Lexi Thompson tucks grief away, remains fan favorite at Women’s PGA

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Lexi Thompson sank a putt for birdie on her final hole of the US Women’s Open this month, walked into the scoring facility adjacent to the 18th green at Pine Needles golf club in Southern Pines, NC, and received the distressing update for which she had been bracing.

Her ailing Grandma Mimi had died earlier that Sunday, but Thompson’s team withheld the information until she arrived in a setting that offered at least a modicum of privacy. When told, Thompson began sobbing, even as she had made peace with the inevitable while sitting bedside during her beloved grandmother’s final days.

After an extended emotional release and plenty of consolation from those closest to her, the sixth-ranked player in the world made her way back outside to fulfill every last autograph request and pose for dozens of photographs.

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“It was very difficult, but I know she would want me out there killing it,” Thompson, 27, said Tuesday at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, site of this week’s Women’s PGA Championship. “It’s important to give back to the fans. I mean, they took time out of their lives to support me, good or bad. The least I can do is give them some of my time. ”

In several instances Thompson choked back tears before speaking with young fans overjoyed at spending even a few seconds in her company. Still, she pressed on, not wanting to deny star-struck girls their moment with a golfing role model who has become perhaps the most recognizable face in the women’s game of her generation.

Her supporters didn’t care that Thompson had posted a 5-over-par 76 in the final round or that she finished tied for 20th in her quest for her first US Women’s Open title. What mattered was that Thompson, grieving inside, still gave of herself despite the circumstances.

“She’s a remarkable player but even a more remarkable person,” said LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan. “She’s amazing with the girls and the fans who come to watch her, and she’s just a wonderful representative. I love watching her play because she’s just a killer athlete, but when you know the personal side it makes it even better. ”

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The demand for Thompson’s attention at Congressional, where the 11-time LPGA winner is among the favorites at the third major on the women’s golf calendar, was much the same after she wrapped up her morning pro-am on the blue course.

Thompson paused to sign and pose with children and adults alike by the clubhouse, thanking every volunteer accompanying her group and acknowledging applause and words of encouragement almost anywhere she went.

The quest for Thompson’s first Women’s PGA Championship victory begins Thursday with a 1:23 pm tee time in the first professional major contested in the national capital market since the 2011 US Open. It also marks the first women’s major at storied Congressional.

Thompson is seeking her second win at a major and first since 2014, when she outlasted Michelle Wie West by three shots at the Kraft Nabisco Championship at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

“Lexi, she doesn’t need a last name, right?” said Stacy Lewis, a two-time major champion and the 2023 US Solheim Cup captain who finished third behind Thompson at the Kraft Nabisco in 2014. “She’s the one person that probably doesn’t need a last name. Everybody knows who she is. ”

Thompson ranks first in Solheim Cup points, making her a virtual lock for a sixth consecutive appearance and adding to a decorated international summary that includes representing the United States in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Next year’s Solheim Cup is set to take place in Andalucia, Spain.

Thompson initially gained acclaim in golf circles in 2011 by becoming the youngest player in history to win an LPGA Tour event, posting three straight rounds in the 60s on the way to a five-stroke victory at the Navistar LPGA Classic at The Senator Course in Prattville , Ala.

She was just 16 years 7 months 8 days, a record New Zealand’s Lydia Ko since has broken.

Lately, though, Thompson has been mired in relative slump, having last won at the 2019 ShopRite Classic. It’s the longest drought of her career. Her game, however, remains pristine, at least statistically, providing Thompson, in her own words, little reason to panic.

She ranks first in greens in regulation (76.5 percent), third in strokes gained total (2.26 per round) and sixth in driving distance (274.68 yards). She’s also coming off a tie for fifth at last week’s Meijer LPGA Classic, missing out on a three-way playoff by two strokes.

“Just the way she plays and her ability to hit the golf ball itself is so impressive,” Lewis said. “You watch her walk around and the way she treats the fans and the little kids, you know, it’s something that I think a lot of young players could do a lot from.”

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