NAPLES, Fla. (AP) – The off-season can’t arrive soon enough for Lexi Thompson, other than she has two more tournaments, both at Tiburon Golf Club. Only one of them can save a lost year.
First up is the CME Group Tour Championship, the last event of the LPGA Tour season. And while placement doesn’t matter – whoever wins the tournament wins the Race to CME Globe and $ 1.5 million – having Thompson ranked 7th is just another reminder of a year to remember.
She is the only player in the top 10 without a win this season.
If she doesn’t win this week it would be the second straight year without a title, which is hard to believe given her immense talent, strength, and pedigree, let alone the odds she had.
“What could have been” has become a “not again” year.
The most painful loss was at the US Women’s Open in June, where Thompson defeated the Olympic Club and the toughest trial of the game. She built herself a five-shot lead with eight holes, then tossed it away with a 41 on the second nine by flickering chips and bumping into putts.
Instead of finishing seven years without a major (hard to believe), Thompson joined a list of stars in the “graveyard of champions” – Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Payne Stewart. That’s good company unless it’s US Open at the Olympic Club.
The last defeat came on Sunday at the Pelican Women’s Championship.
This wasn’t a major, but it felt bigger than a regular LPGA event because of the great duel between two American stars – Thompson and Nelly Korda, the No. 1 in women’s golf.
Korda effectively turned the tournament over to Thompson by making a mess on the 17th hole that was ended by missing a 2-foot put and the triple bogey.
It turned out that Thompson was equally charitable. On the 17th, she made three putti from about 25 feet for bogey. She still had a one-shot lead until she made three putts from the 18th green for another bogey and missed a 4-foot par putt for the win.
Korda made birdie to enter a four-way playoff and she quickly finished it off with another birdie because that’s what the big guys do.
Thompson had a chance to extend the playoff with a birdie putt from 5 feet on the same line as the 4 foot par putt she missed in regulation. She missed again.
That seems to happen more often than it should, and not just this year.
In late 2017, Thompson was on the verge of winning the CME Group Tour Championship when she held over a 2-foot par putt on the final hole. A win would make her LPGA Player of the Year and number 1 in the world for the first time.
She missed and came second. Thompson still hasn’t made it to # 1 in the world (she’s now # 12) and still hasn’t been LPGA Player of the Year.
Thompson returned to Tiburon the following year and won the season finale by four strokes from Korda. This could be the tonic she needs. Right now it’s all she can do.
But how much can she still endure?
Thompson talked all week about staying engaged and being in the moment, doing all the right things golfers want to do, until the moment brings out the best in them.
Judy Rankin, a Hall of Fame player and leading television analyst in women’s golf, is optimistic about Thompson’s outlook because of the progress she is seeing with the putter and the refinement of her swing. Ranking sees effort and the willingness to accept mistakes more than anything technical. This often happens in golf.
“I give her credit for the way she works, addressing her shortcomings and trying to whip her up,” said Rankin. “She’s given every hint that nothing will stop her from trying.”
It’s not too late for Thompson to change her legacy, which right now is more about what went wrong than the titles she has amassed. Two years without a win shouldn’t happen. A major in your full 10 years as an LPGA member is not enough.
Thompson is 26 and looks a lot older, maybe because she’s been through so much for so long. At 12, she qualified for her first US Women’s Open. She turned pro at 15 and won the first of her 11 LPGA Tour titles at 16.
She will return to Tiburon as the only female player in December for the QBE Shootout, her fifth appearance with PGA Tour players.
Two of those years – her best finishes – were with Tony Finau, who isn’t playing this year. Finau might better than most appreciate what Thompson went through, and he probably had a few words worth hearing.
Finau didn’t seem to close, no matter how hard he tried. He has had eight runners-up and three playoff losses in the five years since his only PGA Tour win. And then he broke through at Liberty National in August, a win that effectively secured a spot on the Ryder Cup team.
“It’s hard to lose and it’s hard to lose in front of the world,” said Finau. “That made me hungrier. If it doesn’t discourage you, it will make you hungrier. “
It would be easy for Thompson to get discouraged after a year like this while making 40 starts on the LPGA Tour without a trophy. It is important not to lose your appetite.
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