The overhyped “Let Lexi Play” marketing campaign to grant full-time LPGA membership to young Lexi Thompson provided one of the most provocative platforms for any player in recent history.
It was also the most pointless.
That’s not just because Thompson, who will turn 17 early next year, saw her petition requesting 2012 status approved on Friday, just 12 days after she won the Navistar LPGA Classic.
It’s because that scenario never wasn’t going to happen.
As soon as Thompson closed out her five-stroke victory in Alabama, many observers were incensed that LPGA commissioner Michael Whan failed to greet her on the final green with an oversized paycheck and a laminated card ensuring her inclusion on the tour next year and beyond.
That’s not how it works, though. By rule, any player 18 or younger must petition the LPGA for membership. Call it a commendable rule or a faulty one, but it’s in place to protect both the player and the tour – and the latter couldn’t have been expected to bend its own rule, no matter the worthiness of the challenger.
And that’s where things got a little weird.
Thompson’s management company, Blue Giraffe Sports, opted to delay filing the petition for a week to ensure that it wouldn’t overshadow the Solheim Cup proceedings. Nice gesture, but during the same time, her sponsors launched the “Let Lexi Play” campaign through a social media blitz and T-shirts sent to media adorned with the slogan.
It was a contrived scheme that alluded to impropriety on behalf of the LPGA for failing to grant the player immediate status. The truth is, Thompson had planned to play only one more event this year anyway – the season-ending CME Group Titleholders, for which she’s already qualified – so the LPGA wasn’t blocking her from competing in any further tournaments.
In fact, between her victory and Friday’s ruling, there were no full-field events held on the LPGA, so even if she had planned on making every possible appearance, her progress still wasn’t halted.
Meanwhile, the marketing campaign achieved exactly what it set out to do: There was a near-fortnight of consternation amongst golf fans who couldn’t understand why the superstar-deprived LPGA would hold back its next potential superstar.
It turns out all that was needed was some paperwork. Which means, essentially, the equivalent of some withheld TPS reports were the main source of so much uproar.
That’s not to say the LPGA isn’t completely without blame in its handling of this situation. When Thompson won two weeks ago, the organization issued a quixotic release stating that if she advanced through Qualifying School, she would have the ability to become a full-time member.
Quite simply, the immediate reaction could have been much less formal. If Whan or another high-ranking official had simply said, “Look, she’s going to be an LPGA member very shortly; as soon as we receive her petition, we’ll approve it,” they could have avoided the negative backlash that occurred in the wake of her victory.
Perhaps the most egregious error in the handling of this situation is that it didn’t seem like there was a contingency plan in place should Thompson win a tournament. This comes despite the fact that earlier in the season, she held the 54-hole lead at the Avnet LPGA Classic prior to tumbling down the leaderboard that Sunday afternoon.
Instead, the issue was treated with kid gloves – so to speak – likely from prior experience. Though it was before Whan’s tenure started, folks in LPGA headquarters recall the resistance when Michelle Wie was granted unprecedented inclusion into the LPGA Championship as an amateur.
The prevailing feeling this time around was of the “better safe than sorry” variety. Whan chose to err on the side of caution rather than be perceived as offering a handout to another young player with star potential.
Of course, all of that became water under the proverbial bridge as soon as the decision was finalized on Friday.
“In the process of earning her way onto the Tour, she beat an elite field at the Navistar LPGA Classic that featured 15 of the top 20 players on the Rolex Rankings and 45 of the top 50 on the LPGA official money list,” Whan said in a statement. “Additionally, her ability to handle the success and disappointment inherent to this game testifies to a level of maturity that I believe makes her capable of handling the emotional rigors of professional golf at the highest level.”
Throughout the past year, both Whan and Thompson’s representatives have often spoken about working together and having her best interests at heart. Over the past two weeks, it appeared the two camps were conflicted, with the LPGA unwilling to show its cards prior to the petition being filed and the agency using her temporary stay in golf’s purgatory as a rallying cry for support.
In the end, though, it worked out for each party. Thompson will own full-time status for the upcoming season and the tour just may have its much-needed next superstar on the horizon.