CHARLESTON, S.C. — Halfway through her third round of the U.S. Women’s Open, Lexi Thompson was in good position to get herself in contention heading into Sunday. She turned in two-under 34, and for the first time had taken advantage of the short par 5s at Country Club of Charleston, making birdies at the first two (No.’s five and nine) after having parred all six par 5s over her first 36 holes. Then came the rally-killing bogey at the 10th.
Thompson’s round had the potential to unravel at the following hole, the tricky par-3 11th, which is playing as the most difficult hole this week. Her tee shot found the right green side bunker, and her second shot flew the green, bringing double bogey into play. What could have been a massive third-round move was teetering on the brink of disaster.
But the 10-time LPGA Tour winner responded by getting up and down for one of the more clutch bogey saves she’ll ever make, and it wound up being her last blemish of the round. Four holes later, she smoked a 3-wood and begged for it to hold its line on her second shot at the par-5 15th. It listened, setting up a long eagle putt that Thompson buried right in the center with her new claw putting grip she put into play this week on the advice of her brother.
“He actually came here, I believe, Wednesday just to help me out and see if he could figure out some of my putting,” Thompson said. “I ended up trying the claw grip and just stuck with it. It feels very good. Obviously, there’s some putts out there that I’m like, eh, maybe not so good. But I feel comfortable with it, and I think that’s the important part.”
Thompson, who ranks T-49 in the field in putting average (a marked improvement over her 115th rank on the season), finished birdie-par-par with the new grip after the eagle to post three-under 68, putting her in the second-to-last group on Sunday at six under.
An older version of Thompson may have let the 10th and 11th holes mentally knock her out of the tournament. That was not the case for the now veteran 24-year-old on Saturday.
“Yeah, I probably would have [let it get to me], to be honest,” said Thompson. “It’s something I’ve just learned along the way that I think every athlete does, and you learn from your mistakes. It’s tough not to let it get to you. But at a tournament like this, you can’t. Because it will get to you, especially on a golf course that’s playing as difficult as this one. So you just have to stay positive and go into the next hole and get after that next shot.”
This new attitude is starkly different from the Thompson of 2017, when she suffered one of the most heartbreaking losses in golf history at the ANA Inspiration. Thompson was given a four-stroke penalty in the middle of the final round when it finally came to the attention of LPGA officials, turning her third-round 67 into a 71. Understandably, Thompson did not take it well, yet still managed to get into a playoff that she’d eventually lose.
A pair of bogeys hardly compares to a penalty of four strokes in the middle of the final round of a major, but the manner in which Thompson responded to them on Saturday in Charleston is still a positive sign. Thompson is planning to employ the same attitude, game plan and putting grip on Sunday that she’s employed the first three rounds. If all goes according to plan it could result in an elusive second major, one she’s been chasing since winning her first at the 2014 ANA Inspiration at the age of 19.
“Honestly, my key tomorrow is just, like I said, to go into it as I did the last three days, same mindset. I’ve made a few changes in my swing, my putting.
“Doing my routine, picking my small targets, and just not letting anything else get in my mind. I think that’s what I’ve been doing great these last three days, and I think will be key tomorrow because you just have to focus on what you can control and nothing else.”
Thompson enters the final round one stroke off the lead of China’s Yu Liu (66) and France’s Celine Boutier (69). Fellow American Jaye Marie Green also shot 68 and is also at six under along with 36-hole leader Mamiko Higa of Japan.