The Augusta area can claim only one LPGA Tour player on the circuit this year – part-time resident Nicole Jeray – but it has three caddies who work for players ranked in the the top 20 in the world.
Benji Thompson is on the bag for fifth-ranked Lexi Thompson, Mercer Leftwich III works for No. 9 Shanshan Feng and Kyle Bradley is the caddie for Jessica Korda, who is ranked 18th and has won twice this season.
The three golfers have combined to win nine times on the LPGA Tour, and Thompson and Feng have won major championships. Benji Thompson, who is not related to Lexi Thompson, showed his enthusiasm for Lexi’s major championship win in the Nabisco Championship in April when he did a flip into Poppie’s Pond during the annual “Champions Leap” after the victory.
He also helped 19-year-old Lexi get in some pre-U.S. Women’s Open work at Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken. Benji called head pro Brooks Blackburn about Lexi playing the course, and Blackburn said it would be no problem.
Blackburn joined Lexi and PGA Tour winner Scott Brown, of North Augusta, for a round June 15, the day before Lexi left for the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Benji Thompson didn’t play, but he did caddie for Lexi at Palmetto.
All Lexi did was make seven birdies and shoot 6-under-par 65 at Palmetto, beating both Blackburn and Brown. They all played from the back tees, which measured 6,500 yards, Blackburn said.
Blackburn wouldn’t say what he shot, but he did beat Brown.
“I told him not only did he get beat by a woman but he got beat by an old club pro,” Blackburn joked. “In his defense, Scott had the week off and was working on some things. He wasn’t in form. He normally makes eight to 10 birdies in a round here.”
Blackburn said Lexi’s 65 was “absolutely” the women’s course record at Palmetto and “will be the course record forever.”
“It was pretty sporty,” Blackburn said of her round. “She’s a very good player. I was impressed that it was the first time she had gone around this place.”
Blackburn said Lexi never outdrove him or Brown, but that “she hits it a long way, 270 to 285 yards. But we hit our 8-irons about the same.”
From what he saw in Lexi’s pre-U.S. Women’s Open tune-up, Blackburn thought she “might run away with” the tournament at Pinehurst.
Lexi started strong, and was three shots behind eventual champion Michelle Wie after rounds of 71-68, but shot 74-71 on the weekend and finished in a tie for seventh, six shots behind Wie.
CUTTING BACK: North Augusta’s Jeff Pope won’t be making a run at a third consecutive Peak Amateur Series Player of the Year title.
Pope plans to play in only three of the 10 events, and even that’s not a given.
“That’s if everything goes right,” said Pope, who won Sunday’s Woodside Summer Classic and hopes to play in the Ping Invitational at Gordon Lakes on July 26-27 and the E-Z-GO Jones Creek Classic on Aug. 23-24.
“The last two years I’ve given the series a big priority and this year I’ve got some other things going on,” said the 48-year-old Pope, who is the career leader in regular division victories with 14.
By “other things,” Pope means family vacations and playing in state events and USGA qualifiers. He’s a former champion in the Augusta City Amateur, but is skipping that this year because there is a U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier the day after that 54-hole event, which would have given him four days of golf in a row.
“I’m going to play in the ones I can and do the best I can,” Pope said of the Peak series.
Should he win all three starts, he could still be in the running for player of the year honors if no one steps forward. With each win worth 75 points, Pope would earn 225 Peak Amateur Series points with three wins.
UP AND RUNNING: Veterans of the Peak Amateur Series have said for years that a Web site for the series might increase participation since all the information needed (schedule, points, results, history) would be in one place and could spark interest.
Starting last week, that became a reality. Peak Employment Solutions, which is in its first year as sponsor, unveiled the site at www.peakags.com. Before, it had just been a web page.
“It can’t do anything but help – I just don’t know how much it will help,” said senior Glen Hurt, a former player of the year who won the season-opener at Belle Meade this year. “There are a lot of good golfers in their 20s and 30s who aren’t playing. That should be a priority – getting that regular division built up.”
ON THE RADIO: With so many PGA Tour golfers based in the Sea Island/St. Simons Island, Ga., area, SiriusXM radio has introduced a weekly show featuring a number of them speaking on the golf topics of the day.
The SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio show debuted June 18 and will continue in its weekly Wednesday run tonight. It runs from 7 to 8 on XM channel 93, Sirius channel 208.
Former PGA Tour pro Brian Bateman is the host, and he will be joined by a rotating group of co-hosts, including the most famous Sea Island resident, Davis Love III.
Among the co-hosts is former Clemson star and 2009 U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover. Todd Anderson, the Sea Island Director of Instruction and 2010 National PGA Teacher of the Year, will also sit in the co-host chair.