PITTSFORD, N.Y. — On the job, Lexi Thompson’s gaze is straight down the middle. But when it comes to her image, the 19-year-old doesn’t always play it safe.
Puma’s new ad campaign, "Calling All Troublemakers," features a bikini-clad Thompson in a candle-lit hot tub with two male models, a light blue driver resting on her shoulder.
The edgy commercials began airing last week and feature Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, soccer star Mario Balotelli and Rickie Fowler, among others. (Fowler isn’t in a hot tub.)
"I was pretty comfortable with the whole thing," Thompson said. "It was different, but I knew that going into it."
Thompson, who is tied for the lead at the Wegmans LPGA Championship after a first-round 6-under 66 at Monroe Golf Club, shot the commercial in April after winning the year’s first major, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She first flew to Germany for an appearance at Puma’s worldwide sales meeting and then hopped a private jet with Bolt to Milan.
Before this global marketing campaign Thompson, who is ranked sixth in the world, had yet to appear in a single print ad or commercial spot for Puma. Thompson’s agent, Bobby Kreusler, said they received confirmation that she would be in the ad before her victory at the Kraft and called it a "major coup."
"I do think there’s a risk in anything that we do that I’ll call outside of the middle of the road," said Kreusler, chief executive officer of Blue Giraffe Sports, "but we analyzed it with Puma and everyone involved and felt it was designed to be fun and interesting and thought-provoking."
The fitness-crazed, high-heeled Thompson clearly has transitioned her image from the lanky kid who drove the ball miles and won an LPGA event at 16 years, 7 months and 8 days. She’s now as much bombshell as she is bomber.
"I want to be just known as a humble, physically fit athlete that gives back to the fans," Thompson said, "and is different and outgoing and willing to do anything to take me out of my bubble."
The Wegmans LPGA Championship’s move from Locust Hill to Monroe Golf Club sets up nicely for Thompson, who can rip driver on 14 holes. At the narrower Locust Hill, she would lay back on at least five holes. In three LPGA Championship starts, her best showing is a tie for 28th.
After tying for seventh at the U.S. Women’s Open, Thompson has yet to post a top-10 finish. She hit 16 greens on Thursday in chilly Rochester, and said she’s been working on getting her club face back in the right position.
"Golf is a lot about confidence," Thompson said. "You just have to go into every shot just telling yourself you’re going to pull it off."
Already a four-time winner on the LPGA, Thompson would elevate her stature in golf circles with a second major championship.
But the challenge of reaching a broader audience outside of golf — one in which she is known as an athlete and not just a golfer — is a decades-old problem for LPGA players that Kreusler hopes to solve.
He’s confident that Thompson’s presence in Puma’s international campaign is a step in the right direction, even if controversy follows.
"I think it’s truly tragic that these women don’t get the recognition and support by mainstream sports publications that they deserve," Kreusler said.
"It’s a struggle, and I don’t know why."
Last week, Thompson posted to her Instagram account a photo of her posing with the male models with whom she had splashed around during the shoot.
"I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on it," she said. "That’s what I was hoping for."