GOLF

Lexi Thompson hides her grief and remains the fan favorite of the Women’s PGA

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Lexi Thompson sank a putt for a birdie on her final hole of the US Women’s Open this month, entered the scoring facility adjacent to the 18th green at Pine Needles Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina , and received the painful update it had been bracing for.

Her ailing grandmother 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 to sob, even as she made peace with the inevitable as she sat by his bedside during her beloved grandmother’s final days.

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After a prolonged emotional release and plenty of consolation from loved ones, the world’s sixth-ranked player headed back outside to answer every last autograph request and pose for dozens of photos.

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

On several occasions, Thompson held back tears before speaking to young fans who were delighted to spend even a few seconds in his company. Still, she pushed on, not wanting to rob the dazzled girls of their moment with a golf role model who has become perhaps the most recognizable face of the women’s game of her generation.

Her fans didn’t care that Thompson posted a 76 of 5 over par 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, in inner mourning, still gave himself despite the circumstances.

“She’s a remarkable player, but an even more remarkable person,” said LPGA Tour commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan. “She’s amazing with the girls and the fans that come to see 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’s is even better.

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Thompson’s demand for attention in Congress, where the 11-time LPGA winner is among the favorites for the third major on the women’s golf schedule, was much the same after finishing her morning pro-am on the blue course .

Thompson stopped to sign and pose with children and adults near the clubhouse, thanking each volunteer accompanying her group and acknowledging the applause and words of encouragement almost everywhere she went.

Thompson’s quest for the first PGA Women’s Championship victory begins Thursday with a 1:23 p.m. tee time in the first major professional tournament played on the National Capital Market since the 2011 US Open. It also marks the first female major at the legendary Congress.

Thompson is going for her second major tournament victory and her 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, does she?” said Stacy Lewis, a two-time major champion and 2023 US Solheim Cup captain who finished third behind Thompson at Kraft Nabisco in 2014. “He’s the one person who probably doesn’t need a last name. Everyone knows who she is.

Thompson ranks first in Solheim Cup points, making her a virtual lock for a sixth straight appearance and adding to a decorated international resume that includes representing the United States at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Next year’s Solheim Cup will be held in Andalusia, Spain.

Thompson first gained acclaim in golf circles in 2011 when he became the youngest player in history to win an LPGA Tour event, posting three consecutive rounds in the 60s en route to a five-stroke victory at the Navistar LPGA Classic at Senator Course in Prattville, Ala.

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

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

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

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

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