OAKMONT, Pa. – You had to rub your eyes.
With the standard bearer walking up the 18th fairway in the fading light early Saturday evening at Oakmont Country Club, you were not sure you could believe the scores you were seeing.
So many folks want to make Alexis Thompson the future of American women’s golf.
They see the 15-year-old prodigy from Coral Springs, Fla., becoming the world’s No. 1 player someday.
It’s a lot of pressure, but on this day, in the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open, someday didn’t seem so far away at all.
Thompson was in a pairing Saturday with the last two players to hold the No. 1 world ranking before Cristie Kerr took over.
Thompson got to measure her skills against No. 2 Ai Miyazato and No. 3 Jiyai Shin in the oppressive spotlight of weekend major championship golf, and she outplayed them both. She beat them both on a surly course that ranks as one of the toughest tests the women will ever see.
Thompson shot 1-under-par 70 Saturday.
She was 10 shots better than Miyazato in this crazy, wondrous round.
She was two shots better than Shin.
She equaled the lowest round posted so far this weekend.
“She’s really impressive, a brilliant player,” said Dean Herden, Shin’s veteran caddie. “She’s got all the goods.”
Thompson, who turned pro three weeks ago at the Shoprite LPGA Classic, is already playing her fourth U.S. Women’s Open. She was the youngest player ever to qualify for the championship at 12. Now she’s making an improbable run at becoming the youngest winner of the championship. It seems nutty, impossible, but when the third round was halted due to darkness, Thompson was tied for fourth, five shots off the lead.
Herden was asked if he thought Thompson had a realistic chance to win come Sunday.
“Definitely,” Herden said. “If she’s got her driver going, look out.”
Herden was left scratching his head watching the way Thompson played the 340-yard 11th hole.
The bold ambition in this big-hitting youth radiated through her brave play there.
At the 11th tee, Thompson pulled out driver and aimed way left there. Her father, Scott, waved cameramen out of the way. Then Alexis rocketed a moon shot over into the 10th fairway. On purpose. It’s a risky uphill shot that required she carry some nasty bunkers 245 yards away, but she did it.
“It left her with a little wedge into the green,” Herden said.
Thompson birdied the 16th hole with a 60-foot bomb and also birdied the 17th to move into solo third place before making bogey at the last hole.
After a nervy start, Thompson looked like she was playing with the confidence of somebody who thinks she can win.
“I wasn’t really thinking about that,” she said. “I was just trying to come here and play my game this week. Just try to do my best. If I did win, it would just be a bonus.”
Thompson was the No. 1 junior girl and No. 1 women’s amateur before turning pro. She’s a winner of both the U.S. Girls’ Junior and PGA Junior Girls’ championships.
Her father, Scott, is on her bag this week. He was asked if he found himself dreaming of winning Saturday as she climbed the leaderboard.
“I’m not there yet,” Scott said. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself . . . But I’d be liar if I said I hadn’t thought about it.”
Alexis, who goes by Lexi, got off to a shaky start aside Shin and Miyazato.
“She was a little nervous,” Scott said. “She popped up a 3-wood about 170 yards on the first tee.”
But Thompson holed a nervy 6-footer for bogey at the first hole and didn't look nervous the rest of the way.
Thompson slammed her driver well beyond both Shin and Miyazato all day long.
“I was watching their games and how good they are and how good they putt,” Thompson said. “Just amazes me. They’re really consistent players. I learned a lot from them.”
Scott said it was a dream grouping for his daughter.
“Those are the two nicest girls you will ever play with,” he said.
Shin and Miyazato learned something watching Thompson. They learned what the future of American women’s golf looks like.