OK, there have been a ton of riveting storylines in the 2023 Solheim Cup.
A questionably exhausting venue, the youth invasion on both teams and no shortage of gritty matches. It’s tied up heading into Sunday singles, in a Solheim Cup that held Team Europe as the favorites. As someone watching from home, the momentum from both sides is palpable: the clutch putts, the incredible ball-striking, the roars and fist bumps that follow. It’s a deeply encouraging display of women’s golf, a representation it’s deserved for a long time from both teams – especially from its rising stars.
But one moment in particular stuck out to me, and many others on social media. The decision one veteran made in her Friday press conference, which, unfortunately, has shrouded the more profound storylines that surround the event. I’m not using this to take away from the quality of golf she’s played, either. Lexi Thompson, on all accounts, has fought tooth and nail for Team USA – when her place on the team was subject to scrutiny leading up to the Solheim Cup.
Paired with Lilia Vu in the Friday Four-Ball session, the Americans were right on the heels of Team Europe for the majority of the match until the 17th hole, when Lilia Vu birdied to tie the match. On the final hole, it all fell on Thompson’s third shot, where her ball was nestled in an unfavorable lie and her chip ended up a shank. Though she nearly holed her next attempt, the sequence earned Team Europe its first full point and cut its deficit to two points after the first day.
Later, in the press conference, a reporter asked Thompson about the moment: “There was some question on what you were trying to do and what you actually did do on the third shot. Could you just go through it for us?”
Immediately, her expression soured and she quipped: “I don’t need to comment on that.”
“I don’t need to comment on the chip. It was a bad lie, and I didn’t hit a good chip, but it was pretty much impossible.”
Followed by a hot mic mumble from Captain Lewis: “That’s a terrible question.” (The same captain who said it was a “missed opportunity” for both the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup not to partner up in a co-contested year–a move that would effectively increase the audience for the Solheim Cup.)
Let’s rewind back to the question. Its phrasing could have definitely been better, but undeniably, it sought to understand and contextualize Thompson’s mindset. It was almost certainly an attempt to empathize with Thompson, not shame her. It would have been far worse to write that she choked without trying to seek out her perspective. Nobody is out here deliberately shanking a chip in the Solheim Cup – that’s a given. Generally speaking, golfers cite their mental game at any chance they get, and we’d be remiss to pretend there wasn’t a strategy behind how Thompson wanted to escape a precarious lie and help seal a comeback half-point.
As both a reader and a writer, I’d much rather Thompson address her thought process than whatever split-second observation an onlooker crafts on deadline. No one can speak for Thompson aside from herself. No one in the media center, and not even Thompson’s teammates could ever fully capture whatever heartbreak she felt. The primary source will always be the most valuable one. It’s a journalistic standard.
Reluctantly, she did address the chip.
Vulnerability is difficult for a woman with a platform. Say, do, or act the wrong way, and the ire is oftentimes far more personal than it would be to a man with a platform. I don’t think this moment defines Thompson’s character at all, but I certainly would have loved it if she took the opportunity to let the world in on how she approached and/or subsequently dealt with a difficult moment. She’s done it before. We culturally set athletes on a pedestal, eagerly awaiting their heroic moments–and in golf, we’re often left waiting for a long time. Their pain points give that journey substance. This is where a good agent or PR person can be invaluable. Before the press conference, someone could have pulled Thompson aside and said “You’ll likely get a question about that chip, here are some strategies or approaches on how to answer.” Coddling her has the opposite effect.
None of us are entitled to Lexi Thompson in her entirety – but on a public stage, a public figure representing her home country in one of the biggest moments in her golf career means curiosity will follow. Especially when the Solheim Cup decorates the early morning weekend TV screens of that home country before it turns on its most major sport – a significant opportunity to further the brand of a sport that needs it.
The hero's (athlete’s) journey is seldom perfect. Who better than the hero themselves to explain it? Give us a chance to empathize with you.
Jessica Korda, also viewing from home, took to X (the artist formerly known as Twitter…) to offer an athlete’s perspective: “So sad seeing golf media, yet again, shred Lexi. It’s easy writing about other people’s mistakes. It’s golf, bad shots happen - give the girl a break. She grows the game more than anyone on tour…And she’s a great player!”
If a player is moving the needle, they are allowed to be asked about the moments in which they aren’t, either. The media does not exist to protect athletes – no matter their biases, backgrounds or beliefs. The role of media is to accurately depict what occurred – and a costly moment like Thompson’s shank qualifies. Censoring your questions because you assume it will cause an athlete discomfort would be a dereliction of duty.
She has earned her place in this Solheim Cup – and Captain Lewis’ trust to be the anchor match in Sunday singles. It is hard to deny her history in the event – six Solheim Cups deep, she is factually the most experienced player on Team USA. Her chosen response does not diminish any credibility as one of the great modern players. But with great power comes great responsibility – and her response left me wishing she navigated the moment with more openness.
And if Thompson had addressed it upfront, would we even be fixated on that half-point loss?
But it adds a greater focus to a narrative that Thompson has struggled to shake in her career: How well she withstands pressure-filled moments. Her role in Sunday’s anchor match magnifies that question.
Should the fate of the Solheim Cup be decided by Thompson with her back against the wall, staring down a chip just off the 18th green at Finca Cortesin, what will go through her mind:
Success? Or the fear of having to talk — yet again — about failure?