JAMES CITY — A trio of Southeastern Virginia LPGA-diehard retirees was on Lexi Thompson's fan bandwagon before it was even rolling.
Nancy "Spider" Copeland of Windsor and Paulette Spruill and Barbara Stephenson of Chesapeake have been following the 21-year-old star since before the third-ranked player in the world knew how to handle an autograph seeker.
They recalled a moment in the Saucon Valley clubhouse following the 2009 U.S. Open in Bethlehem, Penn. when 14-year-old Lexi was approached by a young girl with a pen and pad.
"I think she wants your autograph," Copeland had to explain to her, two years after the three friends of now 45 years were captivated by Thompson's entry as a 12-year-old in the U.S. Open at North Carolina's Pine Needles.
Those days of anonymity are long gone. Thompson has since become one of the most recognizable figures in women's golf, at the least.
Still by her side at multiple LPGA events during the year and last week at Kingsmill, is this group, which has dubbed itself "Lexi's Virginia Grannies."
Thompson posted a photo of the four of them last week to her Instagram account, which has more than 150,000 followers. In it, the ladies each donned black shirts with "Lexi's Virginia Grannies" logos, specially made for the Kingsmill tourney that wrapped on Sunday.
"It's a great group of ladies," Thompson said. "They've followed me around for years now, ever since I turned professional. I've gotten to know them really well, go out to dinner with them. They're just amazing supporters and people in general. I'm just lucky enough to have fans like that."
These ladies aren't so much fans now as they are extended family.
How exactly does that happen?
For one, the LPGA isn't like more mainstream American sports or even the PGA Tour; Some of the athletes are more accessible and well, Lexi's mother, Judy, kind of had to go along with it, the 64-year-old Copeland joked. "You're out there for four hours and 18 holes, so you're walking and talking," Copeland said. "… Poor Judy didn't have a choice. Every time she turned around, we were at a tournament. We just created a friendship over the years."
The trio met Lexi's grandmother at one of the annual season-ending tournaments in Naples, Fla. and told her they would look after her granddaughter when they attended tournaments.
Grannies-to-go, you might say.
When the schedule is released, they check with Judy to see which ones Lexi will play and plan accordingly. This year, they've done Ocala, Fla and Irving, Texas. Next month, it's the IL Crown in Chicago before the season finale in Naples late fall.
"Here's a 21-year-old with some retirees," Stephenson, 70, said, "and she's gracious enough to spend some time with us. We really appreciate that and all she does."
"Not only is she a good player, but she is so gracious to the spectators and to her fans," Spruill, 69, said. "… I just the think the entire family is such a nice family. I just really appreciate good sportsmanship along with good talent."
Copeland and Stephenson each are former coaches. Stephenson coached softball and volleyball at Deep Creek High and Copeland got her nickname "Spider" as a long-legged teenage basketball player.
All three played softball together and still play golf in a Suffolk league. "Or we try to," Spruill said.
No question, the "Grannies" are on Team Thompson, but say they still enjoy watching all of the LPGA players. And most of them, they believe, are just as pleasant as Lexi, who paused to sign autographs in the middle of her round Saturday.
"We like to say it's fun," Copeland said, "to go watch golf the way it should be played, by the LPGA."
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.