MIAMI • Lexi Thompson visited the Heavenly Puppies pet store in Florida in the summer, intending to volunteer as a dog walker.
But, as soon as she entered, she told her mother that she would be getting a dog after noticing a puppy cuddled up on a ladybug plush toy.
It was a divine sign. She has a ladybug patch on her golf bag and wears ladybug earrings for good luck.
Leo - a six-month-old, Havanese and miniature poodle mix - was by her side at the Tour Championship on Sunday, playing an outsize role as she returned to the winner's circle after a 14-month title drought.
It provided a welcome distraction in the LPGA season-ender at Tiburon Golf Club, where Thompson shot a two-under 70 for a 270 total to secure a four-stroke victory over fellow American Nelly Korda.
It also extended her LPGA title streak to six straight years, the longest run among active players, while world No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn captured the US$1 million (S$1.37 million) season points bonus prize.
The win - Thompson's 10th on the Tour and her first of the year - provided redemption. Last year, she missed a two-foot par putt on the final hole with the title, the world No. 1 ranking and Player of the Year honours on the line.
It was a disappointing end to a difficult year that had been dominated by the controversy generated by a four-stroke penalty she had received in the final round of the ANA Inspiration for marking her ball improperly the previous day.
She was still reeling from that episode when her mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer followed by the death of her grandmother.
Things did not let up this year, and Thompson found herself unable to keep up appearances and had to skip the Women's British Open, her first missed Major since making her Tour debut in 2012, to attend to her mental health.
Last month, the 23-year-old admitted to an ongoing struggle with body image issues. She also split up with caddie Kevin McAlpin and had to enlist the services of her brother Curtis for the finale.
Leo's continual affection has been a welcome counter to her off-course issues and the pressure of scorecards, and she acknowledged the uplifting role it had played.
"No matter what I shoot, this guy is giving me kisses," she said while cradling her dog.
"It's been a long year. Just the up and downs, and things I've been dealing with.
"To end the year like this means the world to me. Just shows anything is possible."