Lexi Thompson takes 64 in stride
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Look at Lexi Thompson go. A couple of more rounds like Friday's performance at the Kraft Nabisco Championship and who knows, there might even be a Golf Digest cover shoot in her future.
Amid grumblings this week from players about scantily clad celebrity Paulina Gretzky gracing this month's cover of the magazine -- something an LPGA member has not done since 2008 -- Thompson certainly did her best to put the game's working class back into focus.
With a bogey-free 64, the lowest second round in Kraft Nabisco major championship history, the 19-year-old South Florida teenager zoomed from 1-over after Thursday to 7-under and tied with veteran Se Ri Pak for the lead. Adding to the impressiveness of Thompson's workday, she began the round with five consecutive pars before playing her final 13 holes 8-under.
I wouldn't say I saw there was something special going on. I was just trying to stay in the moment and focus on each shot, not really think about what I was shooting.Lexi Thompson
"I wouldn't say I saw there was something special going on. I was just trying to stay in the moment and focus on each shot, not really think about what I was shooting," Thompson said. "But, yeah, I had the same confidence over every shot, just committing to my line and just being confident over every shot or every putt, and I just tried to do that the whole way throughout, even at the beginning of the round."
In the middle of recounting her round, Thompson did not stop to stifle a yawn, but it seemed as if she could have. No one has ever played a second round better, and her score was only two strokes short of Lorena Ochoa's tournament record in 2006, but she spoke of it as being far from monumental.
"Just go out there and relax," she said. "Even though it's a major, it's just a golf tournament, so just going out there and having fun. But I worked extremely hard in the offseason on my short game and just trying to get my game a lot more consistent. I think that's showing in the last few weeks, so hopefully it'll show even more.''
There's also the fact that Thompson popping up on a leaderboard, even at a major, surprises pretty much no one.
At 12, she became the youngest golfer to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. At 15, she turned professional and, barely a year later, while playing on a sponsor's exemption, won the LPGA's Navistar Classic -- becoming, at the time, the youngest winner in tour history. Three months later, she won the Dubai Masters on the Ladies European Tour.
Last season, she added two more LPGA victories.
Thompson turned 19 in February and, this week, ranked No. 9 in the world, is playing her 18th career major -- which explains her post-round flatline.
"I would say the biggest thing I've learned over the years is just staying patient," Thompson said. "Majors, they don't shoot crazy low in majors usually, so even if you're just parring, missing a few birdie putts, you just have to stay patient with it and know you can take advantage of a few holes and get the birdies there, and that's what I'm kind of realizing here.
"You have plenty of birdie holes out there, so even if you miss a few birdie putts, you've just got to keep on plugging away and get those looks with the birdies."
Truth is, however, Thompson doesn't plug. She bombs. Standing 5-feet-11 and with more tone than Hawaiian Tropic, she leads the LPGA in driving distance, lashing tee shots an average of 274.5 yards. She's also 14th on tour in greens hit in regulation and ranks 18th in scoring average.
"Week to week when I see her, she pretty well handles herself out there, like pressure, as a game, as a focus," said Pak, the Hall of Famer who won her first major, the 1998 U.S. Women's Open, at age 20. "She's going to be a really great player."
Pak was particularly impressed by Friday's 64.
"Amazing," she said. "I mean, how solid, and her putting is really hot, too. Her game looks like it's so solid the last couple weeks, so it's really good for her."
Demanding attention is the fact Thompson, the big hitter, turned her tournament around with her putter. On the way to Thursday's 1-over 73, she used 35 putts. She needed only 25 Friday.
"I just had a little bit of speed issues [Thursday]," she said. "I didn't really commit to my lines, and I came up short a lot. I just went out today and picked my line and sped up my tempo a little bit with my putting and just went up to it and said, 'I'm going to knock it in.'"
Even a 30-footer on her 10th hole, complete with a rainbow-like break.
"Pretty cool to watch," she said.
Now, it's on to the weekend in search of her first major championship -- by every golf yardstick, the first step toward official greatness.
"It's a great feeling to have," Thompson said. "Obviously, this is one of my main goals, to win a major this year, especially the Kraft Nabisco, would be a huge honor.
"But no different attitude going into the weekend. I'm still going to go out there, have fun, stay patient with each shot, pick my line and just commit to every golf shot and just have fun out there."
After that, just smile for the camera.