• Mon. Oct 2nd, 2023

U.S. Women’s Open collapse will stick to Lexi Thompson for a long time


Jun 7, 2021

Lexi Thompson led the U.S. Women’s Open by five shots at one point but, in a scene becoming all too familiar, saw her dreams crushed in the end.

Lexi Thompson tried to smile, tried to hide the tears in her eyes, but there was no escaping the emotion she was feeling after finishing the final round at the U.S. Women’s Open on Sunday: she let this one slip away.

For 63 holes this week at Olympic Club in San Francisco, Thompson had done everything but etch her name on the championship trophy. She held a five-shot lead with just nine holes to play at the tournament she first played as a 12-year-old amateur. Now 26 and making her 15th appearance, Thompson was finally about to realize her dream and win the tournament.

Then fate, or just the sheer difficulty of the course, intervened. At the 11th, Thompson had to pitch out short of the green after hitting her drive into thick rough. Her relatively simple chip shot barely went 10 feet in front of her. Then she pushed a short putt for bogey to the right, settling for a double-bogey that cut her lead to three. She also bogeyed the 14th and missed a birdie putt on the low side on the par-five 16th.

In Saturday’s third round, Thompson took the lead with a terrific approach to the reachable par-five 17th. On Sunday, her tee shot settled in such a terrible lie she asked an official if someone had stepped on it. Faced with a short par putt once she finally reached the green, the ball didn’t even touch the cup. It was a bad stroke at the worst possible time, and now Thompson was only tied for the lead with Nasa Hataoka and Yuka Saso.

Still needing only a par on the 18th to get into a playoff, Thompson instead came up well short of the green and failed to get up-and-down from a greenside bunker. She shot five-over 41 on the back-nine to finish at three-under for the tournament, one shot out of the playoff that would decide the champion of the U.S. Women’s Open. She had made only one bogey on the final nine holes during the first three rounds combined.

As Hataoka and Saso prepared for the playoff, which Saso won with a birdie on the third extra hole, Thompson was left to deal with the aftermath of what had just happened to her. The normally media-friendly Thompson turned down an interview request from NBC. She appeared at her post-tournament press conference but only made it through three questions, braving a smile but choking back tears at the same time, before being led away.

“Yeah, of course it’s hard to smile, but, I mean, it was an amazing week,” she said. “Yeah, I played not so good today with a few of the bogeys coming in on the back nine, but the fans were unbelievable, hearing the chants and just gives me a reason to play.”

Thompson loves interacting with her fans. Even on Sunday, after the worst thing to ever happen to her on a golf course, she still took time to sign autographs for all the kids who came out to cheer her on. A sudden silence descended on Olympic Club when she missed the playoff as even the gallery couldn’t believe what had just happened.

Crushing defeats becoming much too common for Thompson

Thompson is the biggest American star in women’s golf. She’s won 11 times in her LPGA Tour career and a major championship, the 2014 ANA Inspiration. For all her success, though, her career is starting to become defined by the tournaments she hasn’t won.

In 2017, Thompson should’ve won her second ANA title by four shots. But a fan emailed the LPGA after noticing she had misplaced her ball on the 17th green during the third round. Thompson was penalized four shots, two for the infraction and two for signing an incorrect scorecard. She lost in a playoff.

That loss was crushing. This one might be even more so. She was in control of the tournament until, suddenly, she wasn’t. It will take a long time for Thompson to get over what happened to her on Sunday, even if she tries to put a positive face to all of it.

“It was just an unbelievable feeling to be out here and play this golf course,” she said. “I’ve never been out here, so it was a blessing, and I’ll take today and I’ll learn from it and have a lot more weeks ahead, a lot more years. I have a tournament next week, so we’ll take it from here.”

Saso, after making two double-bogeys early in her round, birdied both the 16th and 17th to get to four-under. At 19 years old, the native of the Philippines tied Inbee Park for the youngest champion in the tournament’s 75-year history. Hataoka made three birdies over her final six holes.

They went out and took the tournament from Thompson. The popular American seemed to have it well in hand. But, in a scene becoming all too common for Thompson, she had to watch someone else take home the trophy. This time stings most of all.

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