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“No” is still unnatural for her.
She can purse her lips to form the word but can’t quite get it out. In her sixth year on the LPGA Tour and her 11th in the public spotlight, Lexi Thompson sometimes hems and haws and tries to explain why she’s too busy for this or that. Then, after a second of reflection, she says “yes” to whatever you’ve asked. It’s a habit that keeps her busy.
For example, walking from the putting green to the clubhouse at the Sky 72 Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, a stroll of no more than 100 feet, Thompson stopped 14 times for pictures. Every fan asked, and every request was greeted with a “sure” or “love to.” No eye-rolling. No heavy sighs. She smiled, posed, even gave a quick tech lesson to the guy who couldn’t figure out how to take the selfie. It was like each of these moments was the highlight of her day, despite the paparazzi parade coming after half an hour of autographs, which came after she’d agreed to have lunch with me in player dining.
“It gets to be a bit much,” she said after running the fan gauntlet. “But even though I feel like I’ve posed for a hundred pictures, it’s each fan’s first time. This might be their only interaction with any LPGA player. It’s important to leave a good impression.”
Thompson, who has won 10 times worldwide, including one major, before her 22nd birthday, defied both the odds and expectations by forgoing a normal childhood, turning pro at 15, living out of a suitcase, and growing into a remarkably well-
adjusted, funny and engaging adult.
“I got sick the last time I was here,” she said as she picked over a small plate of fruit and rice, despite a spread that included sushi, wings, beef and a goulash-looking dish that included some form of sea creature. “I’m sticking to the basics this time. Don’t let this (plate) fool you. I love to eat. That’s why I work out. I can pack in the food.”
I reminded her that she had won the 2015 KEB Hana Bank Championship while struggling through digestive turbulence. She smiled, took another bite of bland, white rice and said, “That’s not a strategy I plan to repeat.
“I’m Italian on my mom’s side, so I love spaghetti and pasta. I also love Mexican burritos. We don’t have traditional, big Italian family gatherings but Mom’s an amazing cook. I don’t get as many meals from her since I moved out, which makes them more special when I go home.”
If she has been criticized for anything, it’s that she’s all golf all the time, with very little to say about anything else.
“I get that,” she said. “I never got into too many other sports, especially on TV. Now, if you take me to a game, I’ll be all over it. You might have to explain the rules to me but it doesn’t take me long to figure it out and get into it. Like even though I grew up in Florida, I wasn’t a college football fan. I rooted for LSU because my brother went there. Then I went to an LSU football game (in Baton Rouge, La.) and I was screaming my head off. It was incredible. The people there, the noise: It was amazing. We tailgated, which you have to do. And LSU had one play that made ESPN’s Top 10 that day, so we saw a great game.
“If I hadn’t been a golfer, I think I would have played another sport of some kind. I played soccer and basketball growing up, and I loved that, although basketball didn’t last very long. I had the whole height thing going for me but that was it. Dribbling was a problem. I got called for traveling a lot. I was pretty good at soccer. I was the biggest kid out there so when I went for a goal (on a breakaway) everybody ran away.”
Race car driver has always been in the fantasy equation, too.
“I love driving fast cars,” she said. “I drove one of (NASCAR driver) Brian Vickers’ race cars in Phoenix. He was a Red Bull guy, too, so I taught him how to drive a golf ball and he taught me how to drive a race car. I’d just turned 16 so it was my first stick shift. Talk about stalling a car. It took a few tries. But once I got it out on the track, I let it go. That’s the fastest I’ve ever driven and I loved it. Now, I have a Corvette Stingray, a Lexus RCF and a Camaro SS.”
Then she gave a sheepish grin and cut her eyes at her dad who was grabbing lunch a few feet away. “No tickets, yet.”
NASCAR and golf are about as far apart as you can get. “Maybe that’s why I like it,” she said.
Her other passion, one that exceeds mom’s lasagna, fast cars and the game she plays for a living, is the U.S. armed forces. In her words, “They’re the heroes who keep our country free and allow me to play golf for a living.”
Her interest started when she won the Navistar LPGA Classic in Alabama. It has grown to a near obsession since then.
“The Wounded Warrior Project was the main charity (at the Navistar) so I met a number of wounded warriors the week I won,” she said. “They told their stories and it was overwhelming. I couldn’t say anything when I heard them. And they were so happy. They’d been shot, some of them had lost limbs, or eyesight, and they were thanking us for being there and playing in a tournament. I knew right then that I had to give back to those guys. Once the Wounded Warriors became an official LPGA charity, there was that connection, so I kept it going.
“I opened up my prom to a member of the military, which was really cool, because I got to hear and read the stories of hundreds of servicemen. The one that stuck out, of course, was the guy I took, (Marine) Lance Corporal Mark Scott. He was a Wounded Warrior, too, received the Purple Heart after being shot in the knee in Afghanistan. It was an amazing story.
“I got to spend four or five days with him. He taught me how to shoot a gun. We went to a firing range in Davie, Fla. I got to fire an AR-15 and a 9mm. I love it, and have been back several times. It’s really cool.
“Since then, I’ve done everything I can to support service members. I did a clinic at West Point. Just being there and showing the support for the military and having all those people come out has been great.
“In December, they have a wounded warrior dinner in Naples (Fla.) and it’s amazing to be around those people. They’re happy to be alive. That’s how it should be. But they all want to go back and finish the job. They all want to continue to serve their country.”
She looked away and got quiet for a second.
“We have the country we have because of people like that,” she said. “I can’t do enough for them.”
Republished with permission by Global Golf Post.