RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Lexi Thompson is the one without scars.
Yeah, you can’t see them on Michelle Wie and even the legend, Se Ri Pak, but they have struggled to return to this kind of stage, to a weekend on the leaderboard at a major championship. Sure, their stories are vastly different, but Wie and Pak share a common struggle in giving themselves the chance to win this Kraft Nabisco Championship.
There’s still a long way to go, but if Wie or Pak is going to walk away with the Dinah Shore Trophy Sunday at Mission Hills Country Club, they might have to go through the big-hitting, youthful Thompson to get there.
With an 8-under-par 64 Friday, Thompson shot up the leaderboard to gain a share of the lead with Pak (70). Thompson left Mission Hills with momentum after posting the best round of the day.
At 7-under 137, Thompson and Pak were a shot ahead of Wie (71) after two rounds.
Thompson is just 19, but she’s already a three-time LPGA winner. When she won the Navistar Classic at 16, she was the youngest player to win an LPGA event. When she was 12, she played in her first major, becoming the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open.
“This is one of my goals, to win a major this year,” Thompson said.
Thompson is full of confidence and youthful ambition. She’s the kind of fearless player that Wie said she used to be when she was young.
“You don’t know what failure is,” Wie said after Thursday's first round. “I’ve had my ups and downs.”
Wie, a two-time LPGA winner, knows failure. She has battled through injuries, slumps and burnout but looks poised for what swing coach David Leadbetter calls her “second coming.” She said her swoon is part of who she is today.
“You just go out there and you’re grinding and grinding, and you don’t see any improvement,” Wie said. “I think that’s when you get most frustrated, with the least confidence.
“I’m just really grateful that I went through that because I know how I overcame that. If I ever get where I’m not confident, I know how to get past it now.”
Wie’s swing looks free again. Her ball-striking this year has been impressive. That’s partly due to the fact that she is less technical and analytical. She’s trying to play with the feel she played with as that young phenom. Wie is so committed to that, she quit looking at video of her swing.
“It’s always a battle for me because I’m such a perfectionist,” Wie said. “I try to do everything perfectly. I’m really trying not to look at my swing, just really feel it and just try not to be perfect, just kind of hit some shots instead of trying to make a perfect swing.
“It was hard. I almost felt like a bit of an addict. I really wanted to look, `Am I doing it right?’ But once I stopped looking at it, I don’t even want to look at my swing anymore. I don't want to rely on my eyes again.”
Wie is playing golf again, instead of just making swings.
“When I was young, way younger, I just tried to hit the ball hard, to hit it far,” Wie said. “I definitely think I’m kind of going back towards that.”
Wie’s putting, with that unorthodox “tabletop stance,” has been mostly good, but there’s still the occasional short miss between good par saves. She missed a 2 ½-footer for par on Thursday. She missed a 3-footer for birdie on Friday.
“I was really proud of myself for making those par saves today,” Wie said.
And a little good fortune never hurts. Wie got a lucky break at No. 2, her 11th hole. She hooked her tee shot hard toward the out-of-bounds stakes, but it hit a tree and bounced into the middle of the fairway. She made birdie.
“Pretty lucky shot there,” Wie said.
Pak, 36, is feeling fortunate to get herself in position to win her sixth major championship, her first Kraft Nabisco. Pak, of course, inspired a nation of South Korean girls with her U.S. Women’s Open and LPGA Championship titles in ‘98. A Hall of Famer, Pak has won 25 titles but just one over the last seven seasons with her last major coming eight years ago.
Burned out after her meteoric rise, Pak came to a crossroads.
“One moment, all of a sudden, I just hated golf,” Pak said.
Pak found herself on driving ranges not wanting to be there, but she said she's finding balance in her life.
“I now understand the game of golf,” Pak said.
If she found herself hoisting the Dinah Shore Trophy come Sunday, Pak said she might relish the moment more than she did winning majors in her youth.
“Right now, this moment is probably the best I’ve ever had,” Pak said. “I find my game, I find my life. It’s just great to be out here.”