Lexi Thompson and Her Mother Focus on Each Other, and Survival
BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Lexi Thompson hit her drive on her 10th hole and promptly turned her attention to more important concerns. “Where’s Mom?” she asked her caddie, who pointed to a spot in the gallery a few hundred yards away.
Thompson, 22, grabbed a handful of snacks from a table and ran over to give them to her mother, Judy, who had told Lexi, during their predawn drive to the course, not to fret if she did not see her after the first nine holes of the United States Women’s Open.
“I’ll be O.K.,” Judy Thompson said. “I’ll just be inside resting.”
She braved the sweltering heat, walking all but a three-hole stretch of her daughter’s round, which inspired Lexi Thompson to dig deep for a one-under-par 71. Thompson stood five strokes off the early lead held by Feng Shanshan.
It was Judy Thompson’s first tournament appearance since she received a diagnosis of uterine cancer in May. She underwent a hysterectomy in June to remove the malignancy and finished her fifth of five radiation treatments last week.
“I want to play well,” said Lexi Thompson, whose best finish in 10 previous U.S. Women’s Opens was seventh place in 2014. “But just to have my mom here and enjoy the week with her is what I’m focusing on.”
Before the round, Judy Thompson gave her daughter a good-luck hug. She then walked a few hundred yards down the cart path from the tee box, to what she thought was an inconspicuous spot. She prefers not to draw attention away from her daughter, but on Thursday a low profile was impossible to maintain. One by one, parents of the other players came up to her to say hello, give her a hug and see how she was feeling.
Her radiologist advised her to drink one and a half gallons of water a day, but the humid conditions made it difficult for her to stay hydrated. On her daughter’s sixth hole of the day, Thompson showed her participant’s guest badge to a marshal in the hopes of obtaining a 16.9-ounce bottle of water from a cooler at the tee box. The marshal refused her request. After that, people in the gallery made sure she had a steady supply of water.
Thompson became emotional when she described crossing paths Wednesday with second-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn, who usually greets her with a head nod and keeps going. This time Jutanugarn stopped and wrapped Thompson in a heartfelt hug.
“It’s like a family out here,” Thompson said, dabbing at her eyes with a white washcloth that she produced from her purse.
She credited the golfer Morgan Pressel, who played in Thursday’s afternoon wave, with potentially saving her life.
Thompson was at the dental office where she works processing insurance claims when she started hemorrhaging. A subsequent biopsy revealed a malignant tumor in her uterus. She battled breast cancer 11 years ago and had lived in fear every day since that the disease would return. She said she had not been shocked by the diagnosis.
The startling part, Thompson said, was being told she would have to wait at least a month for an appointment with an oncologist, and another month after that for a consultation with a radiologist. She said it would have been “mentally damaging” to sit in medical limbo for that long. In desperation, she phoned Pressel, who started a foundation 10 years ago to raise awareness and money to fight breast cancer, which claimed the life of Pressel’s mother when Pressel was 15.
Pressel connected Thompson with an oncologist who saw her the next day. Within a week, Thompson had surgery to remove her uterus. She insisted that Lexi, the youngest of her three children and her only daughter, stick with her competitive schedule rather than peel away from the L.P.G.A. Tour during her convalescence.
“I want all my children to continue with what their dreams are,” Judy Thompson said. “Life can’t stop.”
Lexi Thompson, who on Tuesday described her mother as her “best friend,” did as she was told. But it was not easy.
“It’s been an emotional few months,” Thompson said after her round, where she found only five of 14 fairways.
She did not know where her drives were going, but she kept close tabs on her mother. On the uphill fifth, Thompson’s 14th hole of the day, she made eye contact with her mother, who had already walked more than five miles. Thompson strongly advised her mother to stay in the shade of the trees next to the fifth tee box, a spot from which she could watch Thompson putt on the sixth green and play the par-3 seventh.
Judy Thompson did as she was told. But it was not easy. She sat down in a white folding chair that was not being used by any volunteers and fidgeted until she was able to rejoin her daughter on the eighth tee box.
Lexi Thompson called her mother “the strongest woman I know.” Her mother returned to work shortly after her operation because she needed to log a certain number of hours a week to maintain the family’s insurance — and also because she was going stir crazy at home.
As she sat in the shade by the fifth tee, Judy Thompson revealed the source of her strength. On her smartphone, she keeps the video of her daughter’s news conference in April after the final round of the ANA Inspiration, where she lost on the first extra hole after being assessed a four-stroke penalty mid-round for an infraction she committed the day before.
Thompson said she watches the video whenever she is in need of inspiration.
She said, “How strong she was makes me be strong, too.”