Lexi Thompson shrugs off grief and remains a female PGA fan favorite

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Lexi Thompson sunk a birdie’s punch on her last hole at the US Women’s Open this month, walked to the scoring facility next to the 18th green at Pine Needles Golf Club in South Pines, North Carolina, and received her agonizing update. She was preparing.

Her ailing grandmother Mimi passed away earlier that day, but Thompson’s team withheld the information until she arrived in a location that offered at least a measure of privacy. When she was told, Thompson began to cry, though she had come to terms with the inevitable as she sat by the bed during her beloved grandmother’s last days.

After an extended emotional release and plenty of sympathy from those closest to her, the world’s sixth-ranked player went abroad to fulfill every autograph request and take dozens of photos.

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“It was really hard, but I know she wants me to kill him,” Thompson, 27, said Tuesday at the Congress Country Club in Bethesda, the site of this week’s PGA Women’s Championship. “It is important to give back to the fans. I mean, they have taken the time of their lives to support me, good or bad. The least I can do is give them some of my time.”

In several cases, Thompson choked down on tears before speaking with young fans happy to spend a few seconds in her company. However, she continued to press, unwilling to deprive the star girls of their moment with a golfing role model who would perhaps become the most famous face of her generation in the women’s game.

Her supporters didn’t care that Thompson scored a 5-over-76 in the last round or that she ended up in a draw for 20th in her quest to win her first US Women’s Open title. What was important was that Thompson, sad inside, still gave herself up despite the circumstances.

“She’s an amazing player but a much more special person,” said PGA Tour commissioner Molly Marco Semaan. “She’s great with the girls and the fans who come to watch her, and she’s just a great actress. 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 in Congress, where the 11-time favorite was a third-placed favorite on the women’s golf calendar, was broadly the same after she wrapped up her morning engagement on the blue course.

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

The quest for Thompson’s first victory in the Women’s PGA Championship begins Thursday with a time of 1:23 p.m. in the first professional major tournament to be contested in the metropolitan area since the 2011 US Open. It also marks the first women’s major in Congress.

Thompson is chasing her second win in a major tournament and her first since 2014, when she beat Michelle Wee West by three shots at the Craft Nabisco Championships at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.

“Lexi, she doesn’t need a last name, does she?” She’s the one person who probably doesn’t need a family name. Everyone knows who she is,” said Stacey Lewis, a two-time Grand Champion and 2023 US Cup captain who finished third behind Thompson at Kraft Nabisco in 2014.

Thompson ranks first in Solheim Cup points, making it a virtual lock-up for the sixth consecutive appearance and adding to a decorated international résumé that includes representing the United States at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Next year’s Solheim Cup is scheduled to take place in Andalusia, Spain.

Thompson initially gained fame in golf circles in 2011 by being the youngest player in history to win an LPGA Tour event, posting three consecutive rounds in the 1960s on his way to winning the five-stroke LPGA Classic at Senator Course in Prattville, Ala.

She was only 16 years, 7 months and 8 days old, which has been a New Zealand record for Lydia Koe ever since.

Recently, Thompson has plunged into a relative slump, having last won the 2019 ShopRite Classic. It’s the longest dry spell of her career. However, her game is still authentic, at least statistically speaking, which provides Thompson, as she put it, with little reason to panic.

She ranked first in the Greens in the regulations (76.5 percent), third in strokes gaining total (2.26 per round) and sixth in driving distance (274.68 yards). I also came out of a tie for fifth at the LPGA Classic last week, losing in a three-way playoff by two strokes.

“The way she plays and her ability to hit the golf ball itself is absolutely amazing,” Lewis said. “You watch her walk around and the way she treats the fans and the young kids, you know, it’s something I think a lot of young players can learn a lot from.”