Wichanee Meechai finds herself navigating uncharted waters at the U.S. Women’s Open, where the eight-year LPGA Tour veteran is in a thrilling three-way tie for the lead alongside LPGA winners Minjee Lee and Andrea Lee at five under. On Saturday, the Thai displayed remarkable poise under pressure, shooting an impressive one-under 69 despite battling what sounds like at time near-body-paralyzing nerves.

“It [being in contention] makes me cannot focus anything,” Meechai said. “My brain just stop working. It just like go outside and then just flat. I don’t know how to stay it in English, but it’s like blank. It’s like when you have a lot of pressure you cannot think about anything. You cannot feel your body. You cannot feel your brain. You cannot feel your hands. So I just hate it.

“But you’re not going to be able to get rid of it. I think the best part for the three rounds for me, it’s like I kind of managed to get along with the pressure. I think that’s the best part of the three rounds.”

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Meechai’s track record doesn’t fit your typical U.S. Women’s Open contender profile. The 158th-ranked player in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings qualified for the championship in early May, and qualifiers rarely win the major. Birdie Kim was the last to do so in 2005. The 31-year-old has never won on the LPGA before, nor has a single top 10 at a major in her career. She had not been within two shots of the lead in her career going into the final round of an LPGA tournament until this week.

Meechai has had a journeywoman career on tour, returning to qualifying school twice in 2017 and 2019 to save her card. Meechai’s best season came three years ago when she notched her best career finish of T-5 at the Pure Silk Championship. Her best career major result came the same season at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship (T-12). She finished 57th on the LPGA’s money list ($406,770.) The $75,343 paycheck from the major is the most money she has made at an event over her LPGA career.

Meechai is more used to faltering when in contention than succeeding, as she explained she feared repeating her 2023 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship performance this week. At Baltusrol last year, Meechai sat two off the lead with an opening 68. She carded a second-round 80 to miss the cut by a shot and cried in frustration.

“I never think that I’m going to be on the leaderboard or something like that,” Meechai said. “But it’s great. It feels really good.”

Instead of struggling, Meechai is impressively in the top five in strokes gained/approach (third) and SG/putting (fourth) this week with three under-par rounds of 69-67-69 at the par-70 layout.

While Thai golf has risen on the LPGA over the past decade, with Ariya Jutanugarn and Patty Tavatanakit becoming major champions and Atthaya Thitikul becoming the second No. 1 from the nation, Meechai has generally been an affable background character. She went to San Francisco for the 2023 International Crown simply as a spectator and watched her compatriots win at TPC Harding Park.

“I feel so glad that I’m the oldest, kind of oldest in the group right now, like Thai people, and they have a lot of respect on me,” Meechai said. “So I’m trying to act pretty cool, to be big sister for them, so I’m kind of proud.”

Even amidst sleeping alongside what she believes is a ghost in the house she’s staying at near Lancaster Country Club, what kept Meechai awake was contending at the championship. She shared on Golf Channel after the third round that she woke up Saturday around 3:30 a.m., fearing that she had finished playing and had forgotten to sign her scorecard.

“Every time that I sign the scorecard, I’m just like, ‘Is it two signatures?’” Meechai said with a laugh. ” Doing like that all the time. So I think it’s in very deep in my brain right now.”

A victory and its $2.4 million winner’s prize would earn Meechai nearly $1 million more than her total career earnings ($1.4 million). With the tournament and its pressure deeply ingrained in her body through 54 holes and its high stakes for her career, Meechai reminds herself of one thing. The event is nothing to be afraid of.

“The golf course is right there,” Meechai said. “Everyone just had the same thing. So it’s just another round of the tournament. Just go with it and then have fun on the course.”

This article was originally published on golfdigest.com