Women’s British Open defending champion Catriona Matthew thinks too much is being made of 15-year-old Alexis Thompson not being there this week.
She’s not alone.
Alexis thinks the same thing, according to her agent.
The Thompson family is uncomfortable that she’s the focus of so much attention with a major championship about to begin when she’s not even playing.
Matthew and Laura Davies came into the Women’s British Open media center at Royal Birkdale on the eve of the championship and were both asked multiple questions about Thompson. They had opposing takes that sum up the back-room debate Thompson’s inspiring with her stunning start to her professional career.
“At first, the reaction to not getting to play over there was, `Well, that’s a bummer,’ but she moved on quickly,’” Kreusler said. “Her reaction is, `Well, what are we doing today? Can we go to the beach?’”
Thompson’s tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago and her tie for second at the Evian Masters last weekend have made her a hot topic on tour. In the third round of the U.S. Women’s Open at brutish Oakmont, Thompson was paired with Ai Miyazato and Jiyai Shin. She beat Miyazato by 10 shots and Shin by two. Shin’s the No. 1 player in the world and took the top spot from Miyazato, who has won four times this season.
Jim McLean, Thompson’s swing coach, isn’t surprised the 15-year-old from Coral Springs is creating such a buzz.
“These tour pros see how fiercely competitive Lexi is, and how she can just rip her drives past them, and it definitely gets their attention,” McLean said. “It’s incredible how much she loves competition. She doesn’t shy from it. She can tee it up with anybody right now.”
The questions in the media center Wednesday at Royal Birkdale included whether someone 15 is old enough to be a professional. It’s likely to be a debate that will only grow if Thompson continues this torrid start. The conversation focuses on more than whether Thompson is ready competitively.
“I think probably she'd be better off at school,” Matthew said in her pre-tournament interview. “She's certainly proved she's a good enough player, there's no doubting that. But 15 is maybe just a little too young to come out on tour. I mean, it's still really only a child. She should be enjoying herself more. I don’t see the great rush.”
Davies took a different stance.
“If she wants to play, she should be allowed to play,” Davies said. “If you're good enough, for me, you're good enough. That's just the way it is. In tennis and other sports, just the fact that you're so young is probably a little bit of a bonus because it creates so much excitement for the tour. So, personally, let her come and play. But I'm sure there are a lot of people that disagree with that. You have to assume that the people around her are doing the right thing.”
McLean said people should understand that Thompson loves the game, loves to practice and that her parents didn’t push her toward turning pro early.
“It’s frustrating to the family, the criticism of her turning pro, because it really was Lexi’s idea,” McLean said. “She was ready to play. This was the interesting next step for her. She didn’t take the step wanting to beat the pros. She took it knowing she could win. This wasn’t her parents, Scott and Judy, pushing her at all.”
If Thompson were an LPGA member, after just three starts, she would already be 18th on the LPGA money list this week with $314,842 in prize winnings. That would rank her ahead of Michelle Wie ($283,784) and Azahara Munoz ($274,534). Munoz leads the Rolex Rookie of the Year points list.
LPGA rules require members be at least 18 years old. Kreusler said the family has no intention at this time of petitioning for a waiver of the age limit, but if she had won the Evian Masters, she could only have claimed the two-year LPGA exemption that comes with the victory by being granted a waiver. A victory, Kreusler said, might require a re-evaluation of plans.
As a non-member of the LPGA, Thompson can play on six sponsor’s exemptions a year. She also can play her way into the U.S. Women’s Open and Women’s British Open, giving her eight possible chances to play LPGA events. Kreusler said the family’s focus is on limiting her to 15 to 17 professional events next year. She would look at the Australian Women’s Open and Australian Ladies Masters, Japan LPGA Tour events and Ladies European Tour events in completing her schedule.
In the meantime, Thompson continues to be the talk of an event she’s not playing.