By Beth Ann Baldry, Golfweek
KOHLER, Wis. - Today’s headline: Lexi Thompson shares the lead at the U.S. Women’s Open. It’s early and players are bunched on a course where birdies are precious and big numbers are around every corner, but if there’s a player this week who could steal golf fans away from the Tiger craze, if only for a short time, it’s Thompson.
This marks Thompson’s sixth U.S. Women’s Open appearance, and she’s only 17. Compare that to Gerina Piller, who at 27 is playing in her first USWO. Thompson is a veteran of major play, and as she addressed the media on Thursday afternoon after a round that took more than six hours in grueling heat, she was poised and pleasant, looking like she’d done this drill 100 times, which she probably has.
“I had two bogeys on the back nine, so I got off track a little bit there,” Thompson said. “But I bounced back and made a few birdies, so was really happy with that.”
Thompson, a recent high school graduate, shot 2-under 70 at Blackwolf Run, a beast of a course that requires tremendous focus on a day when the heat index hit 105. It’s billed as a second-shot course, which means strong iron play will be a premium here. Thompson is fifth on the LPGA in greens in regulation and fourth in driving distance. But for the rookie to win this week, she must put on the putting performance of her young life.
“I think whoever has the least amount of putts is going to be up there on Sunday,” Stacy Lewis said on the eve of our national championship.
Putting has been a weak link in Thompson’s game this year. That was on full display at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, when she called in Dave Stockton for her first lesson. It seems odd to introduce a new instructor the week of a major, but Lexi’s father, Scott, said she needed immediate help.
What followed was information overload, and Thompson putted her way out of the championship.
“At Kraft, I was just trying to change a bunch of things at one time,” said Thompson, “which probably wasn’t the best idea.”
They have since slowed it down, and Stockton came to Kohler earlier in the week, as did Jim McLean.
“Putting is pretty much all about confidence and just trusting your line and putting a good stroke on it,” Thompson said. “If it doesn’t go in, you can’t do anything about it.”
Thompson birdied three of the last four holes to finish 2 under on a round that could’ve been even lower. She hit 13 greens and 10 fairways and had 30 putts.
Morgan Pressel became the youngest player to win a major championship in 2007 when she won the Kraft Nabisco Championship at 18 years, 10 months and 9 days. Thompson, of course, would break that record with a victory here.
Her USWO record is an inconsistent mix of missed cuts (three) and a T-10 in 2010. But considering she first qualified for the Open at age 12, it’s hard to put much stock in past results. She literally has grown up playing the majors. Today’s round tied Thompson’s lowest at the Open (Round 3 at Oakmont in 2010). Her career USWO scoring average is 74.86.
“I would definitely take four rounds at 2 under par, but I’m just going to try to do the same thing I did today and stay confident, patient,” Thompson said. “That’s pretty much all you have to do in an Open out there.”
As Thompson stressed, there’s a lot of golf left to be played. But she makes it sound so simple. One of the many advantages of youth.