It all started with the U.S. Women’s Open.

The year was 2007, and a 12-year-old, baby-faced Alexis Thompson arrived at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club to compete in her first major championship. She was a pre-teen sensation clad in a pink Titleist visor and a pair of ladybug earrings who was ready to try and make the cut in one of the most prestigious events in women’s golf.

And while she didn’t play the weekend that year in North Carolina, little did the golf world know just who that kid would become one day.

Now, seventeen years after that life-changing moment and still wearing those ladybug earrings, Lexi is an 11-time LPGA Tour winner, a major champion, a two-time Olympian, a six-time U.S. Solheim Cup team member and one of the most recognizable faces in golf.

And she announced on Tuesday morning that this will be her last year competing on the LPGA Tour, as she plans to retire from professional golf at the conclusion of the 2024 season.

“While it is never easy to say goodbye, it is indeed time. At the end of 2024, I will be stepping away from a full professional golf schedule. I’m excited to enjoy the remainder of the year as there are still goals I want to accomplish. I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life. Time with family, friends, and my trusted companion Leo. I will always look for ways to contribute to the sport and inspire the next generation of golfers. And of course, I look forward to a little time for myself.”

Lexi Thompson via Instagram

In a lot of ways, Lexi is one of one. Fans have had a front-row seat to her every triumph, heartbreak, struggle and success since she burst onto the golf scene all those years ago. She was one of golf’s original teenage superstars, a wunderkind that adults and kids alike gravitated towards as Thompson was someone they wanted to root for, someone they identified with.

She has carried the mantle of women’s golf forward, never considering it a burden but rather a privilege to do so. It’s the littlest of things that Lexi has done that make the most lasting of impacts – signing every hat, glove, flag and ball handed to her over the last nearly two decades and always entertaining the requests of every person at autograph alley no matter how good or bad she plays. Funny enough, she still signs as Alexis Thompson, not Lexi, an autograph that she’s stuck with since that first U.S. Women’s Open all those years ago.

Her love and respect for her fans was something that Lexi’s mother instilled in her from a very young age, often telling her that it was almost her duty to make at least one person’s day better every time she left the house. And that has driven Thompson throughout her entire career, particularly as she’s pushed boundaries in the golf space. Lexi is well aware of the platform that her LPGA Tour success has afforded her and leverages every opportunity she has to serve as a role model for those around her.

One of the best examples of that willingness to set an example came last October when Thompson became the seventh woman ever to tee it up on the PGA Tour. She nearly made the cut that week at the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas, Nev., an accomplishment that would have rivaled her major victory. But that wasn’t Thompson’s ultimate goal when she decided to play alongside the men on the PGA Tour.

“It’s been something I grew up doing with my brothers and have wanted to do, but to also send a message out to the Shriners kids that no dream is too small, and they can go after what they want and follow their dreams,” said Thompson in her pre-tournament press conference at the Shriners Children’s Open. “If I can leave here inspiring others, and especially the kids, the Shriners kids, that’s what it’s all about and what this tournament is. There is more than just playing golf.

“If I can inspire one individual, I would feel like I’m making progress. Of course, yes, I want to play good. That’s a whole other story. There is more to life than performing well. That’s what I want to do, inspire others.”

Thompson also has the unique distinction of only being known by one name, as very few players in women’s golf are recognized by a singular moniker. Annika and Lorena come to mind. So does The Babe.

But Lexi is one of an incredibly small list of athletes to earn that honor in the modern era, joined maybe only by Nelly Korda in the last 20 years.

Hers is a name that crops up pretty much every time you ask a fan or kid at an LPGA Tour event, “Who’s your favorite player?” or “Who are you here to watch?” And no matter how she’s playing or how much her career has progressed, Lexi still moves the needle in ways that most athletes dream of doing throughout a career.

But for the 29-year-old, it’s become more than second nature.

People are, of course, impressed by the golf. Lexi pounds the golf ball, throwing her entire body into every shot she hits every time she swings, an aggressive movement that still exudes grace and agility and produces some well-struck golf shots. It’s particularly fun to watch her mash her driver, but Thompson has a finesse around the greens as well that helps her short-game creativity shine, allowing her to take advantage of birdie opportunities and convert must-make pars when absolutely necessary.

But that’s not the only thing that draws people to her. LPGA Tour Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan can easily sum up Lexi’s star power and what makes her so likable, both on and off the golf course.

“Lexi’s impact extends far beyond the golf course. She embodies the spirit and dedication of our Founders — always showing up and engaging intentionally to help further the growth and impact of the LPGA,” said Marcoux Samaan. “She is beloved by fans, consistently seen signing autographs and interacting with them no matter the result that day. Lexi’s commitment to our partners has also been unparalleled. Throughout her career, she has continually made time to engage with partners, their employees and their clients, and truly has valued their tremendous support of women’s golf.

“This dedication was exemplified last year when she was honored with our Founders Award, given to an LPGA Member who best exemplifies the spirit, ideals, and values of the LPGA through her behavior and deeds, as voted on by her peers. Lexi’s remarkable career and the way she has conducted herself both on and off the course have inspired countless girls around the world to pursue their goals with passion and perseverance.”

That tenacity has been critical to Lexi’s longevity throughout the years. This week marks her 18th time competing in the U.S. Women’s Open, a fitting number for Lexi’s final start in this major championship. She’s come close to winning this coveted title on more than a few occasions and will be working towards that goal again in Lancaster, Penn., but this time, there’s more to reflect upon.

As she traipses the fairways of Lancaster Country Club, memories from those 17 other U.S. Women’s Open will of course be flooding her brain, coming in waves so strong as she remembers her very first one in 2007, the one that started it all. Thoughts of her last 13 years on the LPGA Tour will certainly crop up as well, causing a wry smile or a singular tear depending on the memory sparked.

But this isn’t the end. Not yet anyway. And while the moment will be bittersweet as Thompson bids farewell to the tournament that quite literally jumpstarted her career, there’s so much more still to come for Lexi the rest of this season.

And lucky for us, there’s still plenty of time to watch Thompson compete. The end of the year is still six months away. So much could happen between then and now.

Lexi just might once again wow us all.