PRATTVILLE, Ala. (AP) – Lexi Thompson's milestone no longer stands, but the memories endure from her victory at last year's Navistar LPGA Classic.
Thompson returns this week to the venue where she became the LPGA Tour's youngest winner hoping to continue her recently improved play and perhaps contend for an encore victory on The Senator Course at Capitol Hill.
“It feels amazing to be back here,'' Thompson said. “It was a great experience, especially having my dad (Scott) on the bag caddying for me. I can't even describe the feelings coming up the 18th hole, it was just so overwhelming just to experience all the fans cheering for me coming up 18.''
Then 16, she coasted to a five-stroke win at the suburban Montgomery course that is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Lydia Ko, a 15-year-old amateur from New Zealand, broke her record last month in the Canadian Women's Open.
Thompson will compete in a field that doesn't include a number of the top players. Jiyai Shin is skipping it after winning the Women's British Open by a record nine strokes and also taking the Kingsmill Championship.
Only three of the top 10 players are competing, led by No. 1 Yani Tseng and No. 3 Stacy Lewis. Suzann Pettersen, So Yeon Ryu, Brittany Lincicome and Michelle Wie also are in the field.
Players are trying to recover from all the travel and weather battles at the British Open.
“I'm still trying to get over the jet lag from last week and figure out what time it is and where I'm at,'' said Lewis, who has three straight top 10 finishes.
Tseng tied for fourth in Prattville in 2009 and sixth the previous year.
“I love this golf course,'' she said. “I kind of decided last minute to come back here because I just love it so much. I just cannot give up a course I love and a tournament I love, so that's why I came back to play again.''
Thompson seems to have reclaimed her game entering her first LPGA title defense. She was 17th at the British Open and 14th at Kingsmill after failing to survive the cut in the previous three events.
Those troubles didn't seem to faze the rookie too much.
“I'm feeling pretty good about it,'' Thompson said. “I've played pretty consistent. Before those last two events I struggled a little bit, but it's golf. You've got to stay strong, you've just got to work through it. I feel pretty good about my game, just working to improve on little things.''
The Florida teenager has mostly flourished in Alabama. In April, she finished second to Lewis in Mobile after also flirting with the title at that event two years ago before a last-day collapse. Thompson also posted a career-low 65 round three years ago at the Navistar and shared the second-round lead at age 14.
Then came the pinnacle of her young career in Prattville. She said her biggest memories are coming up 18 with the win comfortably in hand and perhaps the drive on the par-3 two holes earlier that nearly went in the hole.
“Tiffany Joh made a run for me on those last few holes, got it down to three shots and she wasn't giving up,'' Thompson said. “And that's what I like, a challenge.''
She's not fretting too much about Ko breaking her record. The two played together in the first round at the British Open.
“She's just a natural player,'' Thompson said. “She's born with a gift. I'm doing my thing, doing what I love and just trying to keep on improving with my game, that's all I can do.''