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Soon retired at 29, Lexi Thompson's run at desert's LPGA major was among best in event history

Lexi Thompson signs an autograph for Izzy, center, Willa and their father Jesse Bergland during the Chevron Championship pro-am at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., March 30, 2022. Thompson shot a 3-under 69 in the opening round.
Lexi Thompson signs an autograph for Izzy, center, Willa and their father Jesse Bergland during the Chevron Championship pro-am at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., March 30, 2022. Thompson shot a 3-under 69 in the opening round.

From 2014 to 2022, no golfer was better in the Chevron Championship in the desert than Lexi Thompson.

Called the Nabisco Dinah Shore and later the ANA Inspiration in that timespan, the LPGA major was played on the Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. And from one year to the next, the one thing fans could count on was that somehow Thompson would get into contention.

With the 29-year-old Thompson announcing this week that she will be retiring from a full-time LPGA schedule at the end of the year, it’s interesting to look back at her time in the desert major. That started in 2009 when a 14-year-old Thompson finished tied for 21st to win low amateur honors at the tournament. That occurred two years after she made her debut in the U.S. Women’s Open as the LPGA's latest junior phenom.

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By 2014, Thompson was a star on the LPGA, and she battled another big name, Michelle Wie, on the final day on the Shore Course. Thompson won the battle for a three-shot victory to earn her first and only LPGA major title.

That 2014 victory marked the start of a stunning run of nine years in which Thompson finished fifth or better at Mission Hills six times. She also finished seventh in 2015, the year she defended the title. That’s a string of excellence at the old Dinah Shore tournament that few players have matched.

Annika Sorenstam won the tournament three times in five years starting in 2001 and had 10 top-10s in 13 years, including three runner-up finishes. Karrie Webb won the title twice in 11 years with four other top-five finishes, while Amy Alcott won the title three times in eight years and had two top-five finishes before her first title. Betsy King had three wins in 13 years with a second and a fourth in that run, and Dottie Pepper had two wins and three second-place finishes in 11 years. Juli Inkster had two wins and a playoff loss in nine years.

That’s the kind of company Lexi’s streak at Mission Hills is in. Unfortunately, much of that run is in the shadow of her 2017 playoff loss. That was the year that changed golf in many ways, when Thompson was assessed two two-shot penalties in Sunday’s round from a ball-marking incident on Saturday that was reported by a viewer on television. Thompson battled back from the mid-round news to tie So Yeon Ryu.

Changing the game

Ryu won the playoff, but Thompson may have won much more since the powers in golf at the time realized they needed to change the rules and stop taking calls from the public about rules violations that inevitable led to incorrect scorecard penalties. Thompson’s loss was a gain for professionals on all tours.

The 2014 Mission Hills win turned out to be the only major title in Thompson’s career, though she did win 15 LPGA titles and was easily the best American player in the game for most of her time as a professional. But she did have eight finishes of third or better in majors beyond the one victory. For some, that was a sign that Thompson didn’t know how to convert a strong week into a victory at the biggest moments. For others, that showed she was always a threat to win, either in majors or in regular LPGA events.

From the time Thompson was 12, she was in the spotlight of women’s golf. Until just recently, Thompson was probably the name most fans thought of when they considered current LPGA stars, at least until the red-hot streak of Nelly Korda at the moment.

Part of Thompson’s appeal is how she treated fans, constantly signing autographs, especially for young girls who saw Thompson as an inspiration. There wasn’t an autograph she turned down that I ever saw, and I saw her stop during practice rounds many times to make sure a young girl was happy with an autograph.

Lexi Thompson of the United States tees off on two during round two of the Chevron Championship at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Friday, April 1, 2022.
Lexi Thompson of the United States tees off on two during round two of the Chevron Championship at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., Friday, April 1, 2022.

Now, at 29, Thompson would like to see what life is like away from being a touring pro. She has worked on establishing Lexi as a brand, and perhaps we’ll see that brand take off in the coming years.

For now, Thompson should be remembered as one of the great American players of the last two decades, as a Solheim Cup stalwart (could she be a captain down the road?) and as one of the best golfers to play in the desert’s LPGA major.

Larry Bohannan is the golf writer for The Desert Sun. You can contact him at (760) 778-4633 or at larry.bohannan@desertsun.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.

Larry Bohannan
Larry Bohannan
(Richard Lui The Desert Sun)
Larry Bohannan Larry Bohannan (Richard Lui The Desert Sun)

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Lexi Thompson's playoff loss in desert LPGA major helped change golf