Doors began opening Wednesday to teen phenom Lexi Thompson becoming a full member of the LPGA beginning in 2012.
Bobby Kreusler, Thompson’s agent, told GolfChannel.com that he will file a petition Thursday seeking a waiver for Thompson of the LPGA rule requiring tour members to be at least 18 years old. He spoke by telephone with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan Wednesday about the pending filing, which looks more and more like a mere formality to Thompson being granted tour membership privileges next season.
Kreusler is filing the petition so Thompson, 16, can claim the membership privileges that go with her victory at the Navistar Classic two weeks ago. He is, however, seeking to defer membership until next season, which an LPGA source said is vital to clearing the way to Whan’s granting a waiver.
Barring an unexpected twist in the petition process, or snag in the legal department’s review, Whan’s preparing to approve the petition on the condition that Thompson waits until next year to take up tour membership. Whan’s approval will establish Thompson as a member competing next season off Category 7 of the LPGA Priority List.
Thompson became the youngest winner of an LPGA event claiming the Navistar title at 16 years, 7 months and 8 days old.
By deferring membership until next season, Thompson alleviates concerns Whan has about creating a precedent in granting membership to a 16-year-old. Thompson turns 17 on Feb. 10, which, coincidentally, is also Whan’s birthday. Whan’s strongest reservation in granting Thompson membership is his reluctance to create a new pathway for juniors to turn pro before they’re ready. Whan believes Thompson’s an extraordinary exception.
Earlier this summer, Whan granted Thompson special permission to attend LPGA Qualifying School, with the agreement he would grant her a waiver of the 18-year-old age restriction if she successfully advanced through all three stages. Through that process, she would have been aiming to gain tour membership for the start of next season.
Whan told GolfChannel.com earlier this year that he was wary of being remembered as the commissioner who opened the tour to a floodgate of juniors.
“At the core of it, I really didn’t think I wanted to be the commissioner that created a new pathway to the LPGA that made young girls around the world think that as a freshman or sophomore in high school that they have a big decision to make,” Whan said in January. “I didn’t want to create this worldwide phenomenon where 14-year-olds are sitting in their living room and thinking, ‘high school or pro?’”
Whan said he deemed Thompson had proven herself worthy of special consideration.
“I don’t think I’ve opened any floodgate,” Whan told GolfChannel.com after granting Thompson permission to attend Q-School. “And the reason I know that is because I’m going to hold the gate. Is there another Lexi coming? Probably. Are they few and far between? Absolutely. So I don’t really think it’s a floodgate. I didn’t say welcome to the LPGA. I said we’ll see you at LPGA International [for Q-School] and good luck . . . I respect the fact that Lexi is on a unique plane performance-wise. I also know there’s another Lexi coming down the road in another couple years, but the standard’s going to be pretty high.”
Deferring membership also makes sense for the Thompson camp. If Thompson sought to claim immediate membership, she wouldn’t be eligible for LPGA Rookie-of-the-Year honors next season. Also, she wouldn’t likely be eligible to enter any field the rest of this season, other than the season-ending CME Group Titleholders, and she’s earned a spot in that field as a non-member anyway.