The Lexi Thompson story pretty much began at the U.S. Women’s Open Presented by ProMedica, with a stirring introductory chapter here at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club when she qualified for the championship in 2007 at the age of 12. That exposure catapulted her into headlines and gave her a taste of what life was like on the big stage, a taste that has at times been bitter.
Thompson missed the cut in 2007 at Pine Needles, but the next year she won the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship and in 2010, at only 15, she met the demanding test that is Oakmont Country Club to finish T-10 in the U.S. Women’s Open as well as being a member of the winning USA Team in the Curtis Cup Match.
But twice in the last three years, the U.S. Women’s Open sent her home with the painful memory of what disappointment is like when experienced with the whole world watching.
At the Country Club of Charleston in 2019, Thompson was lurking one stroke back with eight holes to play but made bogeys on Nos. 11 and 13 to finish two strokes behind winner Jeongeun Lee6. And last year at The Olympic Club, Lexi had a five-stroke lead with eight holes to play but double-bogeyed No. 11, then bogeyed Nos. 14, 17 and 18 and still was only one stroke out of the playoff Yuka Saso won over Nasa Hataoka.
Thompson returns to the U.S. Women’s Open – and to Pine Needles – looking to settle some old scores and to get back to her winning ways. She has won 11 times on the LPGA Tour – including seven consecutive years with at least one win, a streak that ended during the COVID-interrupted 2020 season. She comes into this week having gone 48 LPGA events since her last win in 2019, the longest drought of a remarkable career.
“I wouldn't say that there was really any challenge to it,” Thompson said Tuesday at Pine Needles about getting over the stumble at The Olympic Club. “Didn't go the way I wanted to, but every time I tee it up there's always something to learn. I always say there's really no feeling, you're always learning. Every time I tee it up, there's something to be processed, to learn. Yeah, it didn't go my way, it was frustrating, but it happens. I'm here.”
Thompson comes into Pine Needles with her game rounding into form, having two second-place finishes, a fourth and a sixth in six LPGA starts this year. And she returns to the U.S. Women’s Open with the same quiet feistiness that has established her as one of the most resilient players in the game of golf. She knows how to bounce back.
“Having Martin Hall on my team, helping with my golf swing, but other than that just being such a positive influence in my life and having him around has helped me out tremendously in just getting through the past year of ups and downs and just going through that whole process with me,” Thompson said. “We've made a few swing changes, but besides that, just the positivity that he brings to me every time I see him. He's always there to pick me up if I am struggling. He's always sending me YouTube videos of positivity and just reinforcing that.”
The strongest club in Thompson’s bag has always been her driver. She’s one of the longest hitters on tour, and the shorter the iron you have into the devilish Donald Ross greens at Pine Needles, the better. The collection areas that gather in errant approach shots are where bogeys live as making an up-and-down is a demanding task.
“I played the full 18 yesterday,” Thompson said. “I got to hit a good amount of drivers, which was nice. If it wasn't driver it was 3-wood, which doesn't go too much shorter than my driver. It's always a good weapon to have. Just getting in the center of the fairways and having the opportunity to hit the middle of greens out there is very important, but I can definitely hit some drivers. It'll all depend on how firm it gets throughout the week. The more height the better into these firmer greens.”
Since winning her lone LPGA major at the 2014 Chevron Championship when she was only 19, Thompson has had 15 top-10 finishes in major events, including T-2, 3rd, T-5 and T-7 in the U.S. Women’s Open. In addition to the heartbreaks at Charleston and Olympic, Lexi lost the 2017 Chevron Championship in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu after a four-stroke penalty for improperly marking her ball and recording an incorrect score.
But through the ups and downs, Thompson has remained one of the most diligent promoters of the game. After every disappointment, Lexi can be found signing autographs and encouraging young girls and boys to pursue the game she loves.
The first of Thompson’s 18 top-10 finishes in majors was that T-10 in the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open, and the most recent was T-4 at the Chevron Championship earlier this year, extending her streak to 10 consecutive years with at least one top 10 in the majors.
When Thompson was first at Pine Needles, she was a little girl in awe of her heroes.
“Just meeting LPGA golfers, not really meeting, just seeing, because I haven't gone to a LPGA golf tournament before,” she said in 2007 when asked the highlight of her week. “But seeing LPGA golfers, signing a lot of autographs, and it's just been a great experience so far. I like seeing kids my age coming up to me asking for my autograph. It's really cool.”
Now, Lexi is one of the big girls. She is No. 6 in the Rolex Rankings, where she has finished every year ranked no worse than No. 12 since joining the LPGA Tour in 2012. And she is one of the faces of women’s golf, her powerful swing and dynamic style of play captivating fans and her frequent trips to the winner’s circle proving there is substance to the style.
In many ways, it feels right that Thompson is back at Pine Needles. Fifteen years after first competing in the U.S. Women’s Open, she comes into the championship this year as a story not because of her age but because of her ability. Lexi has a score to settle with this championship and this would be a fitting venue to do it.
Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.