Neville Hopwood

American star Lexi Thompson is one of the most decorated, celebrated and well-travelled golfers in the game right now.

With 15 titles, nearly $14 million in the bank from LPGA earnings alone (she has also tasted victory on the Ladies European Tour in Dubai and New York over the past 12 years as a professional), the 28-year-old is still broadening her horizons.

Thompson arrived in Saudi Arabia for the first time ever last month after a short break in Dubai to take part in the loaded $5 million Aramco Saudi Ladies International at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, as she gears up for another crucial year.

And she nearly got off to a perfect start, coming up just short of the winner — world No. 1 Lydia Ko — in a tie for third, with a course record-equalling 63 to boot, all of which helped Thompson settle in nicely in the Middle East to start her 2023 campaign.

“I think it’s just a matter of feeling welcome,” she told Golf Digest Middle East. “The way everyone is made to feel welcome is great and the hospitality that I received is amazing. While it is my first time here, I have been in the Middle East quite a bit and I love Dubai. It’s one of the favourite spots that I’ve ever been to, let alone winning [the Dubai Ladies Masters at Emirates Golf Club in 2011]. Of course that’s a bonus.”

While only 28, Thompson has five Solheim Cups under her belt, including two triumphs, but Team USA has lost the last two iterations at Gleneagles in Scotland in 2019 and at Inverness Club, Ohio, in 2021. The ‘veteran’ is determined to get back on the team for this September’s event at Finca Cortesin in Spain, and wrest the trophy back from Team Europe.

“First of all, it’s such a high honour to be able to represent my country any time I can,” she said. “Whether it’s Solheim Cup, International Crown, or any team event, I want to be on that team representing my country.

“It’s been unfortunate the last two times that we’ve lost, but it happens. We did the best that we could. As I said, win or lose, representing your country is the highest honour, so hopefully we get that trophy back in Spain. I am really looking forward to going there.

Paul Severn

“All we can do is the best we can and bring our ‘A’ games, but I think the Solheim Cups bring a whole other level of people’s games. When you are flying your flag for your country or continent, you have that drive. You’re not only fighting for yourself out there, you have your partner next to you. You’re fighting for your country and representing it.

“It is such a unique experience, bringing out that other attitude of people, which is great to see.”

To say Thompson had an early start at the top level of the game is something of an understatement. She became the youngest golfer ever to qualify for the US Open at the age of 12 and was a professional by the time she was just 15, winning her first LPGA tournament as a 16-year-old in 2011, and breaking the record as the youngest Ladies European Tour event winner just three months later in Dubai. She also became the second youngest major winner at the Chevron Championship in 2014 at the age of 19. 

When asked the secret to staying at the elite end of the game for such a long time, the world No. 7 replied: “I think the key for me is taking the time off when needed, not really overdoing playing, skipping events that I feel like I need to.

“It is important to get the right amount of rest I need and make sure my game is in the right spot for the tournaments that I thoroughly enjoy and the golf courses that I really like and suit my game the best.

“Instead of just playing four, five weeks in a row and tiring myself out, I take the breaks when needed.

“I just finished my 12th year on tour, so it’s pretty unbelievable to think I just turned 28. It is a balancing act between taking the time for myself, living life and enjoying it, but at the same time, performing the best that I can when I do play.”

Obviously keeping fit during those breaks and in the off-season is also crucial?

“Yeah, of course,” Thompson said. “I worked extremely hard in the off-season, whether it’s training in the gym one, two times a day, but I’ve spent multiple hours each and every day in the practice facility working on the things that I needed to improve on and just keeping everything consistent.

“I had a good finish in my last two events last year [Pelican Women’s Championship and CME Group Tour Championship], so I am just trying to bring that into this year. Consistency has been key for me to keep things ticking along, so just keeping the things going that I’ve been working on and continuing to improve on them with my game and on the mental side as well.”

Following her T3 at Royal Greens, Thompson is confident her game is in the right place. 

“I had quite a long time off over the festive period, with quality time with my family and friends to get that relaxation, but at the same time, I trained harder than ever,” she said.

“I worked extremely hard on my game and fitness, and I am really just trying to keep everything intact, work on a few things in my game, and keep on improving.”

Paul Severn

It was a bit of a family affair in Saudi Arabia as Lexi’s brother Curtis was on her bag, another aspect that helped her relax in the challenging conditions.

“We just talk about the most random things or get deep into a conversation that just goes nowhere,” Lexi said about what the chat was with her sibling. “It’s amazing. He knows me so well and knows my game probably better than I do because we play together every day back home. I’m very lucky and blessed to have him out here.”

And as Thompson becomes one of the more seasoned pros, she has an eye on the legacy she will leave as the women’s game makes great strides towards equality, with boosts in prize money, improved facilities and more airtime on live television broadcasts.

“First of all, I think it’s amazing to see how the game is growing,” she said. “As an athlete, I just want to leave the game in a better place than it was when I first stepped in.

“To have role models and encourage girls to pick up the game at a young age, it’s important. It’s great to see girls thoroughly enjoy the game. Whether you make it professionally or not, it’s such an amazing game that you learn so much about yourself, your dedication, responsibility. Even if you’re not professional it’s great for business, because you don’t get the opportunity to spend multiple hours with business partners for that matter.

“I’ve learned so much about myself along the way, met some amazing people, so I always tell people, you should pick up the game. It’s one of the best out there. Could be frustrating, don’t get me wrong, but you will enjoy it so much, and just have fun with it and just be grateful for the opportunity that you can.”