Insisting retirement is not the reason why she’s swinging freely

Lexi Thompson downplayed that announcing her retirement was the key to rediscovering her prime form. The 29-year-old shared at the U.S. Women’s Open that this would be her final season of full-time play on the LPGA. After missing the cut at Lancaster Country Club, she has played some of her best golf in years.

Thompson was topped by Lilia Vu in last week’s Meijer LPGA Classic in a three-way playoff. The American continued her stellar play with a four-under 68 Thursday in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship to take the outright lead after the first round of a major for the first time in her 13-year career.

“I don’t think that has to do anything with announcing what I did,” Thompson said. “It’s just a matter of being comfortable out there and playing free-swing Lexi and just enjoying being out there every step of the way.”

Thompson felt she found something in her swing on Tuesday of last week that allowed her to slow down her tempo, unlocking a free-flowing nature. Over her last five rounds, she has hit 78.9 percent of greens in regulation, over eight percent higher than her season average (70.5 percent). She hit 14 greens in her opening round at Sahalee Country Club.

Thompson also credited her success to starting to work with long-time friend Mark Wallington last week. The veteran caddie’s consistent positive affirmations keep Thompson lighthearted and happy on the course. The tandem made a needed birdie on the 72nd hole to get into a playoff at Blythefield Country Club last week, then birdied the first two playoff holes before Vu birdied the third extra hole for the win.

“I don’t know if it was the atmosphere of the event and just enjoying being out there, and just felt more free and enjoyed myself a lot more,” Thompson said. “So it kind of just all clicked.”

Thompson remained on fire amidst the towering trees in Washington with her ball striking. She didn’t have a putt outside five feet for birdie over her first three holes, jumping to three under and tied at the top of the leaderboard. A birdie on the ninth paid off a clean opening side with a four-under 32. Thompson carded six birdies to tie her with Nelly Korda for the most birdies Thursday despite only hitting six fairways.

“I played solid golf,” Thompson said. “I just try to stay in the moment. There’s a lot of tough holes out there. So just try to visualize and really pick small targets, and just take advantage of the few birdie opportunities that you get out there.”

Thompson is contending in a major for the first time since the 2022 Women’s PGA, where she squandered a two-stroke lead with three holes to play at the Congressional’s Blue Course. Her groupmate at Sahalee Country Club Thursday, Yuka Saso, was the beneficiary of Thompson’s back-nine collapse in the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open at the Olympic Club. Thompson lost a five-shot lead before missing out on a playoff that Saso won over Nasa Hataoka. Since then, she has struggled in majors.

Thompson has only made one cut in the last seven majors, that coming in last year’s Women’s PGA, where she tied for 47th place. Before Thursday, she had not broken 70 in a major since the second round at the Blue Course two years ago. The 11-time LPGA winner’s lone major title came at the 2014 ANA Inspiration a decade ago.

When asked if she could see herself changing her retirement decision should she win a big title, Thompson did not definitively commit to that decision.

“I figured I would be getting that question,” Thompson said. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. I made my announcement. I’m very content with it. Golf is a crazy game, so I’m not going to look too far ahead. Just taking it one day at a time and see where it takes me.”

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