Lexi Thompson is doing everything she can to be a part of golf's big comeback at the Rio Olympics -- the first time the sport has been contested at an Olympics in 112 years. On Sunday, the 21-year-old Florida-native won her seventh career title (and a quarter-million dollars!) at the LPGA Thailand event in Chonburi. Her victory improved her world ranking from No. 4 to No. 3 -- just behind New Zealand's Lydia Ko and South Korea's Inbee Park -- and made her the top-ranked American.
To qualify for Rio, each country is allowed to bring up to four players if they are among the top 15 in the world on the cut-off date of July 11. Otherwise, participating nations can send only two players who aren't in the top 15. So as of right now, Thompson is in a very good spot to punch her Rio ticket.
We sat down with Thompson recently to discuss her plans for Rio and what it would mean to her to be part of golf's return to the world's biggest, most prestigious sport's stage.
Winning an Olympics would be better than any major. Any time I get to represent my country that's bigger than anything. Major championships are huge for us, obviously. But to say that you're an Olympian is the highest honor. I know we're all excited to have golf in the Olympics and that will be everyone's main goal this year -- to play well to make the Olympic team.
I feel like a veteran and I'm only 21. It's crazy to even say that. But now I have 18-year-olds right behind me. It's actually kind of nice not being known as the youngest out there now. They can get all the attention and I'll just do my own thing. I know what they are going through if they struggle. But honestly, neither Ko nor Brooke Henderson, both 18, have really struggled. That just shows how much the game has grown. Girls are just getting started younger, practicing more, realizing what it takes and are showing their talent.
I'm still putting in the hours. I'm practicing at least five hours a day, every day. I usually play a round of golf to keep score and make sure that I'm mentally ready for my tournaments. I'll do two hours of short game practice, too, while I'm out on the course. Afterward, I'll hit the gym and do a 30-minute warm-up, 30 minutes of cardio (stationary bike, treadmill, or StairMaster) and 30 minutes of strength training. Over the last year or so, I've put more cardio into my fitness routine to make it easier on my body. I also do a lot of golf-based exercises for balance, flexibility and rotation to improve my golf swing.
Music is my best training partner. I love working out alone and I don't usually need much motivation. I go to the gym, put my headphones on, and zone out for an hour and a half. I usually play the "Hard Rock Strength Training" station on Pandora. It's the best. It's upbeat rock and it's really good.
But my mental game may be the most improved. I started working with this life coach named John Denny down in Jupiter, South Florida over the last year. I met him through other players. He has helped me tremendously -- from being more positive on and off the course to breathing better when I play. It's crucial that my body is totally relaxed so that I can perform at my best.
When we get together, he'll hook me up to a monitor to measure my relaxation. If I think about something that gets me hyped, my heart beat shoots up. When it starts to spike, he has me take a deep breath and think about something that makes me happy. I'll think positive thoughts like "You're blessed" or "You're talented," and instantly see changes in my heart beat.
I put this breathing technique into my routine out on the golf course. Before I hit a shot, I'll visualize the shot I want to hit to get rid of all negative thoughts. I have to maintain a positive mindset because golf is 80 percent mental.
Golf is growing, especially on the women's side. The sport has grown a dramatic amount since I turned pro in 2010. We've gained tournaments, sponsors, a huge fan base, TV coverage and all that. I've seen the most growth happen in just the last two or three years. We're gaining money purses, too. Obviously not as much as the guy's tour, but we are gaining more sponsors -- and that's what we need.
All eyes are on us pre-Rio. Pro female golfers seem to be getting more hype than the guys right now. I'm not so sure why, but I think the media attention will even out once the Games begin. Golf in the Olympics, in general, is a big story. I think the men will be good about sharing the spotlight.
I was surprised by Rio's Olympic golf course. It's a 72-hole four-day stroke play. I figured that course planners would have wanted a little more team involvement. I love team events. I've played my fair share. Unfortunately, playing individually won't create as much of a team bond as I feel the Olympics should be. But just being there, representing your country as an individual or team, is going to be amazing.