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U.S. Women's Open

Lexi Thompson's work on her attitude on the golf course is paying off. She is in contention

Sean M. Haffey

SAN FRANCISCO -- Lexi Thompson made her first U.S. Women's Open start in 2007 at Pine Needles. Marred by a weather delay during the first round, the then 11-year-old played table tennis with LPGA pros Vicky Hurst, Tiffany Lua, and Kimberly Kim, having fun while waiting for the weather to clear.

It's a positive mentality to which Thompson is working to return as she has made her 52nd career major start at the age of 26 and now sits at two-under par 140 heading into the weekend at the Olympic Club.

"I wasn't improving with my mindset on the golf course so I knew I had to change," Thompson said, following a second-round even-par 71. "And this week I've just had a lot of fun. I've made bogeys and I just let it go because it's going to happen."

She is now working with mental coach John Denney, who she previously worked with in 2016 and 2017. They reconnected about a month ago; Denney coaches his daughter's softball team at a school near Thompson's home in Delray Beach, Fla.

"It's a small world," Thompson said. "He's always kept in contact so he's a great individual."

Thompson learned the need to have a good mental coach on her team with the amount of time she spent under the spotlight. She worked with five or so coaches over the years, trying to find the right fit. "No matter how strong you are, you definitely need some guidance out there because it can get tough," Thompson said.

It has been challenging to accept the change for Thompson, given to self-criticism. After play Thursday, she expressed that golf cannot continue to be life or death while she aims to play her best. "It [changing her mindset] takes a lot because I've always been one to be very hard on myself," Thompson said. "That's how I grew up. That's how I always wanted to be better, and I never accepted mediocre. I think to be the best you don't want to accept mediocre, so you always have to strive to do better and keep on improving.

An 11-time winner, Thompson’s new mindset and improvement kept her joking in her post-round press conference Friday. "[I was] just trying to have fun with my caddie out there. It was his birthday today, so I didn't yell at him."

After nearly holing out of the bunker on the second, she joked with him as she walked to tap in for par. Thompson also acknowledged the sizable crowd that followed her all day, enjoying the atmosphere of the major championship with fans returning.

Her joking mood reflected her strong play. Thompson fueled her performance with lessons from Martin Hall, who she started seeing earlier this season. They made a couple of specific changes last week that Thompson said helped her play into in this her 15th U.S. Women's Open. Thompson is battling with discomfort with the changes, new as they are, but they're helping her to manage the challenging major test of Olympic.

It's taken her best effort to get into this position. Last week, she posted to Instagram that she's working harder than she's ever worked in her professional career. Her competitiveness with her brothers growing up keeps her hungrier than ever as she sits in a contending position to win the first U.S. Women’s Open trophy of her career.

"I've been just working extremely hard, but that's what it takes to be up top, so I just have to keep on improving," Thompson said.

She also apparently is attempting to make others around her better, too. Thompson played practice rounds with amateurs Alexandra Swayne, Chihiro Kogure, and Jensen Castle, and answered as many questions as possible.

"We want to inspire more and more girls to be out here and get the game even better," Thompson said. "It's great to see, so I hope nothing but the best for every amateur out there."