As if the 2017 season wasn’t already eventful enough for Lexi Thompson, it became even more so—frustratingly—on Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.
Facing a par putt from two feet to potentially lock up the LPGA's CME Globe Tour Championship title—and with it every major LPGA honor available—the 22-year-old American star inexplicably pushed the putt right. Her lone bogey of the day left her with a five-under 67 for the day to finish 14 under for the championship. More importantly, it opened the door for Ariya Jutanuguarn, who made birdie on the 18th to pass Thompson and win the LPGA season finale with a 15-under 273 total.
While the runner-up finish still allowed Thompson to claim the season-long Race to the Globe title (and it’s accompanying $1 million bonus) and the Vare Trophy for season-long low stroke average (69.144, lowest in LPGA history), she needed victory to grab Rolex Player of the Year honors, jump to the top of the LPGA money list and move into the No. 1 spot on the Rolex Rankings. When all the points were tabulated, Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu wound up sharing POY honors, a first in LPGA history, while Thompson finished tied for third with Shanshan Feng. And Park finished first on the money list with $2.3 million.
Thompson had been playing masterful golf on Sunday, quickly jumping past the foursome of players (including Jutanugarn) who held a one-stroke advantage on her entering the final round in Naples, Fla., with birdies on three of her first six holes. She continued to hang on to the lead on the back nine at Tiburon. When her second shot on the par-5 17th missed the green left, she easily got up and down for a birdie to get to 15 under.
Thompson hit the 18th fairway off the tee and saw her approach shot settle 60 feet from the hole. A great lag on her birdie try seemed to be enough as playing partner Jessica Korda could do no better than par the hole to finish at 14 under. But then Thompson missed her par attempt.
“I wasn’t even thinking about it. I putted great the whole day,” Thompson said. “I did my routine, I read it. It wasn’t obviously a very long putt. I guess maybe just a little bit of adrenaline. … I guess it’s just golf. Crazy things happen like that. I’ll move on.”
Jutanugarn started the day among the quartet holding the lead, but got off to an ignominious start when she topped her opening drive on the par-5 first hole en route to a bogey 6. But the 21-year-old, who won player of the year honors in 2016, rebounded and stayed close the rest of the afternoon making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 17th holes. After Thompson, two groups ahead of her, made the bogey on the 18th hole, Jutanugarn hit the fairway off the tee and knocked her approach shot to 20 feet. Showing few nerves, Jutanugarn holed the downhill slider to avoid a playoff with Thompson and Korda, grab her seventh career LPGA win and second of 2017.
“This week to be honest I had no expectations at all,” said Jutanugarn, who came into the week with three missed cuts and just one top-20 in her last eight starts. “I really wasn’t thinking about the outcome any more at all. I really thought only about the things I could control. And I have so much fun this week.”
Thompson, of course, is familiar with harrowing finishes in big events, the four-stroke penalty she received at the ANA Inspiration that cost her the year’s first major title becoming an iconic moment of the 2017 season. Her ability to bounce back from that disappointment—she who two tournaments with eight top-five finishes in 20 starts this season—was one of the more impressive storylines in golf this year. It was made all the more impressive by the fact she did it while also handling the off-course issue of her mother, Judy, battling cancer.
The missed putt might be even more challenging to overcome as it was a mistake of Thompson’s own volition, but it’s one that perhaps no player on the LPGA Tour is better able to handle.