NAPLES, Fla. (AP) — Lexi Thompson doesn’t have two long months to ponder how her season ended.
She gets two weeks.
Thompson will be the lone woman among the 12 two-player teams for the QBE Shootout. It will be played Dec. 8-10 at Tiburon Golf Club, where she went 34 consecutive holes last weekend without a mistake until missing a 2-foot par putt on the last hole that cost her a shot at being LPGA player of the year and No. 1 in the world.
It’s bad enough that her next tournament is at Tiburon. The QBE Shootout host is none other than Greg Norman.
Is there another player who can appreciate what might have been?
Norman will never get as much credit for all he did right because of powerful memories from the ones that got away. He won the “Saturday Slam” as the 54-hole leader at all four majors in 1986 and ended the year with only a claret jug. That could have been one of the greatest seasons ever.
Was he golf’s dominant player?
He could have been if not for Bob Tway holing a bunker shot at Inverness or Larry Mize making that pitch-and-run at Augusta National. If not for Norman wasting one of the great Masters charges with one of the worst 4-irons ever hit on the 18th hole. If not for losing a six-shot lead another year, still a record collapse in the majors.
Was Thompson the best player in women’s golf this year?
She could have been.
The good news for the 22-year-old Thompson is she has youth on her side, along with a stubborn streak that could be salve for a growing number of scars.
“I’ll move on,” she said.
She repeated some iteration of that phrase three more times after finishing one shot short of a dream ending to a rough season.
What the LPGA Tour lacked in a dominant player this year, it made up for in the kind of depth it hasn’t seen in years. This was only the third time in the last 20 years that no one won more than three times (I.K. Kim and Shanshan Feng). The five majors were won by five players for the second straight year.
The points-based LPGA player of the year ended in a tie for the first time since the award began in 1966, shared between So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. Thompson won the Vare Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average. Park won the money title.
Everyone went home with something.
Thompson also left with a $1 million bonus for capturing the CME Race to the Globe, although she knows she left so much behind — not just at Tiburon, but all year.
Imagine what kind of year it could have been.
It started early when Brittany Lincicome overcame a two-shot lead in the final round and beat Thompson in a playoff at the Bahamas. There also was the Manulife LPGA Classic in Canada, when Thompson missed a 4-foot par putt on the last hole to lose a four-shot lead on the back nine, and then lost in a playoff to Ariya Jutanugarn.
But nothing did as much damage as the ANA Inspiration.
Thompson, already a two-time winner of the LPGA’s first major, had a three-shot lead on the back nine when she was saddled with a four-shot penalty.
“Is this a joke?” she famously said to LPGA rules official Sue Winters, merely the messenger in this case.
Thompson had improperly marked her golf ball on the green on Saturday. A television viewer — the LPGA would not say who it was — noticed the infraction on Sunday. The Rules of Golf have no wiggle room, nor do they play favorites. Thompson was docked two shots for the violation and two shots for signing an incorrect scorecard (even though she didn’t know her Saturday score was incorrect when she signed the card).
Thompson gamely rallied, only for Ryu to beat her in a playoff and take that leap into the pond.
She had the gallery on her side. She had nearly all of golf on her side, which included the likes of Phil Mickelson. So strong was the sympathy toward Thompson that her penalty was the hottest topic at the Masters until Dustin Johnson went running down the stairs in his socks, slipped and wrenched his back.
It’s not hard to imagine Thompson winning the ANA Inspiration, or making one more putt down the stretch in Canada instead of four bogeys on the last seven holes. Or making that 2-foot putt at Tiburon. It’s not hard to imagine her with five victories and all the awards, including the No. 1 ranking in women’s golf.
“Not going to lie and say some things didn’t get me really down and I struggled,” Thompson said. “But I had to keep moving on, keep on practicing, keep on training. Because I knew I had the talent and I had to show that. I love this crazy game and what it puts me through.”