LPGA pros, including Lexi Thompson, brimming with pride over Olympic bids

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Midland — When Lexi Thompson finished third at last month’s U.S. Open, she had a pretty good idea she had done enough to secure a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

Still, when the 26-year-old American got the call a couple of weeks ago that she would be representing her country in Tokyo in early August, it was an emotional moment.

Lexi Thompson is making her second Olympic appearance.

“It just gave me chills,” Thompson said this week as she prepared to play in the Great Lakes Bay Invitational at Midland Country Club. “That was my No. 1 goal going into the year, and I busted my butt on the practice facilities to get that locked up. You know, my finish at the Open obviously helped out tremendously; took a lot of pressure off the next few events.

“But it's dream come true. I mean, golf not being in the Olympics for so long, I never grew up saying, ‘Oh, I want to be an Olympian.’ Now that I can, it's an unbelievable feeling.”

Thompson, who finished in a tie for 19th in the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, isn’t the only one having that feeling these days. The field in Michigan is jam-packed with players headed to Japan in a couple of weeks, including all four members of the American team.

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In addition to Thompson, other U.S. Olympians include Nelly Korda, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, and her sister, Jessica (ranked No. 13 in the world). No. 6 Danielle Kang is Tokyo bound as well. In Midland, Kang is teamed with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, the 10th-ranked player in the world, who won a silver medal at the 2016 Games.

And just like Thompson, the excitement and anticipation is growing for each player who will be teeing it up when the Olympic tournament begins on Aug. 4.

“Representing my country is always really high on my very important list,” said Australia’s Minjee Lee, who tied for seventh five years ago. “I'm just really humbly honored to be able to represent my country, and obviously the Olympics was really high on my list to get on that team.”

Added Jodi Ewart Shadoff of Great Britain, “It’s just a very proud moment for me. Getting that call, it was kind of a surreal moment. I don't think I'll ever forget that call and being asked to represent Team GB at the Olympics.”

Considering golf hadn’t been played in the Olympics in more than 100 years, the fact the Games were supposed to be played last summer but were pushed to this year hasn’t seemed to bother most golfers. Nor has the fact it will be no easy trip.

Getting to Tokyo during the busy part of the schedule can be tough enough. After the players finish the final round in Midland on Saturday, many are headed to France for the Evian Championship next week, the LPGA Tour’s fifth major. Not everyone will make the trip, primarily because they’re trying to juggle the logistics of getting to Tokyo where they’ll be forced to quarantine for three days upon arrival.

While Ko said she’s playing in France, Kang couldn’t make it work, citing the fact she played last week as the defending champion in Sylvania, Ohio, while focusing on the Women’s British Open and the Solheim Cup, which will be played at Inverness in Toledo in early September.

“As important as Evian is,” Kang said, “it just got a bit too chaotic, and I think it was just the best thing to do for me to skip the week. It just happened to be Evian.”

While that choice was difficult for Kang, few golfers have decided the restrictions they’ll face in Tokyo will be too much. In addition to the quarantine, Olympic athletes will be forced to follow strict protocols, including daily COVID testing as well as being kept from gathering in large groups.

It’s a sacrifice most are willing to make.

“If you can say that you're going to the Olympics and representing your country, I don't care what's going on, I'm going,” Thompson said. “It’ll be a bit different. I don't know if fans are allowed. If they are, might be just people that live there.

“But at the same time, it's the Olympics. You’ve got to go represent your country as best you can.”

Of course, the players hope their best results in a medal. As Ko said, winning silver was “definitely one of my most proud moments.”

But just getting there is big, too, and that isn’t lost on those who will tee it up in Tokyo.

“You're an Olympian for life,” Kang said. “I even said everyone should get a medal for going to the Olympics. It’s hard work. Everyone that made it has worked really hard in their lives and gone through their own journeys to be there. It's something special.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau