) has handled fallout from ANA admirably

Annika Sorenstam's Kingsmill Championship record in 2008 was a farewell. Lexi Thompson's on Sunday figures to be just a beginning.

Sorenstam was 37 and openly considering retirement when she blistered the River Course for a 19-under-par aggregate. Indeed, two days later, Sorenstam announced she was exiting women's golf, a sport she had graced and dominated.

Thompson is 22, and though a LPGA Tour staple since 2012, and a major champion at age 19, she has yet to unleash all of her immeasurable potential. And that's what makes her 20-under demolition of this tournament all the more impressive.

Thompson fired rounds of 65-65-69-65 to best In Gee Chun by five strokes. She made two bogeys — two! — in 72 holes, none in Sunday's final round, and hit 64 greens in regulation, eight more than anyone else. She routinely outdrove playing partners by 30, 40, or 50 yards, leaving herself short irons to pins that she attacked with a veteran's poise.

The short game that's been a Thompson liability and the focus of so many practice hours? Unshakeable.

Oh, and let's not forget that Thompson, the world's fifth-ranked player, is the most marketable American on the circuit, a crowd favorite and tireless supporter of the military.

Translation: What's not to like?

Sunday marked Thompson's eighth, and arguably most important, LPGA victory. More important than her first, at age 16, or her major at the 2014 Kraft Nabisco.

More important because this was her first since she was denied a second major at last month's ANA Inspiration under conditions we'll politely call bizarre.

With Thompson leading by two strokes more than midway through the final round, LPGA officials assessed her a pair of two-shot penalties for hitting a putt from the wrong spot on the 17th green the previous day and then signing an incorrect scorecard.

Turns out Thompson had mismarked her ball, the violation unnoticed until a television viewer called the next day.

"It was," said Thompson's caddie, Kevin McAlpine, "an experience. Nobody's ever prepared for anything like that."

The ruling prompted understanding/approval from many golf purists, dismay/outrage from those of us less invested in the sport. A crippling penalty nearly 24 hours after the fact? Really?

Thompson appears to have processed the episode admirably.

First, she didn't cave that Sunday in California. The final nine holes of a major are stressful enough, but add considerable doses of anger and confusion, and there's no telling the result.

But Thompson birdied three of the final six holes to force a playoff with So Yeon Ryu, who won on the first extra hole with a birdie of her own.

Second, Thompson has been gracious in public. She shed some tears in her first press-room appearance after the ANA, that prior to the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout, where she finished a solid 17th (tie), but blamed no one for the incident.

The United States Golf Association and Royal & Ancient, the sport's governing bodies, amended their rules less than a month after Thompson's penalty, limiting the use of video evidence.

The episode galvanized Thompson and her fans. The galleries that followed her at Kingsmill, especially Sunday, were the tournament's largest and most supportive in memory.

"I am always a very determined person," Thompson said. "Every time I tee it up, I have that drive to win — even more now especially. … With how I came back and how I fought for the last five, six holes (at the ANA), it just shows how much fight I had and how much determination I have.

"To get the win here, I think it shows even more."

McAlpine has been on Thompson's bag for six events — the ANA was the third — and the 33-year-old Scot has proven the ideal antidote to Thompson's intensity. Thompson said she's never laughed so much on the golf course, a quality she needed in large supply after the ANA mess.

"Whatever I have to do to keep her relaxed, that's what I do," McAlpine said.

Thompson's victory lap Sunday — no one drew closer than two shots — concluded a perfect week of competition, crowds and weather for Kingsmill and its new owners, Escalante Golf. But there's still no masking the event's shortcomings.

Kingsmill's purse is the LPGA's second-lowest, and the tournament remains without a corporate sponsor to pay the bills. This edition of the event will enhance Kingsmill's sales pitch to potential partners, but similar assets did not attract a sponsor in 2009, causing the resort to shutter the tournament for two years.

Not even a peerless champion's club that included Se Ri Pak, Cristie Kerr, Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen and Sorenstam could prevent the hiatus.

Here's hoping this 13th LPGA tournament at Kingsmill will attract that elusive sponsor, sustain the event and afford Hampton Roads golf fans annual glimpses at a most compelling talent driven by last month's adversity.

"Growing up with two older brothers, I've always had that just fire in me," Thompson said. "Obviously there is a little bit more now, a little bit more behind it."

Teel can be reached by phone at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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