Thompson petitions LPGA for sponsor exemptions


LPGA Tour _newORLANDO, Fla. – Fifteen-year-old Alexis Thompson has officially filed a petition with the LPGA seeking more access to the tour’s schedule next season, has learned.

She isn’t seeking tour membership, however. She’s seeking more starts through more sponsor exemptions.

Thompson’s agent, Bobby Kreusler of Blue Giraffe Sports, filed a petition that asks LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to grant Thompson 12 sponsor exemptions next season, six more than what LPGA rules allow non-members.

LPGA rules require that players be at least 18 years old to be eligible for tour membership.

Morgan Pressel and Aree Song are the only players who have been granted waivers of that age restriction in tour history. Thompson, however, isn’t petitioning for membership, so no waiver of the age restriction is required. Thompson has filed a petition unlike any other player has filed in seeking more access through expanded sponsor invites.

Whan confirmed Friday that he has received the 25-page petition and will review it.

“In fairness to her and her agent and family, I know they did not sit down and write that without a lot of thought, so I need to sit down and read it with the same amount of thought,” Whan said. “I owe them that much.”

In an unprecedented twist in the petition, Thompson’s representatives are seeking to create a new pathway for talented underage prodigies.

“We would like to see the LPGA create a clear structure with which to deal with these special talents and situations, not only to benefit Lexi, but, moving forward, to benefit those young players who come behind Lexi, because this issue is not going away,” Kreusler said. “While this petition is about Lexi, it is also on behalf of the future of the LPGA and the problems that exist in that this tour has no bright-line rules whatsoever governing this.”

LPGA rules limit non-members to six appearances per year on sponsor’s exemptions. It’s possible to play eight if a player also qualifies for the U.S. Women’s Open and the Women’s British Open.

Thompson, of Coral Springs, Fla., turned pro earlier this year. She won $336,472 this season in her limited LPGA appearances under non-member rules. Her money winnings would rank her 34th on the LPGA money list if she were a tour member. She tied for second at the Evian Masters and tied for 10th at the U.S. Women's Open. She first made her name as the youngest player ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open. She was 12 when she played her way into the national championship at Pine Needles. She’s also a U.S. Girls’ Junior and PGA Junior Girls’ champion.

“After watching Lexi play this year, in those limited starts on the LPGA, and watching her development, it became clear to us that it is in Lexi’s best interests to try to play on the game’s grandest stages and at its highest levels a few more times a year to assist in her development,” Kreusler said. “Importantly, she should be allowed this privilege, because she earned it this year.”

Kreusler said Thompson, a home-schooled sophomore in high school, is on pace to graduate early. He said part of this request is to limit Thompson’s worldwide appearances and travel as a pro. She pledged that she wouldn't play more than 17 times worldwide. 

Kreusler said he’s filing the unique petition based on powers of discretion available to the LPGA commissioner under the association’s constitution.

Cristie Kerr, who joined the LPGA at 18, said she has reservations about the tour granting the petition.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea for the tour,” Kerr said. “Why wouldn’t they do that for Michelle Wie? If they didn’t do it for Michelle, why do it for Lexi?”

Actually, Wie never petitioned the LPGA for a waiver of its 18-year-old age restriction or for more sponsor exemptions.

“Lexi’s a good player,” Kerr said. “Exemptions are a sponsor’s thing, but at the same time, we have to protect the integrity of the tour.”

With women’s golf seeing more young phenoms play their way into contention in LPGA events, Kreusler said it’s time the LPGA create a pathway to better guide development of young phenoms. Thompson nearly won the Evian Masters this summer, finishing a shot behind the champ, Jiyai Shin. If Thompson had won, Kreusler said he would have sought the two-year LPGA membership exemption that comes with the victory. He believes it won’t be long until some teen prodigy wins an LPGA event and pursues the exemption.

“The time has come for the LPGA to be proactive and say, `Look, it’s not a bad thing that God has given someone a certain gift and talent at a younger age and they have the ability to develop faster than others',” Kreusler said. “The best thing they can do is work with those young people to allow them to continue to develop properly, and progress properly, and protect that gift. Not just say, arbitrarily, `No, you are going to play just six events and that’s it, because it’s our rules.’ Guess what? Life is built on a number of archaic rules that are changed all the time.

“Every day, every sports organization, every professional organization, whether it is accounting or legal, has to adjust its rules and bylaws because the current state of the world in which we live changes. You can’t just stick your head in the ground and say this isn’t a problem.”

Kreusler said the LPGA player vote this week to change its constitution so that members no longer have to be “female at birth” is an example of that. Kreusler, saying he respected that bylaw change, believes the tour has a larger issue with more talented underage girls lining up to make the LPGA than transgender women lining up to play.

Kreusler would like to see the LPGA set up a graduated path to its tour for young prodigies, something similar to what the WTA has in women’s tennis.

WTA rules require players to be 14 to compete but limit tournament appearances to eight. That goes up to 10 appearances for 15-year-olds, 12 for 16-year-olds and 16 for 17-year-olds (not counting the WTA Tour Championships).