Lexi Thompson really missed not seeing spectators at last year’s ShopRite LPGA Classic.

“It was really different coming right out of COVID and playing with no people out there,” she said Wednesday. “It was like, all right, I made a putt, and I’m patting myself on the back. I really didn’t know what to do.”

The fans are back this year for the 33rd edition of the 54-hole LPGA Tour event, with a field of 132 players prepared to tee off on Friday at Seaview’s Bay Course in Galloway, N.J. Thompson, the 2019 ShopRite champion, is one of the featured players and a crowd favorite.

And she’s happy to see a crowd once again.

“I love playing in front of people,” she said. “I think the fans make the game. Hearing the chants and hearing people rooting you on gets you fired up. I can speak for myself – it gives me a purpose to go out there and play well. I just love seeing the kids out there, the smiles on their faces and signing all autographs, good or bad day.”

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Thompson also was thrilled about the return of the ShopRite Pro-Am, considered the largest Pro-Am of any U.S. pro golf tournament, men’s or women’s. The two-day event is played on three courses – the Bay and Pines courses at Seaview and Galloway National Golf Club.

The Pro-Am was canceled last year because of the pandemic, a major loss of tournament revenue, but ShopRite came to the rescue with a donation of $1.5 million.

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“I love pro-ams,” said Thompson, who played in Thursday’s event. “I think it’s a great foundation for any event. That’s our sponsors, which makes this event happen, and I’m so grateful for it. We have so much fun with it. I enjoy getting to meet new people.”

Thompson, 26, who is ranked 13th in the Women’s World Golf Rankings, has 11 career wins and more than $11.4 million in earnings. She vividly remembers her first ShopRite LPGA Classic in 2010, when she made her professional debut and arrived at the course riding shotgun in the No. 83 car of the Red Bull Racing team.

“I remember pulling up and struggling to get out of the NASCAR window,” she said with a laugh. “But that was by far my favorite memory.”

She won the 2019 ShopRite LPGA by sinking a 20-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole, her most recent victory on tour. She has five top-10 finishes this year, including a pair of runners-up and one third-place showing at the U.S. Women’s Open, where she held a 5-stroke lead early in the final round.

I love playing in front of people. I think the fans make the game. Hearing the chants and hearing people rooting you on gets you fired up.

Lexi Thompson

Thompson comes in off a tie for eighth in last week’s Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. She said she’s been working “extremely hard” on her game.

“My game is in a good spot,” she said. “I’m just going to continue to work on it and hopefully see it progress.”

Notable

Mel Reid, one of 16 Solheim Cup players competing at Seaview this week, is the defending champion, winning last year over 72 holes. … Seven of the top 10 players in the world are present, led by No. 2 Jin Young Ko and No. 5 Nasa Hataoka, who captured won last week. … Anna Nordqvist, a two-time ShopRite LPGA champion and winner of this year’s Women’s British Open, is one of three 2021 major champions in the field, joining Patty Tavatanakit and Yuka Saso. … Brynn Walker, a former Radnor High School and North Carolina standout who has turned professional, is in the field on a special exemption.