RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Lexi Thompson was a combined 43 under at the Chevron Championship the past five years heading into this week. Lydia Ko stood closest to her in that stretch at 37 under.
Mission Hills is Thompson’s favorite stop on tour. The 27-year-old won here in 2014 and then put herself in the conversation at the season’s first major nearly every year after that. Of course, what happened in 2017 on the back nine of the Dinah Shore Tournament Course became a legendary nightmare: a four-stroke penalty that rocked the golf world and a comeback that sent chills down the spines of all who gathered around Poppie’s Pond to watch the finish.
But, of course, Thompson came up short to So Yeon Ryu that week. The rules of golf have since changed and many feel Thompson is owed one here. Had she won that week, what kind of trajectory would that momentum have taken her?
We’ll never know, but a Thompson victory on the last lap around Dinah’s Place would be the popular choice of many if such a thing could be scripted.
Lexi Thompson cries in a towel as she walks to the 18th green after her second shot during the final round of the ANA Inspiration on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club on April 2, 2017, in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Thompson opened with a 3-under 69 on a day of tremendous ball-striking and seemed relaxed after what could’ve been a silly low round. When asked if she felt like there might be some kind of destiny in the cards for her this week, she shrugged it off.
“Destiny, I don’t know,” said Thompson. “I’m enjoying every last step I have at Mission Hills because it’s one of my favorite venues.”
Jennifer Kuphcho and Minjee Lee hold the early lead at 6 under. Thompson played alongside World No. 1 Jin Young Ko in the morning’s marquee pairing. Ko, who boldly said her best golf would have her winning by five this week, broke a streak of 34 consecutive rounds under par on Thursday after she struggled to a 74.
“I was hitting lots of great shots, said Ko, “but my putting wasn’t good on the green. I couldn’t see the break as much or speed, everything was wrong.
“I don’t know what happened.”
Jin Young Ko watches her tee shot off the first tee at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course during round one at the Chevron Championship at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, on Thursday, March 31, 2022.
Coming into this week, Ko was a combined 50 under par in the major championships since 2019, the best of any player in that span. She amassed eight top-20 finishes in 10 starts in the majors during that stretch.
How shocking is Ko’s 74? Her scoring average over the past 11 events is 67.54.
Expectations are enormously high for a reason.
Thompson’s love affair with Mission Hills can be seen in her performance numbers. Since winning here in 2014, she leads the tour at the Chevron in scoring average (69.75), rounds in the 60s (14), top-5 finishes (5), top-10 finishes (6), and cumulative score in relation to par (72 under). She also leads in proximity to the hole from 100-125 yards at 22 feet, 11 inches.
Thompson, who works with instructor Martin Hall, said she’s grinding harder than ever on her game, particularly putting.
“I don’t know how my back is still intact with how many putts I hit every day,” she said, “the hours that I’ve put in, but that’s what it takes.”
Thompson and her family rent a house every year in Rancho Mirage and she enjoys mom’s cooking each night. It’s been five years since that shocking Sunday in the desert knocked the wind out of her chest.
Despite it all, she can’t get enough of the place.
“There’s nothing like this event,” said Thompson.
Which is why the old Dinah deserves an epic conclusion, exactly the kind a people’s champion like Thompson could deliver.