TOLEDO, Ohio—“I’ll play with anybody that doesn’t give up,” Lexi Thompson said on Friday, all at once in that one sentence asserting her competitive philosophy in the Solheim Cup and underscoring her role as the de facto leader of an American team that isn’t lacking strong voices.
When the 17th edition of the biennial matches begins at 7:35 a.m. ET Saturday at Inverness Club with a session of four foursomes (alternate shot), Thompson undoubtedly will be called upon to carry a heavy match load while also doing all she can to support her teammates as they try to win back the Solheim Cup from a European team that has no shortage of talent and toughness.
Never mind that Thompson is just 26 years old. This will be her fifth Solheim Cup, tied with Lizette Salas for most on the squad. Her 14 victories, including one major, the 2014 ANA Inspiration, is tops among the American dozen.
Salas, Korda sisters Nelly and Jessica, and Danielle Kang all have strong personalities that U.S. captain Pat Hurst can tap for extra reassurance and guidance. As Kang said herself, “I honestly, genuinely think the beauty of this American team this year is everyone is at one point a leader at some time or another.”
Still, there is a sense that Thompson, who also has experience in the Junior Solheim Cup, the Junior Ryder Cup and the Curtis Cup—all team wins, mind you—possesses a resume that her teammates can’t help but respect. She is out front, inescapably. Fortunately, Thompson, the world’s No. 12 player and third-highest American in the Rolex Ranking behind Nelly Korda (first) and Kang (eighth), is fine with that.
“Leadership-wise, coming into the week, if they have any questions, I’m there for them, but I just want them to embrace the experience and have as much fun as possible,” Thompson said. “If they have questions, I’m here to answer them, but I just want to make them feel comfortable and have a good time and really feed off each other. It’s all about making memories here and showing the world our game, and that’s what we’re here for.”
Thompson struggled in the 2019 matches at Gleneagles, scoring one point in four matches via two halved team games, but her overall record of 5-4-6 speaks to her reliability on the course. In the team room, she is not without insights that can help her teammates, particularly rookies Yeolimi Noh and Mina Harigae, who are part of Thompson’s “pod,” along with Brittany Altomare.
This was a gem: “I think mainly the one piece of advice was the first tee experience of just how loud it can get and how amazing the fans are,” she said. “Everybody deals with that differently, so … I just say get as comfortable as you possibly can with the first tee shot, hit it as many times as you can.”
Of course, leadership isn’t all about being vocal. Thompson curries respect by exuding confidence born of a track record that belies her age. Having played in her first U.S. Open when she was 12 years old and turning professional at 15, the long-hitting Floridian can relate to and process just about any challenge.
“I think Lexi is a great role model, just by the way she walks, just by the way she talks,” Harigae said. “I’m observing her here, too, at a press conference seeing how she carries herself on the course, off the course. I think what really helps, as well, like for … at least for me as a rookie, even she said herself, everyone gets nervous at a Solheim Cup. It’s a huge deal for us, so it was really reassuring to hear that it’s normal to be nervous in these situations. To hear that from her, it really comforted me.”
“[She’s] quietly leading us. … She does it in like a very quiet way, but at the same time really powerful,” Noh added. “She is very fun to be around, and getting to know her more this week, I really enjoy our little pod and our practice rounds have been really fun. Just very lighthearted and just good vibes, positive vibes.”
Amid the pressure of the Solheim Cup and playing for one’s country, positive vibes have untold value. Which makes Thompson’s value to the American team incalculable.
“You just have to embrace it,” Thompson said of playing in the Solheim Cup, which she calls, “the highest stage possible.”
She also seems to be embracing a leading role on that stage for America’s team.