Lexi Thompson embracing authenticity, poised for big 2019 LPGA season

NAPLES, FL - NOVEMBER 18: Lexi Thompson reacts after a putt on the ninth green during the final round of the LPGA CME Group Tour Championship at Tiburon Golf Club on November 18, 2018 in Naples, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Lexi Thompson embracing authenticity, poised for big 2019 LPGA season

LPGA Tour

Lexi Thompson embracing authenticity, poised for big 2019 LPGA season

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – What will Lexi Thompson do this year? It’s the question of 2019 on the LPGA.

It has been the question for several years now, particularly after the ANA Inspiration debacle. 

Thompson came into the interview room on Wednesday at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions looking relaxed and fresh in her pink and white ensemble. The media room hasn’t exactly been an oasis of joy since the ANA. Quite the opposite really. Thompson gets tough questions here. She’s asked to relive difficult moments on the golf course, offer insight into everything from missed putts to therapy sessions. 

It’s part of the job. Part of the burden of being the top-ranked American. 

Thompson said it was nice to be able to soak up her victory at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship with family in the month of December. To savor the fact that her hard work had finally paid off. 

“But it’s still sinking in,” she said. “I still, like, replay videos of it just to refresh it in my mind and get into this year.” 

Thompson took a week off after the QBE Shootout but found herself still itching to play. She wanted to keep working on what worked at CME, wanted to engrave it in her golf swing to keep the confidence high in 2019. 

“So I would find myself out on the golf course at 7:30 in the morning playing with my brothers because December is a good time for us, because we’re all home,” she said. “We don’t get the time to play golf with each other very much.” 

Brother Curtis Thompson was on the bag for Lexi at the CME. He’ll be on the bag again this week at Tranquilo, driving down on Wednesday evening after a qualifier. Curtis plans to caddie for his sister when he’s not competing. Otherwise their father, Scott, will take his place. 

Lexi said she isn’t currently searching for a caddie outside the family.

“I think I realized that’s who cares about me the most right now,” she said. “My dad’s been my coach my whole life. If I have him on the bag, I know he can help me out tremendously. Same thing with Curtis. He knows my golf swing very well too. He can always keep me laughing out there.” 

Golf Channel on-course reporter Jerry Foltz has had a front-row seat to Thompson’s LPGA career. He believes 2019 will be her best year to date because everyone in Thompson’s camp has made her emotional well-being the top priority. 

“I think production on the golf course is the least important part of the equation for her and her camp now,” he said. 

Paige Mackenzie has seen Thompson evolve from a calculated player in everything she does to one who shows vulnerability and openness. 

“To me, the authenticity of who she has become now, I think she could have one of the best seasons because she’s now being, what appears to the outside, very true to herself,” said Mackenzie. “I feel like we’re seeing who she really is, and it’s not perfect and that’s OK.” 

It’s all part of learning how to cut herself some slack, said Karen Stupples. And if she does that well, it will manifest itself most obviously in her putting.

“If her goals are to walk off that golf course content with herself, knowing that she did everything she possibly could, then she’ll start making the putts,” said Stupples. “It’s like, as soon as you start trying to make them, as soon as you start trying to make it happen, that’s when they start missing, you walk off the course disgruntled, unhappy, and then it sort of snowballs.”

Foltz points to Cristie Kerr as an example of how mechanics aren’t the answer, referring to her action as the “Jim Furyk of putting strokes.” Not textbook, but she owns it. And the confidence has given her 20 LPGA titles to date. 

It’s the self-imposed pressure that often haunts Thompson on those short misses. Maybe this is the year she lets loose.

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