EVIAN-LES-BAINS, France – Lexi Thompson comes into the year’s final major fresh off a victory lap at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. She celebrated her ninth LPGA title at the inaugural Indy Women in Tech Championship with a kiss of the bricks, an almond milk shower and a loop around the famed track in a white Corvette Stingray, the same kind of car she happens to drive at home. Thompson got up to 122 mph on the home stretch and loved it.
Now the top-ranked American has a chance to overtake So Yeon Ryu as World No. 1 at the Evian Championship. A two-time winner this year, Thompson moved to No. 2 in the world after her Indy romp. She needs at least a fourth-place finish to have a chance at climbing into the pole position.
“It’s definitely been a crazy up-and-down year,” said Thompson, “definitely a lot of emotions behind it. I think I’ve just learned overall just how strong I am, going through the whole year and things that have happened.”
Ryu, of course, played a big role in Thompson’s 2017. The South Korean defeated Thompson in a playoff at the ANA Inspiration after Thompson received a controversial four-stroke penalty during regulation play for something that had occurred the day before. The atmosphere was electric on the 18th at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course as the crowd chanted “Le-xi! Le-xi!”
In the eyes of many, Ryu became the spoiler, though she’s regarded as one of the nicest players on tour. Ryu would go on to win again and ultimately rise to No. 1 in the world, where she has been since June 26.
Ryu said the pressure that comes with being No. 1 didn’t sink in until after the Ricoh Women’s British Open. She had tried to ignore it.
After a rare missed cut at the Cambia Portland Classic, Ryu took four days off and went to Los Angeles to visit her sister and then made a slight tweak in her swing with instructor Cameron McCormick, working on keeping her body square during the downswing.
Mostly though, Ryu takes a new mindset into the last few months of the season as she chases Rolex Player of the Year honors.
“Like I didn’t realize it, but finally I realized … how tough it is,” she said. “But another thing I realized is that I don’t want to like give up. I don’t want to just run away. I just want to put on this pressure, and I want to fight through.”
Thompson has shown plenty of fight this year. Not long after that desert heartbreak, Thompson’s mother, Judy, was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Judy finished radiation treatment days before the U.S. Women’s Open and a weight was lifted off the family as her health improved.
Thompson, who leads the tour in scoring average at 68.88, first started dreaming of becoming the best in the world when she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at age 12.
“I saw a lot of my role models there playing in that field that week, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said Thompson of Pine Needles. “So I worked those next few years and just practiced so much to be able to turn professional. I knew that my talent was on that level.”