Lexi Thompson inspired by her mom's battles with cancer

By David Teel
Published on
Lexi Thompson inspired by her mom's battles with cancer

The Kingsmill Championship has long been Judy and Lexi Thompson's mother-daughter week. No offense to the rest of the family, especially Lexi's father and two brothers, but they're just not invited.

Judy and Lexi bunk at the nearby Greenspring Vacation Resort in a condo Judy calls "homey." Mom prepares chicken, tacos and salads, all her daughter's faves. Lexi exhales from the pressures of LPGA Tour celebrity and spends quality time with the woman she calls her best friend.

"It's like a little house," Judy said Tuesday, relaxing inside Kingsmill's Conference Center. "It's comfy, and that's important."

Last year's excursion here was extraordinary.

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In tandem with a Navy SEAL, and to affirm her support of the military, Lexi skydived onto the first tee for the pro-am. The following day, she commenced a wire-to-wire victory in which she set the tournament record with a 20-under-par aggregate.

Judy witnessed it all, cheering, encouraging and marveling, but also harboring a secret.

There are some things, you see, that your children don't need to know until the time is right.

As their annual Virginia getaway approached, and a decade after a fight with breast cancer, Judy knew something was wrong. But with her doctor back home in South Florida out of town, Judy accompanied Lexi to Kingsmill.

"Nobody needed to know (except) my husband and I," Judy said. "We didn't tell the children until we had to, until we had answers."

The answer was uterine cancer. Tamoxifen was among Judy's breast cancer medications, and one of its risks is an increased chance for uterine cancer.

Judy needed surgery ASAP, and Tour veteran Morgan Pressel, who lost her mother to breast cancer, mined connections to shorten the lag time. Surgery was June 6 and, naturally, Lexi wanted to be there.

Recounting the conversation brings tears to Judy's eyes.

"What I want you to do is go follow your dreams," Judy recalls saying.

Judy paused and collected herself.

"That's all I want for my children," she said.

Each of the Thompson's three kids chased their golf dreams. Nicholas and Curtis are older than Lexi, and they excelled in college -- Nicholas at Georgia Tech, Curtis at LSU. Both compete on the Tour.

The embodiment of prodigy, Lexi didn't need college golf. She qualified for the 2007 U.S. Women's Open at age 12 and turned pro at 15. She's won nine LPGA Tour events and stands No. 3 in this week's world rankings.

Rankings and pedigree didn't matter when Lexi competed at last year's Manulife Classic in Canada two days after her mom's surgery. Missing a 4-foot putt on the 72nd hole cost her victory -- Ariya Jutanugarn prevailed in a subsequent playoff -- but shooting 19 under par with a distracted mind and heavy heart was remarkable.

Judy's surgery went well, but post-op she needed five "massive" doses of radiation. Her mandate to doctors: Have me ready for the U.S. Women's Open in mid-July.

Sure enough, Judy was able to attend the U.S. Open at Trump National in New Jersey, where Lexi tied for 27th. Less than a month later, she tied for 11th at the British Open, and in September she won the Indy Women In Tech Championship.

"Last year was one of my best years of golf," Lexi said. "I played very consistent just throughout the whole year."

Correction: Last season wasn't among Thompson's best. It was THE best.

She won the Vare Trophy with the fourth-lowest scoring average in Tour history -- Annika Sorenstam owns the top three. Thompson went 2-0-2 at the Solheim Cup, finished third on the money list and collected $1 million for winning the fourth Race to the CME Globe, a year-long points competition previously claimed by Lydia Ko (2014 and '15) and Jutanugarn (2016).

Moreover, Thompson entered 2018 as the only player to have won a tournament in each of the five previous years. But as brilliant as her 2017 was, it could have been historic.

At the year's first major, the ANA Inspiration, she lost a playoff to So Yeon Ryu, the overtime created by an absurd four-stroke penalty Tour officials levied Sunday, more than 24 hours after Thompson mistakenly mismarked her ball on the 17th green.

But never were the year's dueling themes of conquest and disappointment more evident than at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Thompson entered Sunday one shot off the pace and seized the lead with six birdies in her first 17 holes. But she missed a 2-footer for par on 18, after which Jutanugarn birdied the final hole to win by a shot.

Thompson clinched the Vare Trophy and Race to the CME Globe. But had she won the tournament, she would have been the Tour's Player of the Year, an award Ryu and rookie Sung Hyun Park shared.

Had Thompson won, she would have vaulted to No. 1 in the world rankings. Instead, Shanshan Feng remained there.

"That's all we want as athletes is chances to win," Thompson said.

Thompson tied for second at the Tour's February event in Thailand but has otherwise been absent from contention in 2018. This week could well be different.

With four top-10 finishes in six appearances, Kingsmill's River Course obviously suits her. Most precious, Judy is here and, at age 60, cancer-free.

That was a CT scan's verdict about two weeks ago. Talk about an early Mother's Day gift.

"You know what?" Judy said. "You have to be strong. It's hard to be strong, but it's what you're dealt. You don't have control."

"It's a huge relief," Lexi said. "She's my best friend, so just to have her here again this year, supporting me and always there for me to say that she loves me, that's all I need."

This article is written by David Teel from Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to