In a wide-ranging interview, Rolex Testimonee Lexi Thompson tells TG’s Michael Catling about her surprising viewing habits on YouTube, the disappointments that have defined her, and why this year’s Solheim Cup carries greater significance than ever before.
Lexi Thompson has a hard time believing that it’s been 10 years since she made her debut as a teenager in the Solheim Cup. She’s even more surprised to learn that her fourball included both the European Team and American Team captains for this year and next. She laughs hysterically at the reminder, before composing herself long enough to wonder where the time has gone.
This September will be her sixth appearance for the United States. There’s also a chance it could be her last. The 28-year-old is taking nothing for granted nowadays and sees little reason to as she speaks glowingly about the next generation of stars coming through.
It wasn’t so long ago that she was being talked about in the same way Rose Zhang is now. Thompson was only 15 when she turned pro and her association with Rolex began. She won her first LPGA and LET titles a year later, and then celebrated her first Major Championship victory before she had even turned 20.
The expectation was that she would just keep on winning, but other people’s expectations are hard to meet. There were other successes, but they were often tempered by bad luck and close calls in the events that carry the most weight.
This year has been one of her toughest yet, though she refuses to let it dampen her enthusiasm for representing her country again in the Solheim Cup. Victory in Spain, she says, could change everything…
The Highs and Lows of Lexi’s Career
– Became the youngest player in history to qualify for the US Women’s Open, aged 12.
– Turned pro in June 2010, signing sponsorship deals with Cobra/Puma and Red Bull.
– Aged 16, won the first of 11 LPGA Tour titles, the 2011 Navistar Classic, winning by five strokes.
– In April 2014, claimed her first Major title at the Chevron Championship, formerly the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
– Penalised four strokes at the 2017 Chevron Championship for incorrectly replacing her ball on the green. She still got into a play-off but lost to Ryu So-yeon.
– Let a five-shot lead slip during the final round of the 2021 US Women’s Open, and missed out on a play-off by a shot.
– Claimed her first win in three years at the Aramco Team Series-New York in October 2022.
Lexi’s Solheim Cup Highlights
I would say my very first Solheim Cup tee shot, in Colorado in 2013, would be one. The other two moments are probably from the same round during my match against Anna Nordqvist in Des Moines in 2017. I holed out on a par 5. I think it was the 11th. I was four down after nine holes and I realized that I had nothing to lose. I ended up making an eagle on 11 with a wedge that span back in the hole. I couldn’t even see it going in, but I went off everybody’s reaction – that was definitely a great feeling. The other moment was my putt on 15. I hit a 7-iron into a par 5 and I had about 30 to 35 feet. My putt broke about 10 feet. The crowd cheering gave me the chills. I managed to get a half-point for the team, which was important in those singles.
Lexi Thompson Interview
You’ve been part of five Solheim Cup teams. Do you still get the same level of excitement and nerves?
I still get the nerves and I still get the excitement. That’s what it’s all about. The Solheim Cup is my favorite event. As golf is such an individual sport, we don’t get to play team events that much and to be able to represent my country is such an honor.
Anytime there’s a team event, it is my number one goal to attend and play. Words cannot even describe the feeling of representing your country at that tournament.
All the shots we hit, all the putts we make, it’s thrilling. I get goosebumps. I’ll watch so many YouTube videos from the Solheim Cup that show the highlights from the different editions. It makes me feel so good when watching those highlights, seeing both teams making putts for their country is genuinely riveting. It’s the best feeling that you could possibly have as an athlete.
Which do you think about more: the two wins or the three losses?
I really like to focus on the two wins. I think the losses just put a little fire beneath us, just to be more determined to get those wins. Of course, we just want to remember the wins and learn from the losses. It is tough when you do not claim the win for yourself, but it definitely hits harder to lose when you are representing your country and you’re alongside your team.
What lessons can be learned from the defeat last time out?
Well, Team Europe played such amazing golf in the last edition, but then they do so every time! I would say the main thing was to learn where we could have made better pairings in terms of technique and personality, and of course, learning how you play together.
Right now, we are trying to see who matches up with whom and playing practice rounds together to get a feel for each other’s games. There are also some new faces joining the team, so it’s a matter of getting to know the new girls and getting to know their games. They obviously have the talent, so now it will be a case of gaining experience as a team.
There’s a lot of excitement surrounding Rose Zhang. Just how good can she be?
I think she can be great. She’s such an amazing player from junior and amateur golf. She’s basically won everything you could possibly win. I’ve played with her maybe once or twice so far this year and she’s obviously had a great year out on the LPGA Tour.
She won and has had a lot of good finishes this season. She seems very level-headed and also very nice. I think everybody knows the talent that she has and what she’s capable of. I think she would do great on the team.
Would she get your pick?
Yeah, probably. It would be hard not to, going off the shots that she’s hit under pressure, the tournaments that she’s won, and how she’s handled everything overall.
Given your close friendship with Stacy Lewis, are you an unofficial vice-captain? Does she use you as a sounding board?
She has asked me a few questions. I don’t know about the vice-captain, but she definitely appreciates my input on a few things and me keeping an eye out on other players.
Have you talked about who you would like to partner with in the fourballs and foursomes?
There’s not a player that stands out in particular. I get along with everybody. I know we’ve done
some personality testing and I’m definitely a ‘floater’ – I can pair up with anybody.
We’re currently going through statistics to figure the best combinations out, but no pairings have come to the forefront yet. It’s a matter of talking to each other, playing practice rounds, and getting a feel for each other.
What’s it like being one of the older members of the team now? Do you see yourself as a leader in the locker room?
It is hard to not feel like a senior player on the team, but I’m still only 28. It’s crazy to think that I am considered an older member. In general, though, I mix well and I just try to be there for everybody. I’ll share my input and give feedback. I don’t know if I’m quite the leader, but I like to be there for every single person. That’s how I’ve always been. At the same time, I do want to have a say and have some input, and I want to make sure that’s known.
Do you think people forget how young you still are?
It’s probably the opposite. I think people still see me as a 15-year-old!
This is your 13th year on tour, and you’ve been with Rolex for just as long. Is that longevity a big source of pride for you?
Of course. I’ve been with Rolex since I turned professional in 2010, so they’ve been with me on my whole journey. I am honored to be part of the Rolex family and to be affiliated with such an amazing brand.
Have you commemorated every win you’ve had with a new Rolex watch?
(Laughs) Not quite. I have four Rolex watches. The first one I received with my first win on the LPGA Tour when I was 16. It’s such a big deal, getting the first win under your belt, and being partnered with Rolex at the same time while receiving that watch was quite an achievement.
How much have you evolved as a player since that first win?
I think I’ve evolved a huge amount. I’ve learned not only more about my game and what I’m capable of on the golf course but off the golf course as well. I feel like I’ve learned about my determination; in particular, how much I have in me to keep on pushing through a lot of struggles, but also learning from my successes.
Looking at where you’re at now, you had a strong end to 2022 but you’ve struggled a bit this season and face a fight to make the CME Group Tour Championship. What do you put that down to?
I have definitely struggled this year and it’s been tough. I’m not playing as much and then I’m struggling in the events that I have played in. This year’s been the hardest I’ve ever worked, even though I’ve taken time for myself. I’d say it’s the hardest I’ve ever trained and practiced.
I’m very determined to play better and figure it out. You’re going to have years and tournaments that are bad and, as an athlete, that’s probably the hardest thing – training hard but not seeing the results. It’s just a case of staying with it and hoping that a tournament can turn around the momentum.
Do you still retain the same hunger and desire as before?
I have days where it’s very difficult to remain determined to keep training and to improve on certain aspects, especially when you go through the ups and downs.
But I’ll be looking at swing videos at night and be truly motivated that the next day I will figure it out. It’s an ongoing process. Yes, some days are harder than others, but I still have the drive to win and to be better.
You’ve reduced the number of events you’ve played this year. Was that a conscious decision?
I wanted to make sure that I was taking time for myself to enjoy my life outside of the game, go on
some vacations, and focus on myself. I’ve never really done that before. Mentally, I need the time for myself.
It’s my 13th year and even though I don’t play a full schedule of 30-something events, it’s still a lot. It’s 20-plus events with sponsor obligations that you’re flying to and getting to and all the demands that go with each tournament.
It’s important to have a balance between work and actual life because mentally, it can be very draining. I think I’ve reached an age now where I realize that there is more to life.
Do you look at the Solheim Cup as a chance to turn a difficult year into a great one?
Yes, of course. As I said, the Solheim Cup is one of my favorite events. I think it brings out a side of me that a lot of people don’t see. I just love the team aspect and being out there playing for my country and the passion that brings out in me, and brings out in my team-mates. There’s absolutely nothing like it. Being part of the team and winning in Spain can turn my year around.
When you reflect on everything you’ve achieved so far in the game, have you exceeded or fallen below your own expectations?
That is a deep question. I’ve accomplished a lot and I always have to remind myself of that. I think that, as an athlete, you always wish you could have accomplished more. We want to be at the very top of our sport, but at the same time I feel like that’s also where my setbacks have come from – I’ve not always reminded myself of all the success I’ve had.
Are you a little tired of people asking you when your next Major win will come?
(Laughs) Yeah, definitely.
You’ve had a number of close calls in Majors since winning the Chevron Championship in 2014. Are you stronger now because of those experiences, or have they left a mark?
I feel like I’m stronger. Of course, it always hurts when you’re coming down the stretch and you have those losses, particularly when they’re so close. It’s definitely hard at the time, but it tests me for the better as it initiates a series of questions. What can I learn from it? What do I need to do better next time when I’m in this position? It’s crucial to hone in on that instead of getting upset with yourself. You’re never losing, you’re always learning.
Do the struggles make you savor the good moments more now?
Yes, they do. When I won last October at the LET Aramco Team Series event in New York, and having my brother on the bag, made me realize that I still have the capabilities to win. It is important to see the hard work pay off.
How much value do you place on the Solheim Cup now? Does it take on even more significance as you get older?
When it is a Solheim Cup year, it is my number one goal to make that team. Of course, I want to win Majors, but playing at the Solheim Cup and representing my country is my number one goal. It’s just the most fun week you can have. It can be nerve-racking and it is hard, but you have the best support around you.
How close are you to getting back to your best again?
I feel like I’m actually getting back to where I need to be. I’ve been putting in a lot of productive work, instead
of just going out there and not having a clear direction of what I need to work on. When I missed the cut in the Meijer, I realized that I needed to change something and I needed to find a way to get better. I knew what I had to do. Now, finally, I feel like we’re going in the right direction.
How big is the task of facing Europe in Spain?
As a team, we are the underdogs with the Solheim Cup being in Spain, but we have nothing to lose. We’ll be going in there to fight and we’ll be taking our A games.
Given that the Europeans are gunning for a three-peat, where would a victory rank on your list
It would definitely rank up there at the top. Winning a Solheim Cup is always at the top because it’s not just a win for you, it’s a win for your country. Doing it as underdogs would make it even more special.
About the author
Today’s Golfer Features Editor
Michael Catling is Today’s Golfer‘s Features Editor and an award-winning journalist who specializes in golf’s Majors and Tours, including DP World, PGA, LPGA, and LIV.
Michael joined Today’s Golfer in 2016 and has traveled the world to attend the game’s biggest events and secure exclusive interviews with dozens of Major champions, including Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and Justin Thomas.
A former member of Ufford Park and Burghley Park, Michael has been playing golf since he was 11 and currently plays off a handicap of 10.
Away from golf he’s a keen amateur chef and has his own healthy recipes website. He also loves playing squash, going to the gym, and following Chelsea FC.