Charley Hull interviews after winning the CME Group Tour Championship on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in Naples, Fla.
Annika Sorenstam has been where Lexi Thompson hopes to be. And for Thompson, to an extent, that could be as soon as Sunday in Naples.
Monday, the former LPGA Tour legend and the current star were part of 26 tour pros raising thousands for the Immokalee Foundation at its charity pro-am at The Old Collier Golf Club.
Sorenstam, 47, retired in 2008 with 10 majors, eight LPGA Tour Player of the Year awards, eight money titles and won the Vare Trophy for lowest-stroke average five times.
Thompson, just 22 but in her sixth year on tour, has put herself in position for many of those major awards for the first time. She can’t add to her lone major, the 2014 Nabisco, but can win: the $1 million Race to the CME Globe (currently 1st), Player of the Year (4th place), and Vare Trophy (1st place) heading into the CME Group Tour Championship this week at Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort.
“I go into every event wanting to win, and to set myself up in position coming into this week shows how much I practice and work hard,” said Thompson, who’s won twice and has nine top-10s.
Now that she’s done that, though, Thompson doesn’t want to focus on any of what could happen.
“I’m just going to go out and just try to do my best, and not think about it at all, just play my game,” she said.
That includes looking at that box of $1 million that figures to be on display once again.
“I don’ think that’ll help me out any,” she said. “I’m just going to go out there and chase my white ball around.”
Thompson may not be focusing on the big prize that much, but Sorenstam, who outside of her Solheim Cup captaincy this year considers herself more of a fan than anything, continues to be impressed with what she’s seen of Thompson.
“I’ve been a fan of Lexi’s for many years — I know she’s still very young, but she’s been out for a while,” Sorenstam said. “I think she’s conducted herself well. She works very, very hard. And this year it’s a great year.”
Sorenstam had plenty of those, and stories to go along with it. Sunday at the tournament gala, she got to share some of those.
“It just shows what kind of person she is to come out and support his event and the foundation,” Thompson said. “It was great to have her here.”
“Hopefully she kind of got a better idea of what this foundation is about and how we’re helping the community,” veteran LPGA Tour player and Naples High grad Kris Tamluis said. “She has some great stories that a lot of us as players know. I think for the people (Sunday) night, it was really cool to hear them.”
Sorenstam enjoyed the experience, one she doesn’t have much these days.
“It’s been great,” she said. “I really don’t do a lot of these events. When I was asked to come, I always ask ‘What’s the charity?’ It was kids, so I thought ‘OK, I’m in.'”
Sorenstam stepped farther back into the golf world this year when she was captain of the European team in the Solheim Cup in August. The Americans ended up winning, but Sorenstam remains fond of the experience.
“One of the players summed it up the best,” Sorenstam recalled of going into a press conference with her team after it ended. “She said ‘I really don’t feel like we lost.’ That’s really how we felt. We didn’t feel like we lost. That was really cool.
“It was an amazing atmosphere. I thought they played hard. We just got outplayed, but the memories. … We had so much fun. We laughed. We had tears. It was a challenge.”
Sorenstam pointed to how Thompson dealt with her own challenge on the course in April after the disappointment of losing the ANA Inspiration, a major, following a four-stroke penalty. A TV viewer notified the LPGA that Thompson had improperly marked her ball in the third round. She was informed by rules officials during the final round with six holes left — the penalty took her out of the lead — and she eventually lost to So Yeon Ryu in a playoff.
“She handled it with class,” Sorenstam said. “I think at the time it was hard, but afterward … I think she made a name for herself in a better way.”
Thompson has had to handle a lot this year off the golf course as well. In late June, she revealed her mother had been undergoing treatment for uterine cancer. In late September, she posted on her Instagram that her grandmother had died.
“It goes beyond what it would mean to see another American win (major awards) for the LPGA Tour,” said Tamulis, who also played Monday, when asked what a Thompson victory Sunday would mean. “It’s completely a human interest story and about overcoming adversity and being strong, and sometimes, with her mom, being focused on other things besides the job.
“It’s inspiring to everyone that knows the story, not just players and golf fans. I hope she does it, but not just because she’s an American.”
CME Group Tour Championship
Where: Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort
Who: 74 top LPGA Tour players