Thompson Optimistic Despite Sunday Deficit July 12, 2015 | Lancaster, Pa. By Lisa D. Mickey

Lexi Thompson is no stranger to the pressures of Sunday at a major, or the final day of a USGA championship. (USGA/Hunter Martin)

Lexi Thompson might be entering Sunday’s final round of the 70th U.S. Women’s Open nine strokes back of front-runner Amy Yang, but that doesn’t mean her mindset has changed.

“If I go out tomorrow and hit it like I did today and get a few more putts to drop, I think I have a pretty good chance of, if not winning, getting a good top-five finish,” Thompson said after Saturday’s 2-under-par 68, her best round at Lancaster Country Club this week.

While she trails a tough list of contenders, Thompson already owns  six top-10 finishes this season, including two at the majors.

The Floridian finished seventh at the ANA Inspiration (previously called the Kraft Nabisco Championship) and third at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (previously the LPGA Championship), so she’s already figured out how to accelerate in the passing lane at two of women’s professional golf’s biggest events. That kind of play has moved the four-time LPGA Tour winner to No. 12 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

“I've overall felt very confident with my game,” said Thompson, 20, who joined the Tour in 2012. “I’ve just been working a lot on the mental side of the game ... finding positives with each golf shot, even if I hit a bad one. I think that's a big part of golf. I feel really good how my season is going so far.”

Thompson entered the third round at 3-over 143, but went to work early with birdies on four of her first six holes. Her putter cooled off on the inward nine, but solid reads helped Thompson feel more confident on the greens.

“I wasn’t trusting my line for the first two days, but today, I was more confident,” she said. “Getting a birdie on the first hole was a definite confidence booster, which helped me.”

At age 13, Thompson claimed the 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior with a 5-and-4 victory over Karen Chung at the Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford, Conn. A year earlier, she became the youngest qualifier in the history of the championship when she earned a spot in the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open at age 12, a mark that has been surpassed.

Thompson continued to show maturity as a top young American amateur when she posted ateam-best 4-0-1 record on the winning 2010 USA Curtis Cup Team. With tremendous length, the 5-foot-10 teen from South Florida was living up to the hype as a player to watch.

She turned professional a week after the 2010 Curtis Cup Match, and a month later tied for 10th in the Women’s Open at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. The next year, she won the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic by five strokes as a non-LPGA member, becoming the youngest player in LPGA history to win at age 16 years, 8 months and 8 days. Last year, she won the ANA Inspiration and finished a career-best seventh in the 2014 Women’s Open.

What Thompson lacks chronologically, she more than makes up for with a savviness beyond her two decades. She’s averaging 265 yards off the tee and holds a season scoring average of 70.4. Repeatedly, when times get tough, Thompson just steps on the gas, just as she loves to do back home in her Corvette Stingray.

“USGA championships are always difficult,” said Thompson, who is playing in her eighth Women’s Open this week. “So you get some really hard putts out here, which is what majors are all about – tough greens and thick rough.”

On Sunday, she hopes to parlay her USGA experience on a day when mistakes must be minimized.

And you can bet when the opportunities come, Thompson will find an extra gear.

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.

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