Thompson starts strong in Women's Open


KOHLER, Wis. – Gerina Piller is 27.

After nearly winning the Wegmans LPGA Championship last month, she teed it up Thursday in her first U.S. Women’s Open.

Lexi Thompson is 17.

She is playing in her sixth U.S. Women’s Open.

Piller did not begin playing golf until she was 15.

At the same age, Thompson was playing in her fourth U.S. Women’s Open.

Sometimes you have to look around Thompson to see just how special she is.

With a 2-under-par 70 on Thursday, Thompson jumped into contention at the U.S. Women’s Open.

A big hitter, Thompson bombed her way around Blackwolf Run in the first round, hardly using her driver. She hit it six, maybe seven times. She averaged 274 yards per drive, ranking second in driving distance in the morning wave. As powerful as Thompson is, though, her fate rests mostly with her putter.

A solid ball striker, Thompson struggled with her putter earlier this season. She missed too many short putts at the Kraft Nabisco, where she still managed to tie for 22nd.

That was an especially disappointing week on the greens because Thompson visited putting guru Dave Stockton before the event.

“We brought Dave in, and he gave us a lot to think about, maybe too much to think about,” said Scott Thompson, Lexi’s father. “That’s why she struggled at Kraft. She putted absolutely miserably. Since then, she is doing things in slow bits and pieces. It’s all about confidence.”

Lexi wasn’t put off at all by Stockton. She liked what she heard. She believes she just tried to incorporate too much, too fast. She worked with Stockton again this week at Blackwolf Run.

“Lexi likes Dave,” Scott said. “She believes in him. She’s gotten more positive with it.”

Scott is no longer on Lexi’s bag as caddie. That job is Greg Johnston’s, but Scott followed his daughter Thursday. Scott has switched over to caddie for his oldest son, Nicholas.

“I hadn’t seen Lexi play in a while, and she told me her ball striking has become really good, and that’s what I saw out there today,” Scott said. “She was on the money.”

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Jim McLean is Lexi’s swing coach. They worked together early this week. McLean also is helping simplify the putting approach.

Lexi took 30 putts on Thursday.

“Her putting is coming around,” Scott said. “It’s getting better.”

If Thompson’s putter gets hot, look out. She won the LPGA’s Navistar Classic last September. She won the Dubai Ladies Masters three months later on the Ladies European Tour.

Thompson is well trained in the art of smashing age barriers.

At 12, she became the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. She would love to become the youngest winner of it this week, but she showed a veteran’s smarts when asked about winning after her fast start.

“It would mean a lot,” Thompson said. “That’s a pretty big achievement right there, but there’s a lot of golf to be played, three more days on a challenging golf course. So, I’m just going to go out and play the course and try to do my best.”

If Thompson does win this championship Sunday, she would be 17 years, 4 months and 28 days old.

She wouldn’t just be the youngest winner of a U.S. Women’s Open. She would be the youngest man or woman in the history of golf to win a major championship. She would be 10 days younger than Young Tom Morris was when he won the British Open in 1868.

That’s heady stuff, and it’s way too early to focus upon, but Thompson makes such feats seem possible the way she keeps racing to achievements faster than any player ever has in the women’s game.

Thompson qualified for that first U.S. Women’s Open at 12 years, 4 months and 1 day old.

She turned pro at 15. She became the youngest winner of an LPGA event at 16. She became the youngest professional to win a Ladies European Tour event at 16. She became the youngest player to earn LPGA membership while still 16.

Thompson isn’t an inexperienced teen trying to figure out the puzzle that is the U.S. Women’s Open this week. She’s a seasoned veteran figuring it out. She tied for 10th at the U.S. Women's Open two years ago. She's looking to top that this week.