IRVING, Texas – Lexi Thompson addressed the media for the first time since the four-stroke spoiler at the ANA Inspiration on a stormy day in North Texas. The stately room in the clubhouse of Las Colinas Country Club was packed, but only a half dozen reporters were present. Twenty-four days after Thompson found herself in the center of a story so big it gained momentum during Masters week and seemingly caused golf’s governing bodies to fast-track and tweak a decision that was coming down the pike, the former teen prodigy finally sat down in front of cameras and print media to explain what happened on that 17th green.
But first, a 15-minute delay due to audio difficulties, to add to the suspense.
The opening question from the floor: Take us through the marking of the 1-foot putt.
Thompson began by explaining how upset she was about her birdie effort from 20 feet in the third round. Terrible stroke, she said.
She initially thought about tapping it in, but because her father, Scott, has fussed about the number of short putts she has missed over the years by moving too hastily – “I’ve stubbed a few” – Thompson decided to mark the ball.
“The way I mark my ball, I mark my ball with a dot, and that’s where I focus my eyes on where I want to make contact,” she said. “So when I went to mark it, I just rotated my ball to line up my dot to where my putter would make contact.”
Thompson didn’t watch the video before the playoff or directly after the round. But now that she has seen it, does she believe there was an infraction?
“Well, I mean, I have seen the video,” she said, “and I can see where they’re coming from with it.”
That’s as close as Thompson came to answering that question, which was asked twice. She went on to say that growing up, her two older brothers, Curtis and Nicholas, were always on her case about following the Rules of Golf.
“There’s no need for me to improve anything,” she said. “Those greens were absolutely perfect the whole week, and there was nothing in my line to be moving it from or anything. So I have no reason behind it. I did not mean it at all.”
When asked if she would do anything difficult going forward in terms of marking her ball, Thompson said, “I’m going to just continue marking my ball.”
Many LPGA players have used the words “loose” or “sloppy” to describe the manner in which Thompson marked her ball on the 17th green. Many felt that while likely unintentional, it was a clear violation.
What remains unclear is whether or not new Decision 34-3/10, effective immediately, would have exonerated the tour’s top American. Thompson said she hadn’t studied the rule too closely because she flew to the Zurich Classic on Tuesday after playing a practice round at the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout. She flew back on Wednesday in time for the press conference and nine-hole pro-am.
When it comes to video call-ins from fans, Thompson noted that golf is the only professional sport that allows it.
“Do I think it’s right? Not really,” she said. “But it’s not my say.”
In the middle of the 11-minute interview, Thompson broke down when asked what had been the most difficult part of the past few weeks. It took 44 seconds for Thompson to compose herself.
“Take your time,” agent Bobby Kreusler said from the side of the room.
Thompson, who won the 2014 ANA Inspiration, gathered herself and continued.
“I’ve worked my whole life to have my name on major championship trophies, especially that one,” she said. “It’s a very special week for me with all the history behind it, and you know, I played amazing that week. I don’t think I’ve played any better. Just for that to happen, it was just … it was kind of a nightmare.”
LPGA legend Nancy Lopez stood in her living room going “berserk” when Thompson’s four-stroke penalty came down. The polite Lopez doesn’t curse, but she had plenty to say to the TV that evening.
“I was like hyperventilating,” said Lopez, who immediately texted LPGA commissioner Mike Whan about her displeasure for viewer call-ins.
When it was over, Lopez texted Thompson, whom she captained in the 2009 Junior Solheim Cup.
“I told her that she was a great champion to handle it the way that she did,” said Lopez. “I wish I was there to give her a great big hug like a mother. I told her that she had a lot of tournaments ahead of her that she was going to win.”
Thompson, who received over a 100 text messages that day, replied: “I wish you were here too.”
Lopez was heartbroken.
Karrie Webb, a seven-time major champion who has watched Thompson come of age on the LPGA, called the 22-year-old’s performance and poise at the ANA “remarkable.”
“It really shows that she has grown up a lot in the last few years,” said Webb. “I don’t know, a couple years ago, if perhaps she would have handled it that way, at least how she played.”
The person closest to Thompson on what will surely become a significant day in golf history, was oddly enough a guy she’d known only three weeks. Kevin McAlpine quit a job selling kid’s golf equipment in Scotland to loop for the fifth-ranked player in the world.
When rules officials first approached Thompson walking off the 12th green Sunday at the ANA, McAlpine assumed it was a pace-of-play conversation. It wasn’t until Scott Thompson told him to get in there that he hustled up to hear the monster news.
McAlpine quickly tried to think back to the 17th green on Saturday, but could only recall the birdie putt.
“I didn’t see what happened,” he said, “so I couldn’t do anything. That was probably the worst part; I couldn’t do anything.”
A shocked Thompson began to cry on the 13th tee box. McAlpine doesn’t remember exactly what he said to help his player regain focus, but it was something like: “The only thing we can do is keep playing the way we’ve played. You’re the best player. You’ve played the best all week. There’s still a chance.”
When his boss made a remarkable birdie on No. 13, McAlpine felt a surge of adrenaline coarse through his body in a way he hadn’t felt in years.
“Deep down you’re a winner,” he told her. “You came here to win.”
Thompson would later tell McAlpine that the 5-iron she hit into the 18th green to 18 feet in regulation play was probably the best shot she’s ever hit.
The fairytale ending, of course, didn’t happen for the crowd favorite.
McAlpine, like many, stood in awe of Thompson as she signed autographs for an hour after the loss.
He went back to the house Thompson and her family had rented for the week in Rancho Mirage to have dinner.
When asked if they talked much in the aftermath, McAlpine said, “Not really. What do you say? What does anybody say? No words could really help her.”
Two days later, Thompson joined her brothers on the tee at 7:15 a.m. at Trump International in West Palm Beach, Fla. She poured her energy into the gym and practice, but sleep didn’t come easily.
She took it hard.
Thompson arrived in Texas on Monday evening and hit balls for an hour or so with McAlpine, who tried to keep the mood as lighthearted as possible.
The best medicine for Thompson right now: Get back in the hunt and put this to rest.
“To move on from it I think her team just needs to let it go,” said Webb, referring to comments Kreusler made to Golfchannel.com last week about demanding more transparency from the LPGA.
“She can’t move on from it if everyone around her is still talking about it still.”