NAPLES, Fla. — The offseason can’t get here soon enough for Lexi Thompson, except that she has two tournaments left, both at Tiburon Golf Club. Only one of them can salvage a lost year.
First up is the CME Group Tour Championship, the final event of the LPGA Tour season. And while the standings don’t matter — whoever wins the tournament wins the Race to CME Globe and $1.5 million — that Thompson is at No. 7 is only another reminder of a forgettable year.
She is the only player in the top 10 without a victory this season.
Unless she wins this week, it would be the second straight year without a title, which is hard to believe considering her immense talent, power and pedigree, not to mention the chances she had.
“What could have been” has become a year of “not again.”
The most painful loss was in June at the U.S. Women’s Open, where Thompson overpowered Olympic Club and the toughest test in the game. She built a five-shot lead with eight holes to play, only to throw it away with a 41 on the back nine by flubbing chips and jabbing at putts.
Instead of ending seven years without a major (also hard to believe), Thompson joined a roster of stars at the “graveyard of champions” — Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Payne Stewart. That’s good company to keep unless it’s a U.S. Open at Olympic Club.
The most recent loss was Sunday in the Pelican Women’s Championship.
This wasn’t a major, but it felt bigger than a regular LPGA event because of the terrific duel between two American stars — Thompson and Nelly Korda, the No. 1 player in women’s golf.
Korda effectively handed Thompson the tournament by making a mess on the 17th hole, capped off by missing a 2-foot putt and taking triple bogey.
Turns out Thompson was equally charitable. She three-putted from about 25 feet for bogey on the 17th. She still had a one-shot lead until taking three putts from off the 18th green for another bogey, missing a 4-foot par putt for the win.
Korda made birdie to join a four-way playoff, and she ended it quickly with another birdie, because that’s what the great ones 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.
At the end of 2017, Thompson was on the verge of winning the CME Group Tour Championship when she steadied herself over a 2-foot par putt on the final hole. A victory would make her the LPGA player of the year and send her to No. 1 in the world for the first time.
She missed and was runner-up. Thompson still hasn’t made it to No. 1 in the world (she is No. 12 now) and still hasn’t won LPGA player of the year.
Thompson returned to Tiburon the following year and won the season finale by four shots over Korda. That might be the tonic she needs. For now, it’s all she can do.
But how much more can she take?
Thompson spoke all week about staying committed and being in the moment, all the right things golfers want to do until the moment gets the best of them.
Judy Rankin, a Hall of Fame player and leading TV analyst in women’s golf, is bullish on Thompson’s outlook because of the progress she sees with the putter and the refinement in her swing. More than anything technical, Ranking sees effort and a willingness to put up with failure. That happens a lot in golf.
“I give her credit for the way she works and addresses her shortcomings and tries to whip it,” Rankin said. “She has given every indication that nothing is going to make her quit trying.”
It’s not too late for Thompson to change her legacy, which right now is more about what’s gone wrong instead of the titles she has accumulated. Two years without winning shouldn’t happen. One major in her 10 full years as an LPGA member is not enough.
Thompson is 26 and seems much older, perhaps because she has been through so much for so long. She qualified for her first U.S. Women’s Open at age 12. She turned pro at 15 and won the first of her 11 LPGA Tour titles when she was 16.
She will be back at Tiburon in December for the QBE Shootout as the lone female player, 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 could appreciate better than most what Thompson has endured, and he probably would have some words worth hearing.
Finau couldn’t seem to close no matter how hard he tried. He had eight runner-up finishes 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 victory that effectively locked up a spot on the Ryder Cup team.
“It’s hard losing, and it’s hard losing in front of the world,” Finau said. “That made me more hungry. If it doesn’t discourage you, it makes you more hungry.”
It would be easy for Thompson to get discouraged after a year like this, while going 40 starts on the LPGA Tour without a trophy. It’s important not to lose her appetite.