Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration is a tale of promise, triumph and controversy, what’s next?

The American golfer and the first Major Championship of the year have enjoyed a happy relationship – with the exception of one very sore encounter four years ago.

The journey Lexi Thompson makes from San Diego to Rancho Mirage every April for the ANA Inspiration is one she has always enjoyed.

When she first made it as a 14-year-old, ahead of a precocious debut, she might have enjoyed vivid daydreams that one day she would lift the trophy and shortly after make the traditional plunge into Poppy's Pond.

If she did, the daydream came true in 2014.

But three years later, on the brink of winning for a second time, the tale turned toxic.

In fact, it became nothing more or less than a nightmare - and not just metaphorically. This was literal, and all the more surprising because the extent to which Thompson is a neat fit with the Dinah Shore Tournament Course which hosts the tournament is remarkable.

She won the event in 2014 and has finished in the top seven every year afterwards with the exception of 2018, when she was shell-shocked at having to revisit the events of the previous year and "slumped" to T20th.

What had happened in 2017? Thompson was leading midway through the final round when she was informed that a viewer had called the officials and drawn their attention to her marking of the ball on the 17th green in round three.

The referees consequently docked her a two shot penalty for the infringement and another two shot penalty for signing an incorrect card.

They then approached her on the course and explained what had happened.

A stunned Thompson thought it was a belated April Fool's Day joke, but it was nothing of the sort.

Twitter was suddenly alive with the controversy and everyone in golf got involved.

"That rules is broken every time a ball is marked," wrote Paul Goydos.

"An absurd ruling," cried Golf Channel's Martin Hall. "A great event showcasing the best players in the world thrown into ruins."

Cheyenne Woods argued: "Viewers should not be able to call in rulings."

And her Uncle Tiger got involved, too -

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Incredibly, Thompson rallied and forced a playoff, but lost the title to So Yeon Ryu.

The rules have subsequently changed to avoid the sport looking so foolish, but it was Thompson who had to bear the brunt of the kerfuffle.

Can she find redemption this week? She's rated a 14/1 shot with Paddy Power and there's plenty of reasons to like that price.

In those last seven starts on the course she has not only won once and made the playoff despite giving away four shots to the field, she's also finished top five another three times.

In addition to that course form, she ended 2020 with fifth at the Tour Championship, opened this year with seventh at the Tournament of Champion, and has since added second in the Gainbridge at the end of Feburary and second again last week in the Kia Classic.

Let's take a look at what Thompson has said down the years about the tournament and the events of 2017.

On her love of the event

"It's one of my favourite events. I just love coming to Palm Springs. A great atmosphere, a lot of history, a lot of good memories, and I just love playing this golf course."

On why the course suits

"I can hit my driver everywhere so I get to play aggressive out here. The setup of the golf course is perfect for me. It's aim up the right side and hit my draw.

Thompson loves the Missions Hills test.
Thompson loves the Missions Hills test.

"It suits a ball striker, which major championships usually should. It's just a great and it's all about the attitude you bring to the golf course."

On her back nine strategy during the win

"I actually didn't look at a leaderboard. Well, I looked at one on the 9th, but didn't look at one the whole back nine. I figured I was a few shots in the lead, but I just played aggressive pretty much the whole day."

On making the famous jump into Poppy's Pond

"It was a little cold, that was a little unexpected. But it felt really good because it was so hot today, it was probably about 90 degrees. Jumping in there with my family, it was a moment I'll always remember."

On her feelings immediately after the playoff loss

"I learned a lot about myself and how much fight I do have in me. Every day is a learning process and I wasn't expecting what happened today but it is what it is.

"I'm a very emotional person. I fought strong and that's all I could do. I played amazing today, probably the best golf I played all week. I fought hard coming in and I didn't give up. I knew I could still win."

Reflecting on the penalty 12 months later

"Didn't end up the way I wanted to, obviously. What was running through my mind? As everybody saw, I literally thought it was a joke. It was April 1st earlier that week so I was, like, is this a joke right now?"

On her response to news of the penalty

"I had to dig really deep. Honestly, the next tee shot I was crying. Basically every tee shot there was water in my eyes.

"The fans were the only reason why I finished the way I did. I heard them chanting my name on every shot, every tee, I heard them on the green chanting my name, and I was like, I have to finish strong for them."

On the aftermath of 2017

"That night was extremely rough. I was screaming, crying. I re-lived it for a while. I had nightmares about it. I still occasionally do. It was rough, but the fans were behind me the weeks after, the months after."

READ MORE: The leading contenders at the ANA Inspiration - the first Major of 2021

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