Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the July 2017 edition of Golfweek Magazine.
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – The voice on the other end of the phone confirmed what they feared: You have cancer.
Judy Thompson was at work at the dentist office in South Florida, where she started as an intern 44 years ago and never left, when she received the call that she had uterine cancer. Judy, already a breast cancer survivor, phoned her husband, Scott, who was out watching daughter Lexi practice at Trump National in Jupiter, Fla.
Lexi was days removed from a record-setting victory at the LPGA’s Kingsmill Championship, where she owned the tournament from the moment she parachuted onto the first tee. It marked a significant step toward moving past the nightmare that had transpired at the ANA Championship.
And now this.
That was golf. This was mom.
“You know, she’s my best friend,” Thompson said. “So hearing that, and then just dealing with a lot of things this year, it was just kind of like a breakdown moment for me.”
The gynecologic oncologist couldn’t get Judy in for a consult for another four weeks. Surgery would be done robotically, but the doctor was booked out for the next six weeks.
“That’s not working for me at all,” said an anxious Judy.
That’s when Judy thought of Morgan Pressel, the longtime family friend who has dedicated so much of her life to cancer research and treatment through her foundation.
Judy hesitated to call because Pressel was at a tournament.
“I will take care of this,” Pressel assured her, “you’re in my hands now.”
Pressel lost her own mother to breast cancer in 2003. Her Morgan & Friends charity event, in which Lexi participates, has raised $6.5 million.
With the help of Pressel, Judy met with doctors almost immediately. Five days later, on June 6, she had surgery.
“If it wasn’t for (Morgan) and her foundation,” Judy said, “I would still be waiting.”
Lexi was in Canada at the Manulife LPGA Classic when her mom had surgery. Older brothers Curtis and Nichols were in Ivanhoe, Ill., for the Rust-Oleum Championship on the Web.com Tour. Judy didn’t want her children’s lives to stop, and urged them to compete.
Scott stayed home with her in Coral Springs.
Incredibly, Lexi finished runner-up in her next two events.
“She’s so strong,” Judy marveled.
After Judy learned the surrounding lymph nodes were cancer-free, she urged doctors to fast-track her radiation treatment so she could attend the U.S. Women’s Open on July 13-16.
“I’m going,” Judy told the doctor, “and I’m going to cook.”
Lexi returned home in time for the first round of radiation. Being there to hold her mother’s hand made a heavy situation all the more real. The tour’s top American couldn’t prepare for the second major of the year the way she normally would. She asked her agent, Bobby Kreusler, if she could bow out of all pre-tournament media obligations at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship so she could better focus.
Thompson talked to reporters about her mother for the first time after the opening round.
“You know, she’s always been, no matter what she’s going through, she’s like the biggest fighter. She’s always been a role model of mine. I always aspire to be the woman – half the woman that she is.”
Curtis and Lexi were homeschooled together in Coral Springs. They’d strap on their golf bags and ride their bicycles to the clubhouse at Eagle Trace. Curtis is a huge Queen fan, and his iPod playlists became the soundtrack of those youthful summers. Among their favorites: “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You.”
“You just could tell that she wanted it more than me,” admitted 24-year-old Curtis, “wanted it more than anybody.”
Mom is an overcomer, Curtis said, which explains how his little sister handled a four-stroke penalty on the last nine holes of a major championship, the ANA, with such grit. She knows deep down, Curtis said, that a lot of people are watching.
He recently told Lexi that she’s half a shot away from being No. 1 in the world.
“It’s either going to be this year or next year,” Curtis said, “where she just breaks out and everything is just going to go ballistic in her golf game.”
Thompson tied for seventh at Olympia Fields. She has decided not to compete on the eve of major championships this year. She stayed home with mom, who had her last two radiation treatments in the week leading up to the U.S. Women’s Open at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J.
Doctors warned Judy that she might be unusually tired because the effects of radiation are cumulative. The Thompsons rented a house for the week in Jersey, and Judy planned to fix her ultra-fit daughter’s favorites: protein spaghetti, chicken, salad, veggies and sweet potatoes.
Comfort food only in the sense of who made it.
“I’m a fighter,” said Judy, “and I’m going to get through this. I’ve got too much golf to watch.”