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LPGA’s Thompson battles nerves, draws crowd at Shriners

When it comes to women’s golf, players say that nothing compares to the nerves they feel on the first tee of the Solheim Cup.

Lexi Thompson had those same feelings Thursday in Las Vegas.

Thompson became the seventh woman to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she hit her opening tee shot at 1:19 p.m. at the Shriners Children’s Open at TPC Summerlin.

She held her own through 16 holes, sitting at 1 over when play was halted due to darkness. She faces a 21-footer for par on the 17th green when play resumes at 7:45 a.m. Friday, with a little work to do to make the cut and play the weekend.

“I had a little bit of nerves, but not too much. Kind of similar to Solheim, similar nerves, but that’s kind of what you play for,” she said of her opening tee shot.

Thompson wasted little time showing the skill that has made her one of the top players on the LPGA Tour for more than a decade. She hit her second shot from a fairway bunker to 8 feet, but missed the birdie putt. One hole later, however, she drained a 22-footer for her first of three birdies. She also had two bogeys and a double bogey after making a mess of No. 7.

“It was a very special feeling,” she said of that first birdie. “I hit a great shot into 1 and probably hit one of my worst putts, and then hit an amazing putt on No. 2, so it was nice to kind of have a good stroke there and make birdie on a more difficult hole.”

Thompson finds herself two shots behind the current cut line, so she’ll need a strong round Friday morning if she wants to continue this journey into the weekend. But for Thompson, the week is about so much more than her scorecard.

“It’s been great so far this whole week. Everybody has been so welcoming and just a huge honor just to be able to tee it up here,” she said. “There’s more to it than just golf. Shriners does amazing things for these kids, so I’m happy to be out here and supporting them in any way I can.”

And the fans are out in force supporting Thompson. Huge galleries followed her every move Thursday.

“The fans were amazing,” she said. “So many people around that first tee and then following us those next few holes. It was just great, especially to see those little kids out there. The fans make the game, and that’s why we continue to play and just hopefully grow it.”

Her ability to draw others to the game is not something unnoticed by PGA Tour players.

“I know she really moves the needle with young girls, and that’s phenomenal,” said Luke List, who won last week in Mississippi and is among the Shriners leaders after a 66 on Thursday. “Just crossing those barriers is really important, and I think that just the tournament being progressive and giving her the opportunity is really cool.”

Thompson’s commitment to Shriners and the children it helps is obvious with Thompson’s golf bag this week. She put a special white bag in play this week, and it’s covered in messages written to her from those children.

And while she continues to preach the larger message, Thompson enters Friday with a legitimate shot at becoming just the second woman to make a cut in a PGA Tour event.

For that to happen, she’ll need to improve on her Thursday performance.

“I played decent,” she said. “I had one bad hole and a few iffy shots. But it’s golf; it was kind of expected.”

Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. Reach him at grobertson@reviewjournal.com.

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