Lexi Thompson keeps smashing age barriers.
As expected, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan announced Friday he is granting Thompson’s petition for a waiver of the tour’s rule requiring members be at least 18 years old. The waiver clears the way for the 16-year-old to claim tour membership based on her victory at the Navistar LPGA Classic two weeks ago. Thompson, however, is deferring membership until the start of next season, when she’ll turn 17.
Thompson became the youngest winner of an LPGA event, claiming the Navistar title at 16 years, 7 months and 8 days old. She turns 17 on Feb. 10, which is about when the 2012 season is expected to begin. Next year’s schedule has yet to be released.
“Lexi Thompson is a unique talent who has continued to grow, develop and mature both on and off the golf course since turning professional in 2010,” Whan said. “Her overall performance, most recently demonstrated by her win at the Navistar LPGA Classic, has currently placed her among the top 50 in the world on the Rolex Rankings. 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. Therefore, effective at the start of our 2012 season, Lexi will officially become a member of the LPGA Tour.
“Clearly, there is great enthusiasm and excitement as Lexi begins her LPGA career,” Whan said. “I think her future is bright and I hope she makes the most of this opportunity.”
Thompson becomes the fourth player to gain a waiver of the tour’s age restriction but the youngest to do so. Morgan Pressel, Aree Song and Jessica Korda were granted waivers when they were 17 but all three waivers came with those players nearing their 18th birthdays and with their high school educations completed or virtually complete. Thompson, of Coral Springs, Fla., just started her junior year as a home-school student but is in an accelerated program and is scheduled to graduate next May.
'It's amazing,' Thompson said of Friday's news. 'It's always been my dream to play the tour full time.'
Thompson was 12 when she first captured the attention of golf fans by becoming the youngest player to qualify to play in the U.S. Women’s Open. She gained special permission from Whan to attend LPGA Qualifying School at 16 this year. After breezing through first stage, she won Navistar, then withdrew from the second stage of Q-School last week.
Thompson’s agent, Bobby Kreusler, filed the petition for a waiver Thursday morning.
“There was a unique angle to the petition in that it wasn’t based on her victory but on her body of work and accomplishments,” Kreusler said. “It focused on the maturity she’s demonstrated, on her emotional stability, on her ability to prove she belongs beyond her play. She proved herself with her playing partners, with title sponsors and in how she handled the highs and lows of playing well and playing poorly.”
Thompson, of course, made an impression winning Navistar, but she also made an impression in how she dealt with blowing the final-round lead at the Avnet Classic in May. She handled it like a pro afterward, doing media interviews and signing autographs.
“I think she showed a lot of people what she’s made of,” Kreusler said. “It’s easy to be gracious in victory.”
By deferring membership until the start of next year, Thompson will be eligible to win Rookie of the Year honors next season. She will be competing in Category 7 of the LPGA Priority Status provisions, among categories that give players “exempt status,” though the LPGA doesn’t use that terminology. By winning Navistar, Thompson actually won two years of membership privileges. She also has earned membership privileges in 2013.
Though Thompson could have asked for immediate LPGA membership for the remainder of this season, the benefits would have been minimal. The fields would have been closed to Thompson in five of the six tournaments remaining on the LPGA schedule, all but the season-ending CME Group Titleholders. Also, if she claimed immediate membership, she wouldn’t have been considered a rookie next season.
Kreusler said he expects Thompson will play in 18 to 20 events next year.