Curtis Cup star Lexi Thompson to join LPGA Tour in 2012

Posted in What's News by on September 30th, 2011

Teen golf phenom Lexi Thompson will become a card-carrying member of the LPGA Tour in 2012. Commissioner Mike Whan announced on Friday that he had exempted Thompson from the age rule restricting membership to golfers who are at least 18 years old.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Whan noted that Thompson showed “a level of maturity” in handling the ups and downs of competitive golf that made him confident she could cope with the game’s “emotional rigors.”

Despite frantic clamoring by Thompson fans impatient for the LPGA to admit her to the club — complete with a “Let Lexi Play” Twitter campaign orchestrated by her sponsor, Cobra-Puma Golf — Whan could not grant membership until he received Thompson’s official petition. Once the golfer’s manager Bobby Kreusler submitted the paperwork on Thursday, it was a matter of hours before Whan announced his decision.

“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.”

Lexi Thompson will join the LPGA Tour in 2012 (Photo: @AlexisThompson on Twitter)

Thompson responded to the news as any teenager might, her Twitter blast complete with smiley face and lots of exclamation points. “Sooo Happy :) Thx for all of the Support!” she tweeted. “Excited to be a full @LPGA member!!!” 

For sure, Thompson pushed the envelope with her recent Navistar triumph, an achievement that made her the youngest golfer ever to win a multiple-round LPGA event. She shattered the age record set by Paula Creamer, who won in 2005 at 18.

Yet the way she handled herself following a devastating loss in April may have convinced Whan that the teen was ready for prime time. Playing on a sponsor’s exemption in the Avnet LPGA Classic, Thompson blew a share of the final-round lead and finished T19 but impressed observers with her poise following her collapse

Thompson certainly had convinced her colleagues that she was the real deal.

“She has kind of proven she can play out here,” 51-year-old Juli Inkster told reporters after Thompson’s win. “She’s proven she can handle the social part of it. I think they should give her full [membership].

Thompson burst onto the golf scene in in 2007, when, at 12, she became the youngest golfer to qualify to play in the U.S. Women’s Open. As a 14-year-old, she qualified for her third Open and made the cut for the first time.

Even with some early successes, Thompson has avoided the massive hype that accompanied Michelle Wie to center court. So far, no one has touted Lexi as “the next Tiger Woods,” and Thompson has no plans to tee it up with the boys on the PGA Tour.

That doesn’t mean the lanky blonde has gone unnoticed, and last year marked a turning point in the young golfer’s nascent career, both on the course and in the public eye. As an amateur, she won a slew of fans when she went undefeated in leading her U.S. Curtis Cup team to victory over Great Britain and Ireland at Massachusetts’ Essex County Club.

Thompson turned pro the following week and inked sponsorship deals with Cobra-Puma and Red Bull. Too young to join the LPGA, she earned sponsor’s exemptions into several tournaments, again qualified for the Open, and cashed her first professional paycheck after finishing T10. Two weeks after that, Thompson shared second place at the Evian Masters, just one stroke behind winner Jiyai Shin.

Her income from the Evian increased her 2010 winnings to more than $300,000 — a total that would have been good for 18th place on the official LPGA money list. That accomplishment was behind her first petition to the LPGA that asked for 12 sponsor exemptions– double the number afforded non-members.

Whan denied her application but allowed non-members to take part in Monday qualifying events, essentially letting Thompson compete in more than the 12 tourneys she had requested.

Paving the way for Whan’s most recent ruling was Thompson’s successful petition in July that allowed her to earn her tour card through qualifying school. Thompson clobbered the competition in the first of three Q-school stages and, two days after winning the Navistar, withdrew from this week’s second leg.

Her withdrawal made it clear that gaining outright tour membership was a mere formality. And make no mistake; Whan is counting on the star power of the tour’s newest, home-grown member to bring some buzz to an organization struggling to remain viable after Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa retired.

Indeed, Lexi could be the female counterpart to fellow Cobra-Puma golfer Rickie Fowler — whose flat-billed Puma hats and neon attire attract youngsters by the score wherever he plays on tour. Thompson’s already gone the 22-year-old Fowler one better by actually winning a professional tourney.

The role of LPGA Cover Girl is one that seems to come naturally to the athletic and charismatic American.

“I want women’s golf to be more well-known and to be out there. It is amazing to watch how the girls play and how low they shoot,” Thompson told ESPN.com. “There’s a lot of great young players coming up and on tour. Fans just need to see it.”

(Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly. Check her out on the Waggle Room, Boston Golf Examiner, National Golf Examiner, and GottaGoGolf websites. You may also follow Kay on Twitter @golfexaminer.)

Emily Kay (475 Posts)

Emily Kay is a regular contributor to New England Golf Monthly.


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