Lexi Thompson, Thanks to a Puppy’s Love, Caps a Hard Road Back With a Win

Lexi Thompson, Thanks to a Puppy’s Love, Caps a Hard Road Back With a Win


NAPLES, Fla. — Lexi Thompson entered the Heavenly Puppies pet store in South Florida this summer, intending to volunteer to walk the dogs. She figured the animals would enjoy some fresh air, and she would enjoy a much-needed escape from her sometimes-suffocating position as the leading American in the women’s golf rankings.

As soon as Thompson, 23, slipped through the door, she noticed a puppy cuddled up on a ladybug plush toy. It was a divine sign: Thompson has a ladybug patch on her golf bag and wears ladybug earrings for good luck. She told her mother, Judy: “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t need to volunteer. I’m getting a dog.”

As Thompson returned to the winner’s circle on Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship after a 14-month winless drought that included a one-month mental-health hiatus, Leo — a fluffy six-month-old, five-pound Havanese and miniature poodle mix — was by her side, playing an outsize role. He provided a welcome distraction between rounds of the L.P.G.A. season finale at Tiburon Golf Club, where Thompson shot a 2-under 70 on Sunday to secure a four-stroke victory over Nelly Korda. It also extended her L.P.G.A. title streak to six consecutive years — the longest run among active players.

The win — Thompson’s 10th on the tour — provided redemption. Last year, she missed a 2-foot par putt on the final hole at Tiburon with the tournament title, the women’s world No. 1 ranking and Player of the Year honors on the line. Thompson still earned the season points title and the $1 million bonus that went with it, but she lost by one stroke to Ariya Jutanugarn for the tournament trophy.

It was a disappointing ending to a difficult year. Thompson had spent most of 2017 trying to get out in front of waves of adversity, only to be dragged under over and over. In the year’s first major, she lost in a playoff after being assessed a four-stroke penalty in the final round for improperly marking her ball on a green in the third round.

The infraction, dissected all over social media and the airwaves, made Thompson feel as if her integrity was under attack. She was still reeling from that episode when her mother, a breast cancer survivor whom Thompson describes as her best friend, was found to have uterine cancer in the spring. In the fall, Thompson’s paternal grandmother died.

Thompson, who has been in the spotlight since qualifying for the United States Women’s Open as a 12-year-old in 2007, continued pushing herself to perform. But golf, which had always been her sanctuary, became another stressor. By July, she could no longer keep up appearances.

She announced that she would skip the Women’s British Open, the first major she missed since becoming an L.P.G.A. member, to attend to her mental health. When she resurfaced in August to defend her Indy Women in Tech Championship, 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.”

Thompson made one start in September, two in October and two more this month, scaling back her schedule so she could participate in talk therapy and, she said, spend time “just trying to figure myself out off the golf course.” In an Instagram post last month, Thompson opened up about her body-image issues stemming from her quest to look like fashion and fitness models. “The only way you’ll ever be truly happy,” she wrote, “is if you love yourself first.”

Leo has been perhaps her best form of therapy. His continual affection, expressed by vigorous tail-wagging whenever she picks him up, and his expressive ears, which flip inside-out in excitement when he sees her, are a welcome counter to all the trolls on social media and the pressure of the scorecards.

“No matter what I shoot, this guy is giving me kisses,” Thompson said as she cradled her dog in her arms.

It was instructive, Thompson said, to recognize that she loved Leo all the more because of his unruly ears, something others might see as a defect. On some level, it helped her realize how silly it was to invest so much energy in fixing or hiding flaws.

“Yeah, exactly,” Thompson said. “I mean, everybody has imperfections. We’re all not perfect and we have to own it. Own it and love who you are.”





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