Lexi Thompson Banking on Experience of Scottish Caddie at Kingsbarns
Lexi Thompson is hoping the vast local experience of her Scottish caddie will prove invaluable as she looks to secure a second major title at the 41st Ricoh Women’s British Open.
Kevin McAlpine, the son of former Dundee United goalkeeper Hamish, was formerly a bagman at Kingsbarns, this week’s stunning venue in Fife. Enjoying a successful career as an amateur – winning both the Scottish Strokeplay and Matchplay titles – the Scot joined the 22-year-old American earlier this year following a recommendation from Jimmy Gunn (as reported in The Herald), the Dornoch-born golfer who now plays on the Web.Com Tour.
It was a dramatic career shift for a man who had been working for Golphin for Kids, following an injury-blighted effort at professional golf, an arrangement that was initially based around this week alone, but it has become a permanent one, with McAlpine being alongside Thompson since the spring, and she has put together an excellent season to date, leading the LPGA Tour’s scoring average and having just ascended to a career-high of second on the Rolex World Rankings.
There was obvious disappointment following her controversial penalty incident and subsequent playoff loss at the ANA Inspiration, but the 22-year-old has admirably rebounded from that emotionally crushing situation, picking up a victory in May’s Kingsmill Championship, not to mention several runner-up finishes, including in her last start at Ohio’s Marathon Classic just a fortnight ago.
Coming to Kingsbarns, however, is another proposition entirely, particularly with mixed and changeable conditions forecast throughout the week. It can be a challenge to effectively have considered answers to the questions of a potentially uncooperative links, but it certainly helps to bank on a caddie who knows each situation that it could present. Having Kevin on the bag may help set her apart from the other contenders in terms of strategy and course management during the championship, and his knowledge is something that the likable Floridian is relying upon.
“Having him caddie out here for four or five years has been a huge help,” she said. “Stepping foot out here the first time on Monday, I was like, I have no idea. I mean, there could be a bunker over that hill, I don't know. So, he was just telling me every line and what every green does hitting the shots into them, so it's been a huge help. He knows the greens very well.”
The player-caddie relationship is notably unpredictable, as we’ve seen recently with Rory McIlroy and JP Fitzgerald, not to mention the shocking divorce between Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay. For the moment, though, the bond between Thompson and McAlpine is indelible.
“Kevin is like my best friend,” the Solheim Cup star continued. “He's always there to hear me out and hear me vent on the golf course, and we laugh so much on the golf course. I've never been so relaxed out there, and he's definitely been a good change. He knows my game very well. He's a player, too, so it's good to have him on the bag. I'm very grateful.”
That sense gratitude will only heighten should Lexi become the first winner from the United States since Mo Martin’s surprise triumph three years ago at Royal Birkdale, and she is looking to take advantage of the rain softened greens following heavy showers on Tuesday and expected precipitation during Thursday’s opening round.
“The conditions will definitely be a little easier just due to the rains yesterday, and putting some of the greens. The greens are a little bit more receptive. Sometimes you have a few ledges and it stops quickly. The greens are a little bit slow just because with the big slopes on them they can't get too fast, but like I said, the course is in great shape for us this week.”
Kingsbarns has already met with Thompson’s approval, describing it as “one of my favourite layouts.” Maybe there is a sense of bias having Kevin on the team, but there was a clear positivity and confidence emanating from the long-hitter, despite ongoing discomfort from Temporomandibular disorder (TMD), which causes pain in the lower jaw, affecting her ability to sleep.
That self-belief is likely born from her consistent results this season, which has been attributed to an improved short game, always paramount to success in Fife should the skies turn dark and ominous.
“I had somebody come up to me and tell me that and why the reasoning is,” she said of her enhanced skills on and around the greens. “I think it's just because I worked on my short game a good amount in this off-season, and my putting. The putting changes that I made, I was making a lot more of the putts from the bunkers that I was hitting into, so I think that's why the change is so dramatic. But yeah, I just really worked hard in the off season on my short game, my chipping and my putting, because I knew that's what I needed to work on.”
She is certainly reaping the benefits of that endeavour – sitting third on the LPGA’s money list with $1,279,576 earned this year. Should a second major triumph come this week at Kingsbarns, she will have those improved stats (and just a bit of help from Kevin) to thank for crossing the line under the shadows of the Home of Golf.
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