BARRINGTON – To say that Lexi Thompson has a busy week ahead doesn’t exactly paint the entire picture.
Then again, Morgan Pressel isn’t exactly idling away the hours herself.
Even though Thompson, a rising star on the LPGA Tour, has an eye on the U.S. Women’s Open that’s scheduled for later this week on Long Island’s Sebonack Golf Club, the 18-year-old was dead set on coming to Rhode Island Country Club to participate in the CVS Caremark Charity Classic for the second straight year.
“I was honored to be back. Even though it’s Open week, I was saying that I wanted to play in the CVS Classic. It was a pretty easy decision,” stated Thompson after teaming up with partner Peter Jacobson to shoot a four-under 67 on Day 1 of the CVS. “It’s such an amazing event with the amount of fans here and the great cause that they have.”
In Pressel’s case, her decision to come to RICC had little to do with defending her 2012 CVS crown, which she captured with Jay Haas. The 25-year-old resident of Boca Raton, Fla. admitted that with Open week, it’s a time that’s flush with distractions. By coming to Rhode Island, she hopes to avoid much of the hoopla by the time she touches down in the Empire State.
“I thought maybe coming here and having fun for a couple of days would be a nice and relaxing way to prepare,” said Pressel after Monday’s opening-round 62, a score that once again has Haas’ name attached to it. “I’ve had so much fun over the handful of years I’ve been here that I really didn’t want to miss it.”
Upon finishing her duties here Tuesday, Thompson will board a private plane that will take her to Southampton, N.Y., where she plans to squeeze in a nine-hole practice round on what is a Jack Nicklaus-designed course.
Such an exit strategy is a far cry from how Pressel plans to tune up for Open.
“I’ve made plenty of preparations. I’ve played (Sebonack) four times, so I feel I could play tomorrow and know the golf course well enough. I don’t feel like I’m missing practice rounds,” said Pressel. “It will just be about getting out on Wednesday and seeing the speed of the greens and whether the course has changed since the last time I was there, that kind of stuff.”
Part of the reason why Thompson, who has brother Curtis serving as her caddy following his tie for 12th place at this past week’s Northeast Amateur, plans to depart rather quickly is that unlike Pressel, she’s not familiar with the layout at Sebonack.
“I’m really excited to see that golf course. I’ve heard it’s amazing,” Thompson smiled. “I’ll get in a practice-round-and-a-half at the Open, so I think that’s enough. Open week is already mentally tough enough.”
The rows of empty bleachers overlooking the 18th green accurately portrayed just how humid and sticky it was Monday. Cognizant of the weather, tournament officials distributed bottles of Poland Spring water throughout the day. The presence of on-site medics proved invaluable, especially late in the day when a few paying customers were spotted receiving medical attention.
As for the players, the sweltering conditions were hardly noticeable.
“We haven’t seen it this hot in a while, but as (CVS participant and Oklahoma native Bo Van Pelt) noted, we’ve played in places hotter than this,” said co-host and Barrington native Brad Faxon. “I think we’re getting the same (hot weather on Tuesday).”
The mood around the golf course this week isn’t exactly of the cutthroat nature that’s normally seen on the professional circuit. Still, you won’t hear any of the contestants complain about having a rare chance to let their hair down.
“Definitely more laid back,” was the description 12-time PGA Tour winner Steve Stricker painted when asked to compare the CVS to the tension that typically permeates a marquee event like the Masters or U.S Open. “We’re signing autographs between holes and talking to some of the spectators. It’s all for a good cause and playing with good friends makes for a relaxing round.
“We’re still trying to compete and do well, don’t get us wrong, but it’s still a lot of fun,” Stricker continued.
Playing at a course that provides golfers with a chance to post numbers only enhances the experience.
“This is my first time around (Rhode Island Country Club); I’ve never been here before,” said Stricker. “It’s a fun layout and there’s a lot of birdie opportunities. They can also put the pin in some tough spots where if you’re not in the fairway, it’s going to be tough to get to. Bo and his caddie led me around (Monday) a little bit and showed me where to go and what to do, but there’s a lot of course knowledge that you need to have.”
One of the more memorable sights on the day was seeing numerous youngsters – some from the San Miguel School of Providence – dressed head-to-toe in flashy and noticeable Puma gear. The children were paying homage to Rickie Fowler, who talked about making an impact with the younger generation after taking a few minutes to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
“For me to be able to walk inside the ropes each week and see kids wearing the Puma gear and rocking the hats, whether I’m having a good or bad day, it puts everything in perspective and puts a smile on my face,” said Fowler.
From a financial aspect, the mission of the CVS Classic has always been to give back to the community. Another area where this annual staple is making a difference took center stage Monday as the first-ever “All Kids Can” three-hole challenge went on while the CVS field was on the course.
“We’ve got to try and grow the game somehow, and where else do you start but with the kids?” said Faxon.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03