Lexi Thompson, 26, looked down as she approached the news conference podium after the final round of the U.S. Women's Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco on Sunday. Biting her bottom lip, Thompson said, "Of course it's tough. I really didn't feel like I hit any bad golf shots. That's what this golf course can do to you."
Thompson's eyes pooled with tears.
It was unclear, before she stepped up to that podium, whether she would actually face the assembled media. She had declined an interview with Golf Channel. But after some behind-the-scenes persuasion, she agreed to answer a few questions while her agent stood to her left and watched intently.
She would have to relive the last 18 holes, when she was fighting to win her first U.S. Women's Open title. Fighting to find another win since she won the ShopRite LPGA Classic in 2019. Fighting to redeem herself after a 4-stroke penalty and playoff cost her a major at the 2017 ANA Inspiration.
Thompson arrived at the 76th U.S. Women's Open poised to claim her second major win and, for 54 holes, she was in good shape to do so. During the third round on Saturday, she shot a near-flawless 66. This was Thompson's 15th U.S. Women's Open, and she was leading at 7 under heading into the final round. It was supposed to be Thompson's championship.
As the day progressed, Thompson held a 5-shot lead, inching toward the back nine. She could taste victory. Then came the 11th. Thompson hooked her tee shot, hacked one from the rough, chunked a chip and missed a short putt for a double-bogey 6. Her 4-stroke lead turned into 2.
And things continued to unravel.
Thompson held her head high as she continued on to the 18th hole. But when her approach shot found the bunker, it felt like all hopes of the second major evaporated. As she set herself up for a 10-foot putt for par to remain in a playoff for the title, she ultimately left the putt short. A metaphor for the day.
Then, she had to decide whether to relive it all for the media afterward. And it was her decision. The USGA, as well as the LPGA, does not make post-round news conferences mandatory. News conferences are encouraged, but there is no contractual obligation to attend post-round media availability -- no matter how good or bad the outcome of a player's round.
But, on Sunday, after she signed for a final-round 75 (including a back-nine 41), keeping her out of the playoff between Yuka Saso and Nasa Hataoka for the title, Thompson stood to address the media. (Saso, 19, edged out Hataoka, becoming the second teenager to win the U.S. Women's Open.)
Thompson answered two questions during the post-play news conference before her agent made a gesture to the USGA to stop it all. She exited.
The fight was over.
A few members of the media expressed frustration and outrage. Some even took to social media to proclaim that it was a "bad look" that she didn't take more questions and didn't "stand up in victory and defeat."
The USGA expressed later that afternoon to ESPN that it was thankful she agreed to a couple of questions despite the incredibly disappointing end for the 11-time LPGA winner.
She tried. She showed up. She stood up.
Last week, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open, announcing on social media that she will "take some time away from the court" one day after being fined and threatened with harsher sanctions for skipping her mandatory media obligations. She also wrote, "I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world's media." In the same post, Osaka revealed that she has suffered from long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018.
Osaka's social media post stressed the importance of practicing self-care and doing what benefits her mental health, whether that's talking to the press after a match or not -- but regardless, that should be the athlete's choice.
As Thompson was fighting to hold back tears during the news conference, she kept shrugging and repeating the phrase "that's golf." She knew that she blew a huge lead. She knew it would be described as a "collapse" and "blowup." But as she pulled back her quivering lips into a smile, it was as though she was attempting to show everyone that she was OK.
Later, Thompson admitted that it was "hard to smile," but "it was an amazing week."
She added, "It was just an unbelievable feeling to be out here and play this golf course. I've never been out here, so it was a blessing, and I'll take today and I'll learn from it and have a lot more weeks ahead, a lot more years. I have a tournament next week, so we'll take it from here."
Thompson said it out loud for everyone to hear. It was just a matter of if people were willing to accept her words. Like Osaka, she had made her statement clear. Thompson was doing what was best for her, and why shouldn't she?