SBD/September 19, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Lexi Thompson's Historic Win Presents Issue To LPGA About Tour's Age Limits

Lexi Thompson will file a petition with LPGA to waive the age rule
Lexi Thompson became the youngest winner in LPGA history with her five-shot win at the Navistar LPGA Classic yesterday, but the LPGA's "rule that tour members must be at least 18 years old" is at the "heart of Sunday's fallout," according to Randall Mell of GOLFCHANNEL.com. Because of the age restriction, the 16-year-old Thompson "can't claim tour membership for the Navistar victory," meaning she must "file a petition for a waiver of the age rule." The LPGA earlier this year allowed Thompson to attend Q-School "with the understanding that she would be granted a waiver of the age restriction should she earn member status through the three-stage process." But following the win, Thompson's camp "doesn't want her to have to continue through Q-School." Thompson said, "Hopefully, this win will change things, but it's not my decision and I'm not really worrying about it right now." Bobby Kreusler, Thompson's agent, said that he "will be filing another petition seeking a waiver" of the age restriction. Kreusler: "We will now be seeking full membership based on winning this tournament." Mell reported LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan "released a statement congratulating Thompson and pointing out that she was eligible to gain tour membership advancing through Q-School." However, a tour official "sent a followup to Whan's statement Sunday acknowledging that if Thompson filed a separate petition for waiver off the Navistar win, the commissioner would review it" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 9/18). Golfer Juli Inkster said, "It's kind of silly, isn't it? I think it makes us look bad, too. Now, you have to go to qualifying school? To me, that's silly" (GLOBE & MAIL, 9/19).

LPGA NEEDS SOMEONE LIKE THOMPSON: In N.Y., Karen Crouse notes Thompson is "young and attractive and American, making her a coveted commodity on a tour that has been dominated in recent years by foreign-born players and that has struggled to maintain sponsorships and a full schedule." Thompson has blonde hair and is nearly 6 feet tall, and Crouse writes she "could be a cover girl for Golf magazine or Glamour" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/19). GOLFWEEK's Beth Ann Baldry noted Thompson "walked out of the scoring tent on Sunday drinking a Red Bull, one of her sponsors." Baldry: "She's making grown-up money for that kind of product placement, and this week proved she's worth every penny. ... Those who don't want to see a 16-year-old compete on the LPGA full time need to start looking at the big picture. Whan can't afford to turn away someone who attracts sponsors and draws a crowd" (GOLFWEEK.com, 9/18). Golf Channel's Phil Parkin said, “She’s got a great smile. She’s just going to be wonderful for ladies’ golf. It’s great for America to have a young superstar like this” (“Navistar LPGA Classic,” Golf Channel, 9/18). Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee: "It certainly gives them a big shot in the arm and a lot of buzz” (Golf Channel, 9/18). ESPN.com's Farrell Evans wrote the LPGA "should quickly grant her membership." Evans: "Women's golf -- and specifically LPGA commissioner Michael Whan, should embrace youth -- as teenagers like Thompson could spark new interest in the game. Thompson should be on all of Whan's promotional materials" (ESPN.com, 9/18). Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte said, “There’s nothing that the LPGA could use more right now than an infusion of American talent and firepower” (“Golf Central,” Golf Channel, 9/17). Thompson's win gain front-page sports section coverage in several top newspapers, including the N.Y. Times and USA Today (THE DAILY).

COULD PROVIDE BIG BOOST TO TOUR: GOLF WORLD's Ron Sirak wrote the "emergence of Thompson as a star would be a big boost for the LPGA, which has expanded greatly in Asia as players from Korea, Japan and ... Taiwan, have dominated." The tour has lost several U.S.-based events, and Thompson "could be a crowd favorite" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 9/18). SI's Stephanie Wei wrote there has been no question that Thompson "was going to be a huge star," and she is hopeful Thompson "keeps winning consistently because the LPGA could really use a marketable American star." Golf.com Senior Producer Ryan Reiterman said, "Hopefully she's the next superstar because a dominant American is something the LPGA really needs." SI's Gary Van Sickle said, "The LPGA is out of its mind if it doesn't exempt Lexi. ... She's already the next big thing the tour has to an American star." However, SI's Rick Lipsey said, "I don't think she'll generate very much interest. Nice player, but unless she wins many majors, not a Q-rating maker." Golf Magazine Senior Editor Mike Walker said Thompson "can only be a marketing machine and attendance/ratings draw if she's promoted as the female Tiger Woods, but those expectations are impossible and can be damaging" (GOLF.com, 9/18).
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