Lexi Thompson says her month-long “mental break” from golf was not triggered by any new event, but it was a respite she needed to deal with the cumulative struggle that came from trying to show strength and “hide” the emotional pain she felt in the challenges she faced last year.
Thompson opened up in a heartfelt fashion Wednesday in her return to the game at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, where she is the defending champion.
“It was honestly just a buildup,” Thompson said. “The last year and a half, I have honestly been struggling a lot, emotionally, and it's hard because I can't really show it.
“It was just so much to deal with, and I had to show that I was still OK and still play golf. And I don't even know how I played that well, honestly. And I think it just kind of all hit me coming into this year.”
Thompson, 23, was candid about the challenges she has faced as a golf prodigy, telling reporters she spent some of her break from the game speaking to therapists about building a life that isn’t all about her golf.
“I would say it's just figuring out what really makes me happy off the golf course, as well, figuring myself out,” Thompson said. “I have transformed myself around this game for such a long time, ever since I was 5 years old.”
Thompson said she has always poured herself into the game, into practice and training.
“That's what I grew up knowing,” she said. “Didn't know much different.
“I was always a very determined person, and coming to this age, a little older, I realize I do need to make time for myself and enjoy life, because not a lot of 23-year-old girls are doing what I am. People need to realize that. I'm not just a robot out here. I need to have a life.”
Thompson qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 12, the youngest player at the time to do so. She won the U.S. Girls’ Junior at 13, won her first LPGA title at 16 and her first major at 19.
Last year might have been the best and worst of Thompson’s career. She endured a wave of emotional highs and lows.
At the start of 2017, she lost the ANA Inspiration in a playoff after being controversially hit with a four-shot penalty in the final round. She watched her mother wage a second battle with cancer, and she dealt with the death of a grandmother.
At year’s end, Thompson missed a short putt that could have led to her ascending to world No. 1 for the first time and being named player of the year. Amid all of that, she won twice and finished second six times, prompting the Golf Writers Association of America to give her its female player of the year award.
“You can only stay strong for so long and hide it,” Thompson said. “I am a very strong person, but at times you just need a break.”
Thompson was asked what she has figured out about the life she wants outside golf.
“It's still a work in progress,” she said. “I truly love being home and around my family and friends. I really enjoy that time. Even if it's two days, I get the most of it. Just being home and being a regular person, it's nice.”
Thompson announced after the Marathon Classic in mid-July that she was skipping the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England. It is the first major she has missed since joining the LPGA.
“It was definitely a hard decision for me,” Thompson said. “The British Open, I never want to skip that event. It's just a very prestigious event. But with how I was, just mentally and emotionally, I wasn't ready to compete there. I was struggling with my game. Besides that, I was just struggling with myself.”
Thompson said she has been dealing with a hand injury, and it flared up during the Marathon Classic, but it wasn’t a factor in her decision to take a break. She said she is feeling fine now. She begins defense of her Indy title this week ranked No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She is winless in 13 starts this year, but she has given herself chances, with five top-10 finishes.
“I think overall I have had a little bit of an up-and-down year,” Thompson said. “I have had some great tournaments, but obviously haven't won yet. But you just have to take the positive out of everything, realize that I have had a great year. I haven't won, but I'm trying my best in every tournament, that's all I can do.”