Youngster Hopes LPGA Will Waive Age Limit

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LPGA logo for LeaderboardsATLANTA, Ga. -- A 15-year-old girl wants to play on the LPGA Tour. And, no, it's not Michelle Wie.

Hoping to capitalize on the influx of talented young golfers, Carmen Bandea sent a letter to the LPGA on Tuesday asking for a waiver of its 18-year-old requirement to become a member of the women's tour.

Bandea wants to enter LPGA qualifying school this fall, which would give her a chance to earn her tour card for 2006. She has never played in an LPGA event, and failed in her attempts to qualify for both the men's U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open this year.
 
Still, Bandea believes she is ready to become a professional, at least on a limited basis.
 
'Hopefully they will let me in,' she said from her home in suburban Atlanta. 'There's no reason not to. If I can shoot the score, why not let me go play some tournaments?'
 
Bandea, who just turned 15 on Monday, could play in a maximum of six LPGA events a year using sponsor exemptions -- the route Wie has chosen. That doesn't appeal to Bandea.
 
'Exemptions are like cheating,' she said. 'It's like they're giving you something on a silver platter and saying, 'Here, take it.''
 
Bandea said she's not interested in a full-fledged pro career. At most, she only wants to play 10 LPGA events a year.
 
Outgoing LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw can waive the age requirement if a teenager shows she can be competitive, has a strong support system and demonstrates the maturity to be a professional. Aree Song, for instance, was allowed to join the tour at 17.
 
'Normally, we wouldn't publicize requests of this nature,' Votaw said from Colorado, where he's attending this week's U.S. Women's Open. 'All I can is that we have received the letter, and we are in the process of reviewing.'
 
Bandea is also a promising tennis player, with her sights on being a two-sport star.

Tennis is more lenient about teen players, though it limits the number of events they can enter between 14 and 17. Bandea plans to become a tennis pro in the fall.
 
'I've already been doing them both for a long time,' she said. 'It may be unique to everyone else, but to me it seems normal.'
 
Not lacking for confidence, Bandea already can envision head-to-head showdowns with two teen prodigies: tennis star Maria Sharapova and Wie on the golf course.
 
'I don't pay attention to anyone but myself,' Bandea said, 'but I assume there would be a rivalry with (Wie) and with Sharapova in tennis.'

Wie has not asked for a waiver of the age limit. Song is the only player allowed to turn pro before her 18th birthday, a decision that was justified when she took medalist honors at Q-school and finished as runner-up at the Kraft Nabisco Championship.
 
'She graduated high school, so she had the same level of education that others had,' Votaw said, explaining his decision.
 
'She made the cut in 11 of 14 LPGA events she had played since she was 13, and all six majors. Her 18th birthday would have been in early April the following year, so we had only six LPGA events prior to her turning 18. Given all those things, she deserved a waiver.'
 
In her letter to Votaw, Bandea wrote, 'The main reason that I want to qualify is because I believe I'm as good as anybody on the LPGA Tour and it would be an awesome experience to play in your tournaments. These girls rock -- and I want to rock, too!'

While Annika Sorenstam is the dominant force on the women's tour, an exciting group of teenagers is coming through the ranks. The 15-year-old Wie has contended in several majors, including a runner-up finish to Sorenstam at the LPGA Championship two weekends ago. Eighteen-year-old Paula Creamer became the second-youngest winner in tour history last month.
 
Bandea was on the course Tuesday, attempting to qualify for a spot in the men's U.S. Public Links championship.
 
'I want to play in some LPGA tournaments,' Bandea said. 'It would be fun to see if I can qualify. The worst I can do is lose.'

Bandea is home-schooled by her mother, Becky, who holds a masters degree in education. The teenager plans to take some college courses next year through online programs and by attending classes.
 
There are numerous examples of young athletes burning themselves out by taking on too much, too soon. Bandea isn't worried about tumbling down that path, insisting that she approaches sports with the proper perspective.
 
'It's a game,' she said. 'You don't burn out playing Monopoly.'

The 5-foot-8 Bandea admittedly needs a lot of work on her putting, but her 280-yard drives compare favorably with male competitors.

'When I'm on the putting green with guys, it feels kind of weird. That's not my greatest thing,' she said. 'But when I'm on the driving range, I'm fine, because I can drive it past them.'

If the LPGA rejects her request for Q-school, Bandea simply will turn her attention toward male competition. She already feels more comfortable playing from the men's tees.

'Carmen is going to be really competitive in men's golf,' Becky Bandea said. 'If they won't let her play women's golf, she'll just play where she's allowed to play.'
 
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