For Wednesday’s pro-am, Lexi Thompson arrived by parachuting onto the River Course from 10,000 feet.
Apparently, she doesn’t want that to be her only memorable experience of the week.
Thompson birdied six of her final nine holes for a 6-under-par 65, giving her a one-shot lead after Thursday’s first round of the Kingsmill Championship. Gerina Piller, Brittany Lincicome and Angel Yin are tied for second at 5 under, giving the United States the top four positions on the leaderboard.
Thompson, seeking her first championship of the year, hit 17 of 18 greens and needed only 29 putts.
“The second nine was pretty crazy,” Thompson said. “I hit some great shots and rolled a few good putts, so that definitely helped out my confidence.
“I was hitting it well for my first nine holes. I just didn’t hit it too close. I was struggling with my yardages a little bit. I knew I was hitting it solid, so staying patient really helped.”
Sarah Jane Smith, Giulia Molinaro and Lydia Ko are tied for fifth at 4 under. Eight players, including 2015 Kingsmill champion Minjee Lee, are 3 under.
Defending champion Ariya Jutanugarn shot 1 over par with one birdie and two bogeys. Cristie Kerr, Kingsmill’s only multiple winner, was 2 over.
A day after making her parachute jump to announce a partnership with the SEAL Legacy Foundation, Thompson got off to a slow start. Following a birdie on No. 11 (she started on 10), Thompson bogeyed 17.
Piller, one of her playing partners, was already 4 under at that point.
Thompson got to 1 under on No. 1 and followed with consecutive birdies on Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. That put her in a tie with Piller.
The 22-year-old made par on her final two holes. Piller closed with a bogey on No. 9, which dropped her to 5 under and a share of second place.
“I just kind of hit it in the right rough and (had) kind of a tough lie,” she said. “The rough’s kind of thick, and I kind of hooked it out of the rough and didn’t get on the green.”
Thompson’s 6-under score matched her second-best round of the season. She shot a 12-under 61 in the Bahamas in January.
“I’m never going to complain with 6 under par,” she said. “I’m just trying to focus on my game and get it more consistent. … I’m in a good spot right now.”
Piller has two fourth-place finishes this year and is regarded as one of the best on the tour who hasn’t won a championship in her career. Not that she prefers to think of it that way.
“I know I haven’t won, and that doesn’t define my career,” said Piller, who tied for third here last year. “I’m OK with that. I would love to get my first win, but golf is merely my job.
“It’s not who I am. If I come out here and I still love competing and working at it, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Lincicome’s five-birdie, no-bogey 66 was her best round since mid-March. After beginning the year by winning in the Bahamas, she had missed the cut twice and tied for 32nd in her last three tournaments.
“Obviously, the last couple events haven’t gone the way I would’ve liked them to,” she said. “Playing so well in the Bahamas, you know, I was hoping it was going to kind of keep going all year.
“Golf is very up and down. I missed a few cuts, and now it’s just nice to be playing good again.”
Yin, an 18-year-old rookie, moved to 6 under with a birdie on No. 7 (her 16th). But she bogeyed the next hole.
Yin is coming off back-to-back ties for fifth place after missing the cut three times in five events.
“I feel great,” she said. “It’s a solid first round.”
Thompson just wants to keep the good vibes going. Her first championship of 2017 would be welcomed, certainly, but it wouldn’t erase the memory of Wednesday’s tandem jump with a Navy SEAL.
“There was nothing like it,” she said. “Words can’t describe the feeling.”
Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.