Lexi Thompson of the U.S. points to the seventh green beside Paula Creamer (L) of the U.S. during the second round at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic golf tournament in Waterloo, Ontario, June 22, 2012. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
WATERLOO, ONT. - Lexi Thompson no longer has to answer questions about whether she belongs on the LPGA Tour.
At the tender age of 17, her game has taken care of that.
After starting the season well and scoring two top-five finishes in her past three events, it was more of the same for Thompson Friday at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic. Thompson finished her first round in the morning, getting it to 5-under, then played a steady second round to finish the day at 7-under, good enough to put her in a seven-way tie for fifth in a group that included first-round leader Sandra Changkija.
Thompson was two behind leader Inbee Park of South Korea, who shot a seven-under 64, and one back of Brittany Lang, Hee Kyung Seo and Shanshan Feng.
"I finished my first round pretty good, the last six holes (3-under for the stretch), and I guess I sort of played steady for my second round," the Coral Springs, Fla., native said. "Overall, good ball-striking, and I'm just going to try to continue that."
Thompson is ranked 23rd in the world and, just nine events into her rookie season, has earned $227,895 to sit 21st on the money list. Not bad for someone who, at first, wasn't allowed to become a member on the LPGA Tour.
After turning pro at 15 and petitioning the LPGA in 2010 to allow her to play in up to 12 events and being turned down, then forcing its hand with several great showings and a breakthrough win last September as a 16-year-old, the tour finally relented and waived its rule that members must be 18, allowing Thompson to breeze through qualifying school and become a full member for 2012.
"I would definitely say it's a lot better knowing where I'm playing and playing in a lot more events," Thompson said Friday. "That's what I'm used to with amateur golf, so I'm really happy I'm a full member now. So I'm just going to go into every event with the same attitude."
The arrangement not only has worked out for Thompson, but judging from fan reaction at Grey Silo Golf Course, it's a boon for the LPGA to have a young, American, up-and-coming star.
"It feels amazing," she said of being near the top of the leaderboard. "The crowds are just crazy out here and they're always just cheering you on."
Thompson's mature-beyond-her-years demeanour was on display Friday on the final hole of her second round -- the reachable, 471-yard par-5 18th -- where she missed her second shot left and ended up under the grandstand. The youngster took her drop and landed a delicate chip within three feet before cooly tapping in for birdie to cap her day. She said she wasn't going at the pin, which was tucked behind a bunker on the left side of the green, but the shot got away from her.
"I just tried to go at the right side of the green and ... it ended up starting left," she said. "But it didn't get me in any trouble."
Heading into the weekend, Thompson knows a second career LPGA victory is within her grasp. But she knows the winning score is going to be well under par.
"I obviously have to shoot pretty low and just stay consistent and get my drive in the fairway and go for it from there," the lanky blonde said.
"I ended up making not so many birdies (Friday), but hopefully I'm saving them for the weekend."