She’ll never admit it out loud but you can tell by the pained expression and quick change of subject that she probably regrets it. Lexi Thompson was still in her teens when she posed for the cover of Golf Digest wearing nothing from the waist up, a workout jacket strategically positioned to keep the mag off the brown-wrapper rack.
It hit almost a year ago, the week Thompson was defending her ANA Inspiration title and the second year in a row the once-vaunted monthly golf magazine went full sex-pot the week of the LPGA’s first major (the first was 2014 when GD put Paulina Gretzky on the cover holding a club like someone who wouldn’t know a sand wedge from a sandwich).
The picture was beautiful and professional, but the message didn’t resonate very well.
Chalk it up as a hard lesson, one of many the six-time tour winner has learned since turning pro at the tender age of 15.
For a while, Lexi worried us. She was standoffish, often surrounded by an entourage, the kind of player who would tell you she was too busy to talk as she marched away with her head down. But that wasn’t arrogance. She was a child feeling her way through an adult world, the kind of world where people twice her age made similar mistakes under the relentless heat of a spotlight.
That Lexi Thompson no longer exists.
As we celebrate her 21st birthday today, she has matured into the person everyone hoped she would become – a caring, talented ambassador for women’s sports. The kind of person who lights up when talking about her work with wounded veterans and her support for our armed services; the kind of person who asks you how you’re doing and how your offseason went, not as a way of making conversation but because she’s interested; the kind of person whose deadpan humor will have you in stitches; a woman who has grown comfortable in her own skin and happy in her role as the oldest of the youngsters on tour.
Child superstars, whether they are actors or athletes, tend to become troubled adults, so much so that we all feel a twinge of guilt watching the next young phenom foisted onto the stage. But Lexi Thompson has beaten the odds. She has become, as we had hoped, a role model.
So, happy birthday, kid. And welcome to legal adulthood. You’ve certainly earned it.