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Lexi Thompson announcing that she intends to retire at the end of this season surfaced an array of conflicting emotions.

On the one hand, it was a surprise. On the other, it wasn’t at all.

On the one hand, it feels much too soon. On the other, it’s possibly a few years too late.

On the one hand, it’s a relief. On the other, it’s a desperate shame.

Thompson, who will walk away from the game before her 30th birthday, has both enjoyed and endured a complex career that started whilst she was still just a child.

She has experienced the unbridled thrill of major glory and the unparalleled anguish of major defeat.

It’s the stuff of hideous cliché to say but her career has truly been a rollercoaster. Ups, downs, thrills, spills, giddiness, dizziness and the occasional bout of nausea.

Now, after 18 years aboard a ride that only the luckiest few get to experience, she’s tearing off the wristband and leaving the theme park.

In an emotional video posted to her Instagram account, Thompson hinted (quite strongly) that she’d had enough, that the burden of being a tour pro had overtaken the blessing.

“Since I was 12 years old, my life as a golfer has been a whirlwind of constant attention, scrutiny and pressure,” she said. “The cameras are always on, capturing every swing and every moment on and off the golf course.

“Social media never sleeps with comments and criticisms flooding in from around the world. It can be exhausting to maintain a smile on the outside while grappling with struggles on the inside.”

Ultimately, that led to her to this conclusion. That “while it is never easy to say goodbye, it is indeed time.”

Whilst there is no denying that Thompson will leave a void in the women’s game, it’s also true to say that it won’t be as significant as it might have been a few years ago.

Once ranked as high as fourth on the women’s world rankings, she is currently 54th and without a win on the LPGA in five years. Since finishing in a tie for second in the 2022 Women’s PGA Championship, she has missed the cut in five majors out of six.

Her place as one of the game’s ‘poster girls’ has been snatched by Nelly Korda, Brooke Henderson, Charley Hill, Hannah Green and even Rose Zhang.

Respectfully, it’s reasonable to wonder if we saw the best of Thompson some years ago.

Nonetheless, she will walk away from the game close to the top, on her own terms – a privilege not extended to every professional athlete – and as a bona fide star. One glance at the depth of tributes paid to her by her peers is surely confirmation of the impact she has made.

There will, of course, be questions. Why now? What if? Where next? The usual scope and assault of inquisitions that follow such unanticipated news.

But we’ve been here before. Thompson is not the first big-name female player to retire prematurely. Merely the latest.

Annika Sorenstam walked away at the end of 2008 at the age of 37 to focus on the “other priorities in my life”. Lorena Ochoa, to whom the baton of ‘women’s golf’s most dominant player’ was passed, did likewise in May 2010. The Mexican explained that her plan had always been to play for “around ten years” before quitting to start a family.

Michelle Wie West hung up her clubs a year ago, aged 33, whilst back in 2015, when she was still just 17, Lydia Ko said she planned to retire at the age of 30 to pursue her dream of becoming a psychologist. More recently, the New Zealander, now 27, said she no longer had an end date in mind but conceded she was “definitely past the halfway point in my career”.

Not that this trend is exclusive to women’s golf – hello, Bobby Jones, Victor Dubuisson, Bill Rogers, Byron Nelson, et al – but it definitely seems to be more of a ‘thing’.

The impact of starting and raising a family cannot be underestimated. Male golfers don’t have to consider factors such as pregnancy and maternity leave. Take Scottie Scheffler, for instance. Had Meredith been the one with the tour card, the last few months would have looked quite different.

All of which creates a challenge for the LPGA. Already in a perpetual struggle for more support across the board – fans, sponsors, media coverage, primetime television opportunities, and so on – it knows there’s only a small window of opportunity to capitalise on its stars. Rightly or wrongly, the players are the sport, particularly in these celeb-centric times.

When they leave, it’s back to the drawing board. Find the next Annika, the next Lorena, the next Wie West, the next Lexi and, inevitably, the next Nelly.

Fortunately, they’ve succeeded thus far. But at what cost? How many supporters have they lost along the way?

It’s a problem, alright.

But not Lexi’s.

Miss Thompson will soon bid professional golf adieu and good luck to her.

Her flame burned brighter than most.

How to keep that fire burning? That’s the real quiz.

Michael McEwan is the 2023 PPA Scotland ‘Columnist of the Year’ and ‘Writer of the Year’

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Michael McEwan is the Deputy Editor of bunkered and has been part of the team since 2004. In that time, he has interviewed almost every major figure within the sport, from Jack Nicklaus, to Rory McIlroy, to Donald Trump. The host of the multi award-winning bunkered Podcast and a member of Balfron Golfing Society, Michael is the author of three books and is the 2023 PPA Scotland 'Writer of the Year' and 'Columnist of the Year'. Dislikes white belts, yellow balls and iron headcovers. Likes being drawn out of the media ballot to play Augusta National.

Deputy Editor

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