CARLSBAD, Calif. – This week Lexi Thompson returns to the scene of last year’s major kerfuffle, a four-stroke penalty so controversial at The ANA Inspiration that U.S. Golf Association Blue Coats rewrote their rulebook. Unfortunately for Thompson, it did nothing to change the record book.
This will be yet another mental test for Thompson, whose physical game matches up beautifully with the Dinah Shore Tournament Course. She won the ANA Inspiration in 2014, squaring off in the final pairing with Michelle Wie. Her last four showings in Rancho Mirage: 1-7-5-2.
“Hopefully she doesn’t see last year as a defeat,” two-time major winner Anna Nordqvist said. “She did play the best out of all of us, there’s no doubt about it.”
Team Thompson made it clear at the Kia Classic that questions about last year’s ball-marking incident and its aftermath should be reserved for her allotted ANA pre-tournament presser: Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. ET.
While that, of course, doesn’t fit every writer’s deadline (yours truly included), it goes to show how important it will be for Thompson to remain focused. She’s human. The what-ifs and scar tissue that remain from last year will come without the help of journalists asking about it. The idea is to attempt to confine the topic to as small a window as possible, making it easier for the game’s top American to remain in the present.
In-Kyung Kim can relate to heartbreak in the desert. She missed a 14-inch putt on the 72nd hole in 2012 and ultimately lost in a playoff.
“Well, it’s going to be hard because everybody is going to ask,” Kim said. “Even though nobody asks, there is big elephant in the room. You just know. You have to be proud of what she’s done.”
‘Weird things have happened’
Wie is no stranger to drama. How does she keep coming back time and time again?
“You know, you’ve just gotta laugh it off,” Wie said. “Weird things have happened, and weird things will happen. It’s not going to be the last time.”
Nordqvist was part of a controversial ruling at the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open where she fell in a playoff to Brittany Lang after brushing sand with her club in a fairway bunker. The USGA’s new “naked-eye” rule regarding high-definition video can be traced back to the Swede.
“I think she’ll definitely feel very relieved when next week is over,” Nordqvist said. “But I think she’ll be a strong contender.”
Thompson’s four-stroke penalty Sunday at the ANA was the result of a fan’s email that questioned the way Thompson had marked her ball on a prior day. She was informed of the penalty – two for mismarking her ball and two for signing an incorrect scorecard – as she walked to the 13th tee with a two-stroke lead during the final round. The USGA has since banned viewer call-ins and days-old penalties.
So Yeon Ryu, the player who defeated Thompson in a playoff as fans chanted “Le-xi! Le-xi!” agreed with the USGA’s rules changes.
“I think they just learned,” Ryu said. “They’re also just human beings that cannot be perfect.”
ANA favorite week for Thompson family
The ANA long has been a favorite week for the Thompson family. They rent a house, and mom, Judy, cooks.
“Palm Springs is so relaxing,” Thompson said. “There’s nothing like that golf course. I love just bombing driver on every hole.”
At the Kia Classic, Thompson hits driver only twice per round. It’s tough to tell exactly how well she’s playing after two weeks off given the softness of Aviara’s greens and the trickiness of the poa annua. She tied for sixth at the season-opener in the Bahamas and took a share of second in Thailand.
Thompson showed uncommon resilience time and time again last season. There can’t be a player more motivated to win the ANA than last year’s runner-up.
“I always look forward to next week,” Thompson said. “I’m sure it will be a lot different this time.”
Buzzworthy, perhaps, for all the right reasons. Gwk