Gary Player, the Black Knight, may be helping Georgia Hall in her title bid but another leading light at the halfway stage, Lexi Thompson, is confident that Kevin McAlpine can be her White Knight in the final two rounds of the £2.5 million Ricoh Women’s British Open at Kingbarns.
On a day when Korean In-Kyung Kim overcame playing in the worst of the weather as afternoon showers became torrential to move into pole position in the fourth women’s major of the season and Sally Watson was left to fly the Saltire on her farewell appearance, Thompson attributed her lofty position to the Scot carrying her bag.
“I’ve been trusting him so much and leaning on him this week,” said the world No 2 of McAlpine, her caddie, who started that career on the Fife course and has used his local knowledge to great effect so far this week in steering Thompson to rounds of 67 and 68 to sit on nine-under-par, two shots behind recent two-time LPGA winner Kim. While the 2006 Scottish Amateur champion has picked out the right targets and lines for the 22-year-old Floridian, his banter has also helped put a smile on her face. Even after going out in two-over in the second round, Thompson was in a happy place and duly started for home by reeling off a career-best five birdies in a row.
“Kevin and I laugh the whole round,” she said after coming home in 30 to match the earlier halfway total set by rising English star Hall. “It helps when you are playing well, but we’re always joking around. I think that’s what makes our relationship so great out here. He’s even been giving me a few history facts this week – like the huge rock on No 11 – and I’m like, ‘oh, this is pretty cool’.”
The majority of the questions posed to Thompson in her various post-round interviews were about McAlpine, the son of former Dundee United goalkeeper Hamish. “I should have brought him in here,” she joked in her media centre grilling. Not that she minded. The pair have clocked up a win and four second places in 11 events, earning Thompson more than £800,000 in the process.
“He’s told me basically everything,” she admitted. “He knows the course like the back of his hand. Going into greens, he tells me where to land it and he’s been spot on every time. He’s helped me a lot out there and I’m sure he will help me out through the weekend as well.”
Hall, a 21-year-old from Bournemouth, also produced a birdie burst – four in a row from the second – as she carded a 67 to sit alongside Thompson. She tops the LET money-list this season, recording no less than 11 top tens on that circuit over the past 18 months. Already guaranteed to be on the European team for the Solheim Cup in Des Moines in a fortnight’s time, Hall is hoping to use advice offered to her by Player when they played together in the South African’s pro-am at Wentworth recently to good effect this weekend.
“I got lucky playing with Gary for 18 holes, so that was great,” she said. “He said a few things, including if you are going to practice for three hours, you should practice your short game for two hours. He also said that you should never feel sorry for yourself and never give up. Those two things were big to me.”
Kim, a 29-year-old who has won twice in the last two months on the LPGA Tour and six times in total, eagled the 11th as she recovered from starting with a bogey to card a 68. “I really didn’t know what I was shooting, to be honest,” said the leader after playing her final few holes in the worst of the weather. “As everybody had some struggles out there, we were warned because we had fallen a little behind, but I was concentrating on playing at my own time.”
Michelle Wie, the overnight leader after her course-record 64 on Thursday, was only two shots off the clubhouse pace until dropping three shots in the last two holes. “It’s disappointing,” said the tall 27-year-old of her 76. “I got a little impatient out there and tried to force it. But, thankfully, today is not Sunday and I still have two more days to go and I’m going to go out there and try to shoot the lights out.”
Defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn, who took six shots in a bunker at the short 12th, was the biggest casualty as the cut fell at one-under-par at the halfway stage, where it was somewhat ironic that Watson was the sole Scot standing given that the 26-year-old Fifer is playing in her final event before starting an MBA next month at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
“It’s nice to be playing in all four rounds in my last event,” admitted Watson after a carding a 69 to sit on three-under. “I’m trying to enjoy every emotion – the ups, downs and in betweens.” One of those ups in the second round was holing a 65-foot eagle putt at the 11th. “I won’t be able to fist pump like I did after that when I’m working in an office,” she joked.