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Talking Golf with Ricky Fowler and Lexie Thompson

Aired March 8, 2012 - 05:30:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: "Living Golf" in time with Rolex.

SHANE O'DONOGHUE, HOST: Two outstanding players preparing for the first major of the year. One a teenage sensation. The other a battle hardened veteran of the tour. One American. One British. One based here in sunny Florida. The other more at home in the slightly cooler north of England.

What they share is a rare talent, and a fierce desire to win. Welcome to "Living Golf."

On this month's program a tale of two families. Here in Florida, the teenage phenomenon, Lexie Thompson.

LEXIE THOMPSON, GOLFER: Yes, I'm a regular teenager. I just travel the world and play golf.

O'DONOGHUE: Relaxing 4,000 miles away, Lee Westwood plays host to our guest interviewer, his brother-in-law.


(UNKNOWN MALE): That's slightly disappointing.

O'DONOGHUE: (Inaudible) cheating or just winning. The irresistible rise of the belly putter.

So we've come here to Florida to meet a player who made their debut in the U.S. Open at the age of 12. Who made The Cup there at the age of 14. And at 16 became the youngest ever winner on the American Tour, and months later, the youngest ever professional to win on the European Tour.

Not Tiger, not Rory, but Lexie -- Lexie Thompson.

Looks pretty good.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

O'DONOGHUE: I'm Shane O'Donoghue. Nice to see you.

THOMPSON: Hi. It's nice to see you too.

O'DONOGHUE: Great to be here in West Palm Beach. And I know you were up at the Honda Classic Pro Am (ph).


O'DONOGHUE: How did you get on?

THOMPSON: It was good. Got to play with Greg Norman (ph), and a few other famous people so it was a lot of fun.

O'DONOGHUE: Now I did hear a rumor that you beat Greg Norman (ph). Is this true?

THOMPSON: I don't know. I -- I know I shot even par on the nine. But I'm not sure what he shot.

O'DONOGHUE: Well, it's such a fascinating story. And I hope we can guess to talk about all the things -- the amazing things that have happened in your short life. But there is the important matter of a match. You versus me.


O'DONOGHUE: I need to warm up.


O'DONOGHUE: You might need to hit a few more shots.



O'DONOGHUE: And I hope you're going to give me a few shots.

THOMPSON: I will if you want them.

O'DONOGHUE: Yes, I do.

THOMPSON: I only got my license about two years ago.

O'DONOGHUE: All right. Who's this?

Wow. Tiger line. A Lexie line. Game on. Advantage Ms. Thompson. I don't even know where that's gone. Oh, I threw that one away. That was a good opportunity for a half. Not to worry.

THOMPSON: Oh, good shot. Putt.

O'DONOGHUE: That's (inaudible) up and down. And yours was excellent too.

THOMPSON: Yes. Two great up and downs.

O'DONOGHUE: Yes. So that's a (inaudible) match between Ireland and the USA.


O'DONOGHUE: Sounds about right.


O'DONOGHUE: When did you actually start?

THOMPSON: I started playing golf when I was five years old.

O'DONOGHUE: And inspired by whom?

THOMPSON: I have two older brothers that play. So it -- just growing up around them. Game of golf just grew on me.

O'DONOGHUE: You must have made rapid strides though, because there was that incredible moment when you were 12 years of age. You qualified for the U.S. Women's Open. That's pretty much unheard of.

THOMPSON: Yes. Yes, that was a crazy experience for me. I -- I remember that first t-shot that day. I mean, I was seeing all the players out there that I watched on T.V. And you know just playing with them is -- you know, it's where I wanted to be in life.

O'DONOGHUE: What is it in you do you think is that quality that has allowed you to shine as such a young player?

THOMPSON: I've always been a really driven person. I -- I played other sports when I was younger. So I remember when I was really young and practicing late in the day. If I was struggling I was like, no. I'm not coming home for dinner. I have to figure this out before I go to sleep. Cause I won't be able to sleep tonight if I don't figure it out.

So I was that determined. And that's how I've always been.

O'DONOGHUE: Now, you've managed to turn things around very quickly. And to get that first win on the LPGA.

THOMPSON: Yes. It was truly the best week of my life. You know, I was just playing consistent. But you know, to have my dad on the bag going through that experience with me. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

O'DONOGHUE: And because you've achieved so much both at -- at home, and obviously internationally now as well as that wonderful win late in the year in Dubai, is it something that you would like to do? To become a, you know, world player?

THOMPSON: Yes. I would love to be a world player. Just traveling the world and playing European events, LPGA events. Just, you know, seeing different cultures and everything. It's an honor to be playing around the country.

O'DONOGHUE: You've been home schooled since when?

THOMPSON: Probably when I was around 10-12. Around that age. I do it all in line. I follow the Florida Virtual Schooling. Well, you have to be really determined, you know, to get up early and go online and do your school work. Because I either do it really early in the morning or late at night so I get to practice all day.

O'DONOGHUE: You're 17 years of age. You know, you've got this great relationship with your brothers and especially with your mom and dad. But you know, it's strange. Because normal 17 year olds are kind of disagreeing all the time with their mom, or you know, they're causing a lot of frustrating moments for their -- for their dad. Do you ever have those moments.

THOMPSON: Yes, we still have those moments. Yes. That's family -- so you still have your arguments. But you know getting through them, that's the whole relationship. That's what you have to get through.

O'DONOGHUE: You do have a journal?


O'DONOGHUE: Which is all to do with your golf.

THOMPSON: Yes. Well, usually teenage journals are about boys and whatever. They're about their life. But mine is my score cards from each event, and what I thought about on the golf course that week. You know, what I struggled with, or what I did well. So that's what this whole book is about. And hopefully I'll fill out a lot of them throughout my career.

You know it just reminds me of that week. And you know I learn from every week.

O'DONOGHUE: And the LPGA -- you know, obviously you've got so much marketability. If there is a need for an American star can you handle becoming a star?

THOMPSON: Yes. I -- I think I could handle it. But I'm just taking one (inaudible) at a time right now, and just trying to do my best. And you know, have a good time.

O'DONOGHUE: Lexie Thompson, its been fantastic to meet with you. Its been tremendous to play golf with you. I hope we will do it again. And we look forward to following your progress for many years to come. Thanks for joining us on "Living Golf."

THOMPSON: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

O'DONOGHUE: The remarkable Lexie Thompson. Still to come on "Living Golf," keeping it in the family.

(UNKNOWN MALE): There's one.

O'DONOGHUE: Lee Westwood.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Looking good. Oh, don't (inaudible) it. Don't -- no. Oh, no. I don't believe it.


O'DONOGHUE: Welcome back to "Living Golf." Now throw a golf ball around these more exclusive parts of Florida, and you're pretty likely to hit a tour pro. Players from all around the world from Graham McDowell (ph) to Yanni Singh (ph) to Ernie Eldon (ph), Ian Polter (ph) have all based themselves here over the years.

But one of Europe's most successful ever players has stayed much closer to his roots. And we sent someone who knows him very well indeed to meet him on home turf.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Now I've been doing this part a fair few times. And the reason for that is the man that lives down this path is 121 Thames in Europe, former world number one. Came on tour a year after I came on tour. We traveled the world together. We both played in the 99 Radar Cup (ph) at the Battle of Brooklyn.

The main reason why I know this guy -- he's married to my sister.

Wesley (ph)...


(UNKNOWN MALE): Good to see you all right?

(UNKNOWN MALE): Yes. (Inaudible)?

(UNKNOWN MALE): (Inaudible). You got some cracker facilities around about here. I want to go and take a look. (Inaudible)...

(UNKNOWN MALE): You (inaudible)?

(UNKNOWN MALE): I'll show you. I'll show you how to (inaudible). When we (inaudible).

(UNKNOWN MALE): All right.

(UNKNOWN MALE): If can't beat you, I'm in trouble.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Everybody beats me.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Wes, you've got a tremendous facility here, haven't you? Just at your house.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Yes. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to make it as efficient as possible. As I (inaudible) green. But there's a variety of shots. There's three different bunkers with different types of sand in providing different tasks. There's roll off areas. There's thicker (inaudible) as well around it.

And there's -- varying tees for different lengths of shots.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Right. Come on then. I used to be pretty good at this. Three shots. Yes, let's see who can get the closest, OK?

(UNKNOWN MALE): (Inaudible) Bank of Scotland (inaudible) do you? Yes?


(UNKNOWN MALE): They're worth more. Not bad.

(UNKNOWN MALE): That's slightly disappointing. You're not supposed to be any good at that.

(UNKNOWN MALE): It's all relative.

(UNKNOWN MALE): There's one. Looking good. Oh, don't hole it. Don't -- oh, no. I don't believe it.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Well, I don't think I really need to say much more, do I?

(UNKNOWN MALE): How did you do that? Right, Lee. Thanks very much for showing us out there and the short game. (Inaudible) come into the house. You're a bit of a veteran now. You know, you've been out on tour what? Eighteen, 19 years anyway. You've seen a lot. An awful lot has changed in that time.

(UNKNOWN MALE): I have. This is my 19th season. And its changed a lot. I think everything is a lot more professional out on the tour. But the one thing I've noticed more than anything is the people that come out on tour now. You know, the -- the young amateurs.

When we came out on tour an open from my point of view, my first ever event, was the first professional event I'd actually played. Whereas amateurs come out now. You know, you've got Manacero, or Rory (ph) just a few years back. Tom Lewis (ph) last year. He won very quickly touring -- after turning pro.

And it's because they play a lot of professional events as amateurs. And I was talking to Rory (ph) about this a couple of years back. And he said that, you know, he'd come to watch me. And -- myself and Tiger play in the world match (inaudible) Wentworth (ph) in 1998. And -- and then it suddenly registered with me that he'd be about eight -- nine years old.

So he -- he's sort of grown up. And a lot of these young lads have watching the likes of Tiger who have, you know, taken golf to another level.

(UNKNOWN MALE): The money has changed a lot of course over the years until there's an incredible amount of money to -- to play for now days. You know, that -- it can be a good thing. It can also be a bad thing, right?

(UNKNOWN MALE): It can be a bad thing because, you know, there is such a lot of money of top tens and top -- you know, thirds, fourths now. But sometimes you can lose fact, you know? The idea is to go out there and win. And you get, you know, people not winning enough any -- any more. You know you don't seem to get the prolific winners.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Every golfer will have peaks. They'll also have troughs. If you can go back to like 01 and 02 when, you know, you'd already been, you know, a huge winner -- a prolific winner in Europe, things went around 2001. That must have been pretty tricky for yourself.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Yes. I mean, it was difficult. You'd like to, you know, get to a certain level and continue improving and -- and playing at that level. But you know, I was touring the world. And dropped to 270 odd -- I stopped looking once it got to about 50. But unfortunately, you know, got back. I worked hard and changed a few things around and got back to number one in the world.

So you know, I think that when people say what's -- you know, the thing you're most proud of in your career? That is the thing I'm most proud of. I mean, there's not a lot of situations now that I -- that face me that I come into that, you know, I haven't got an answer for after going through...

(UNKNOWN MALE): Everything. Yes. Sure.

(UNKNOWN MALE): The fact that all good players' careers are defined by how many major championships they've -- they've won. And not by, you know, whether they got to world number one, or how many tournaments they've won. That adds pressure obviously when you haven't won one like -- like I haven't. But you know you have to learn to deal with that.

And the only way, you know, for me to win one is by improving just the things that I've already got. You know, I've already given myself good chances to win major championships. It just hasn't happened. So you know, the next time it does, if I have improved certain things, then you know, hopefully I'll get over the line first and win one of these major championships.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Raider Cup year, I (inaudible) personal feels. I think I (inaudible) was almost (inaudible) to their Raider Cup captain.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Yes, I think he's a very emotional and passionate man. He's obviously played a lot of Raider Cups. And his first few were, you know, side by side with (inaudible) who is, you know, the most passionate golfer I think I've ever seen on a golf course.

(UNKNOWN MALE): You fancy the job yourself one day? You know, you're -- you're only a couple of years away from it, and you're getting on to your 40s now.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Little bit harsh. I'd love to do it one day. Yes. I -- I'd like to play a few more first. This is -- hopefully, this year will be my eighth. I'd like to at least get up into double figures. I still feel like I've got a lot to offer. So 50s (inaudible) been in my career as well.

So you know I'd like to carry on well into my 40s. But you know, well, hopefully one day, you know, I'll be the captain. And I've been fortunate that I've played in seven. And all in the different captains as well. So I've got lots of different opinions and styles to fall from.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Nineteen years after (inaudible) merit titles -- 21 European tour events. Obviously, I mean, just how -- how do you keep motivated?

(UNKNOWN MALE): I just love winning tournaments. I'm a very competitive person. And you know, I want to improve and get as good as I can possibly get. And you know, that's part of what drives me on.

(UNKNOWN MALE): How long do you see yourself going on for?

(UNKNOWN MALE): As long as I'm competitive. You know, if -- if it gets to a point where I don't feel like I can go out there and win a tournament, then I'll just stop playing.

(UNKNOWN MALE): One more thing. One more thing I've got to ask you. What's it like being related to a famous golfer?

(UNKNOWN MALE): Well, at this moment it can be awkward at times. But it's nice knowing that you're the best golfer in the family.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Can't argue with that really. I'd like to try, but I can't.

(UNKNOWN MALE): The brothers-in-law -- Westwood and Colt out there. Still to come on "Living Golf," Ricky Fowler goes high risk. And that was the height that you wanted to play it at?

(UNKNOWN MALE): Yes. No, that turned out pretty good there.

(UNKNOWN MALE): And curse or a blessing? Can anyone stop the belly putter?


O'DONOGHUE: Welcome back to "Living Golf." Now, Tiger wants them banned. Other players say they transform their games. They used to be for just older players. But last year one of them was used to win a major. Now the world's governing bodies are trying to work out what to do about them. Love them or loath them, the long and belly putters are on the rise.

It all started when the tour players began playing and winning with the belly putter.

(UNKNOWN MALE): In June I changed for the belly putter, and after this its been great. Because I (inaudible) and the week after.

(UNKNOWN MALE): I believe I'm putting a better stroke than I did on my short putter more often.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Two time PGA champion, Dave Stockton is one of the best putters of his generation. He now coaches many of the top pros from Phil Nicholson (ph) to Dustin Johnson (ph). He's seen many trends come and go. But says the growing popularity of belly putters is transforming putting technique.

(STOCKTON): You're going to set up. You're going to take it inside, and it will return this way, which is the dead opposite of what I was taught to do when I was a kid. Because using a short putter what I'm going to do is try to take the put -- I don't care if it goes back inside or inside, and simply let the left hand go through.

But what people are doing is they're getting this anchor. I have to put it slightly ahead of me -- ahead of my belly button, choke down here, and then stroke it like this. It still -- for me it's awkward. You know, but for the people that are good at it, they're really, really good.

(HARMON): I think if I was going to start a young person today, I'd start them with a belly putter, because I think it's much easier to use. Once you anchor it, you can move all over the place, and the thing just goes on a natural path. For those of you who are watching this who have never tried a belly putter, I'm telling you, try one.

Go to your local P.J. pro and get one. Cause these -- these things work.

(UNKNOWN MALE): And many of us have. Last year demands for Kegan Bradley's (ph) major winning Odyssey Belly Putter skyrocketed by more than 400 percent. And now manufacturers are expecting to shift ten times the number of long putters they sold just two years ago.

But that's not to say there's now widespread acceptance of these putters. Even Tiger Woods has weighted into the debate. I've never been a fan of it. I believe it's the art of controlling the body, and -- and club, and swinging the pendulum motion. I believe that's how it should be played.

(UNKNOWN MALE): And Tiger isn't the only one.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Well, I -- I was impressed that Tiger spoke up. I think, you know, obviously his views are heard. And it was nice to see him expressing that. I think anyone that's very proficient at short putters wouldn't mind seeing the put -- the belly putter banned, you know?

Anything that's an advantage to me, you know, I'm all for it. Obviously, it's -- it would be a big move from the USGA and the R and A (ph). But certainly if it got banned, then I wouldn't be complaining. I guess Ernie summed it up the best a few years ago. He said, "You know -- you know, while it's legal, I'm going to cheat with the rest of them."

(UNKNOWN MALE): Whether or not it's considered to be in the spirit of the game, there are certainly quite a few who would stand to lose if the club were banned.

(UNKNOWN MALE): You're actually taking away an aid for a guy who's -- who's older. Who maybe 60 -- 70 who loves the game of golf, but can't bend over to play. I've had health issues my entire career. Beat and battered pretty much in my back and my hips. So for me it's a posture aid.

O'DONOGHUE: So where do the governing bodies stand on the matter? It's clear that some of those running the game think at least a review is needed.

(UNKNOWN MALE): It's something that we've taken a fresh look at. We're looking at all of the angles thinking about what's in the best interests of both the traditions of the game, and the history of the game. And what we think would be good for the game in the long term.

O'DONOGHUE: Regardless of whether any decision comes from this, the long and short of it remains that belly putters are here to stay for at least the foreseeable future. They may be a help to some. But one great putter reminds us that they don't give all the answers.

(UNKNOWN MALE): Whether you use a -- a mid range belly putter, or a normal standard putter doesn't really make any difference provided you have the right routine. I think it's the easiest part of the game. But if all the guys standing behind me are frantically trying to work it out, I don't think they'd agree with me.

O'DONOGHUE: If I were Tiger, I wouldn't expect a ban any time soon. Now, whatever your putter, you first have to give yourself something makable. So it's time for more shop making advice from the young male star of American Golf, Ricky Fowler.

The lob shot -- fantastic to look at, not as easy to pull off certainly if you're at my level. But we're going to figure out how to do it properly today with one of the best.

FOWLER: There's going to be times where, you know, you can't exactly run it through a bunker or hit it into the hill. So you got to hit a ball that's going to go up in the air, and come down softly.

O'DONOGHUE: Keys to playing the lob shot, Ricky?

FOWLER: Don't peek. Don't -- don't try and look up, cause then the ball will go that way.


FOWLER: Very low and very fast. You know, like I've said in other shots, stay in the (inaudible). When you decelerate, you're either going to chunk it, you're going to blade hit, or the ball is going to (inaudible) up short. So you got to stay committed to a shot.

So once you're over the ball, you know what you're going to do, how hard you want to hit it, go ahead and do it, and don't peek.

Now when I'm setting up obviously if -- you want to open the face. You want to try and get the ball up in the air. The face is going to aim a little bit right of the hole. Everything is open, so we're going to be quite a ways left of the hole with the feet.


FOWLER: Usually you're going to want to get -- sit down into the shot a little. And when you do make the swing, you want to feel like the club is coming back to neutral at the ball.


FOWLER: You know, if the hands are full, all right the ball is going to shoot up. And if you get too much this way you're either going to chunk it back here or blade it. And you want to keep a pretty steady tempo through the ball.

O'DONOGHUE: Wow. And that was the height that you wanted to play it at.

FOWLER: Yes. No. That turned out pretty good there. It flew a little bit short. But no. That -- that came down pretty soft and stopped pretty quickly.

O'DONOGHUE: Lower the hands a little?

FOWLER: Yes. And I'm just going to try to and think about getting that club back to neutral right at impact.

O'DONOGHUE: So this is neutral here, as opposed to here?


O'DONOGHUE: All right. Yes. OK.

FOWLER: A little heavy, but it's not going to hurt. It's tough. A lot of it is just kind of practice and getting the reps in to get the -- the feel of the contact. That was nice. You got some spin on it too.

O'DONOGHUE: Come on. Ricky.

FOWLER: Checked up nicely.

O'DONOGHUE: Free lesson?


O'DONOGHUE: Our thanks to Ricky Fowler there. And that is it for this edition of "Living Golf." On next month's program we'll be looking ahead to the masters with last year's champion, Charles Schwartzel, and some of his closest challengers. And we'll be with Martin Kaymer as he tunes up for Augusta with a spot of go carting.

Don't forget, all our reports are online, and you can keep across what we're up to on Twitter. But for now from the sunshine state of Florida, it's good-bye.