[PHOTO: Orlando Ramirez]

Overnight, Australian time, Lexi Thompson released a statement announcing her retirement – at least from a full-time LPGA schedule. Hours later, in her pre-tournament press conference, she did her best to maintain composure as she reflected not just on her career, but on her 18th US Women’s Open this week at Lancaster Country Club. Twice, that composure deserted her, and it started when she was asked which struggles she felt most proud of overcoming.

“That’s a great question,” she said. “I think honestly just staying true to myself. Being out here can be a lot. It can be lonely.”

At this point, she began to cry, and tried to shake it off with a smile.

“Sorry if I get emotional. I said I wasn’t going to.”

Pros react to Lexi Thompson’s retirement: ‘She’s done everything right’

Thompson may be only 29 years old, but she’s been playing competitive professional golf since she was 15 and has the equivalent of what would be a full career in many other sports under her belt before her 30th birthday. What seemed clear, as she explained her decision, is that the lifestyle has worn on her.

“I just think, especially with what’s happened in golf… a lot of people don’t realise a lot of what we go through as a professional athlete,” she said. “I’ll be the last one to say, ‘Throw me a pity party.’ That’s the last thing I want. We’re doing what we love. We’re trying the best every single day. You know, we’re not perfect. We’re humans. Words hurt. It’s hard to overcome sometimes.

“I think we deserve a lot more credit than we get,” she added.

Thompson, an 11-time winner on tour, pointed that out professional golf is all she’s known; not only has she spent almost half her life playing an LPGA schedule, but the work that came before her breakthrough accounts for many more years. Nor was this a rash decision. Thompson said she’s been considering retirement for years, but that until now, it never felt like the right time.

Thompson alluded to broader mental-health struggles of pro golfers a few times and admitted that she too has struggled over the years. In 2018, she took a break from golf after “struggling emotionally” for a year-and-a-half, and the pressures of life under the spotlight and the attendant mental difficulties were foremost on her mind this week.

“I don’t think there’s somebody out here that hasn’t,” she said. “It’s just a matter of how well you hide it, which is very sad.”

Lexi Thompson celebrates her 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship with fans. [Photo: David Cannon]
She didn’t specify the moment she made her retirement decision, but it’s clear that it has been months in the works, and that the US Open – where she started her career – was the appropriate place to make the announcement.

The second time she began to cry came when discussing the ANA Inspiration (now Chevron Championship) in 2017, when a brutal four-shot penalty levied on the final day took her from a leading position to second place. Despite the heartbreak, she stayed afterwards to sign autographs, and through her tears she described her mentality that day.

“That was a huge moment in my career, not a great one,” said Thompson, who won her lone major at the 2014 Kraft Nabisco. “I look at it as I grew a fan base that I never thought I would have in that moment. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but to be there and to hear chants of my name on 17 coming down the stretch and just to be able to sign all the autographs and go through that moment, it was like the hardest moment of my career was a blessing, because it was just I learned so much and I gained fans that I never thought I would have.”

Thompson will finish out the year – her main goal is to make another Solheim Cup team – and didn’t know how much she’d play in the future. But after 14 years as one of the biggest names in women’s golf, you get the sense that she doesn’t just want to step back, but she needs to.