Lexi Thompson couldn’t have set up her homecoming more dramatically.
That’s what the LPGA’s season-ending CME Group Titleholders will feel like in Naples, Fla., next week. It’s a homecoming celebration for the South Floridian and her gifted golfing family.
With her victory Sunday at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, Thompson returns to her Florida roots next week for the only LPGA event in her home state. She will make the 90-minute drive across Alligator Alley from her Coral Springs, Fla., home knowing she’s leading a sizeable parade of family and friends who will be following her there.
Holding off Stacy Lewis in a dramatic back-nine duel Sunday at Guadalajara Country Club in Mexico, Thompson made plans for a family get together in Naples even more special. The win was the third of Thompson’s LPGA career, her second in six weeks. It also will vault her into the top 10 in the Rolex world rankings for the first time, bumping her over Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr as the second-highest ranked American behind Lewis.
“It feels amazing,” Thompson said in her post-tournament news conference. “I’ve worked extremely hard these last few years, especially on my short game and my putting. So, to see it pay off this week, it means a lot.”
Thompson, 18, made a significant putting change before winning the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia in early October, and the results are something that ought to concern the game’s best players. These last two victories are a reaffirmation of the promise Thompson showed qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 12 and then winning the LPGA’s Navistar Classic when she was 16.
Earlier this year, Lewis said Thompson would be a force if her putting ever caught up to her ball striking. Thompson is a bomber, the most consistent long-hitting driver on tour. She is also a strong iron player, ranking ninth on tour in greens in regulation. Her putting, at times, seemed all that was holding her back until she changed her setup in September. She moved her ball position outside her target line, further away from her. That simple change is making a huge difference.
Notably, Thompson beat Lewis with a putt at the last on Sunday in Mexico.
All tied at the 18th hole, Lewis and Thompson were both looking at 5-foot birdie putts. Thompson made hers first, and then Lewis lipped out, giving Thompson a one-shot triumph over the top-ranked American in the game.
“I’m really disappointed,” Lewis said. “I gave that one to her. I had that one in my hands, and just didn’t get it done.”
Thompson started Sunday with a two-shot lead on Lewis, but Lewis caught her on the back nine. With three consecutive birdies, Lewis took a one-shot lead with four holes to play.
“Stacy is an amazing player,” Thompson said. “I knew she could make a run at me anytime during that round. I knew I had to make birdies on top of her because she gets on a roll, and she doesn’t stop. She’s an amazing player and played great today.”
Lewis bogeyed the 17th to drop into a tie with Thompson.
The Thompson family was planning to come together for the CME Group Titleholders long before Lexi won on Sunday. In fact, Thompson set it up for her brother, Curtis, 20, to be on her bag as her caddie for the week in Naples. He’s a standout at LSU. Lexi's oldest brother, Nicholas, 30, also plans to make the trip with his wife and their six-week old baby, Nico. Nicholas plays on the PGA Tour.
Thompson’s parents, Scott and Judy, will also be in town with grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be a fun event. I have so much family coming to see me and support me. That means so much.”
Thompson would like nothing better than to turn a homecoming into another victory party.