Still not a tour member, Lexi Thompson notches historic LPGA win

Posted in What's News by on September 18th, 2011

Teen phenom Lexi Thompson was on her way to lapping the Navistar LPGA Classic field on Sunday when it may have occurred to her that she was a 16-year-old on the verge of making history.

Ahead by as many as seven strokes midway through the final round on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail’s Senator Course, the youngest member of the 2010 U.S. Curtis Cup team came down with a mild case of the yips. Back-to-back bogeys on the 11th and 12th holes cut into Thompson’s lead and showcased the primary weakness in the big-hitter’s game.

Thompson, however, was able to put five three-putts over the week behind her, win the event by five strokes (17-under), and become the youngest golfer ever to win an LPGA tourney.  At 16 years, seven months, and eight days, the star of the U.S. Curtis Cup matches at Massachusetts’ Essex County Club, easily broke the age record for winning a multiple-round event that Paula Creamer set in 2005 at the age of 18. Marlene Hagge, at 18, held the single-round record when she won the Sarasota Open in 1952.

Lexi Thompson becomes youngest golfer ever to win an LPGA Tour event (Photo: USGA Museum)

Despite the speed bumps on 11 and 12, Thompson let her prodigious length off the tee (she averaged almost almost 277 yards for the week) cover any deficiencies on the green, though playing partner and eventual runner-up Tiffany Joh made her work for the win down the stretch.

Four straight birdies from holes 12 through 15 by Joh got the rookie with a catchy new music video to within three shots, but Thompson put the hammer down on the par-3 16th. Up first, Joh knocked her tee shot close. Not to be outdone, Thompson, almost holed hers and confidently nailed a four-footer for birdie.

The youngster sported a huge grin after draining a downhill, 20-foot birdie putt on 17. She then climbed the hill to the 18th tee, boomed her tee shot, clubbed a wedge shot to some 20 feet, and made a two-putt par for the win.

Despite LPGA commissioner Mike Whan’s decision not to waive the 18-year-old age requirement for tour membership and remaining Q-school rounds for women’s golf’s newest star, let the Lexi Thompson era.

Whan congratulated Thompson on her victory and noted she had qualified for the season-ending CME Group Titleholders event, but restated that he had accepted her request to earn her way to the tour.

“We congratulate Lexi Thompson on her win today at the Navistar LPGA Classic,” Whan said in a statement. “Earlier this year, Lexi petitioned the LPGA to waive the age restriction limitation for an under-age professional to allow her the ability to earn LPGA membership via the three-stage 2011 LPGA Qualifying Tournament. The petition was approved, and as such, she went to Stage I Q-school, and via her performance there, she qualified to proceed to Stage II Q-school the week of September 26th at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Florida. Should Lexi qualify for LPGA membership via her Q-School performance, she will be an LPGA member for the 2012 season.”

Whan did suggest he was open to granting tour membership to Thompson but that she had to make the first move.

“Lexi has the option to file a separate petition for LPGA membership,” an LPGA spokesperson told us in an e-mail. “If she chooses to submit a separate petition, the petition will be reviewed and a decision will be made by the LPGA Commissioner in his sole discretion.”

Thompson’s agent Bobby Kreusler was unavailable for comment, but Golf Channel’s Randall Mell said Team Thompson planned to petition Whan for a waiver of the age requirement.

Thompson cruised to a 10-stroke first-place finish in the first stage of Q-school in July. The final qualifying event is slated for LPGA International’s Champions and Legends courses from November 30-December 4.

(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.)

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