SBD/October 3, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

LPGA Formally Extends Tour Membership to 16-Year-Old Lexi Thompson

After petitioning, Thompson will become a member of the LPGA at the start of next year
LPGA Tour Commissioner Mike Whan approved 16-year-old Lexi Thompson's “petition to become the LPGA Tour's youngest member effective in January, impressed with how the Florida teen handled herself in all aspects of tour life,” according to Doug Ferguson of the AP. Thompson on Thursday filed a formal petition that the LPGA “waive its policy of members being at least 18.” Whan “approved it one day later, although he described that more as a formality.” Thompson last month won the Navistar LPGA Classic and her agent, Blue Giraffe Sports’ Bobby Kreusler, said that he “expects the teenager to play about 20 tournaments next year, including some trips overseas.” Whan said, "She's a phenomenal talent. She's progressing at an incredible rate. If she doesn't win in the next three years, the LPGA is going to be fine. If she wins six times next year, the LPGA is going to be fine.” Whan said that her membership “won't start until 2012 because there was no point in making her a member now.” She is “eligible for only one more tournament, the season-ending Titleholders on Nov. 17-20 in Orlando” (AP, 9/30). Kreusler said that Thompson's schedule “would be planned around events like homecoming and the prom” (N. Y. TIMES, 10/1). Whan said that he “isn't worried about this decision setting a precedent for younger players gaining LPGA membership.” He “pointed out that the Lexi Thompsons of the world are few and far between.” Whan: "I don't want young players who are freshmen and sophomores in high school contemplating whether to turn pro. I've said 'no' maybe 50 times and said 'yes' once" (GOLFWEEK.com, 9/30). More Whan: "If Lexi continues to win, we'll certainly market that together with her but at the same time, she doesn't have to carry any more weight than the weight of her bag" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/1).

TWO THUMBS UP: YAHOO SPORTS’ Shane Bacon wrote, “This was as no-brainer as they come” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/30). SI’s Mark Godich wrote, “This was a no-brainer. … As for raising the LPGA’s profile, she’s going to have to win a lot, and sooner rather than later.” SI Golf Group Managing Editor Jim Herre wrote, “Lifting the tour is a bit much to expect from a teenager, but I think she's an athlete and competitor to be reckoned with. She has the potential to be the next star American the LPGA has been looking for.” SI’s Gary Van Sickle: “The big question is whether any LPGA player can attract enough attention to the stop-again-start-again tour to really make a difference with the public.” SI Golf+'s Mick Rouse: “She will definitely be a draw for the LPGA for a few more months, at least, but I'm not sure she'll be able to transcend the sport and be the face of the LPGA” (GOLF.com, 10/2). ESPN.com’s Farrell Evans writes women's golf “has a bona-fide star in Thompson, who has the personality and commitment to attract corporate sponsors to the sport in the U.S.” The LPGA should “try to market Thompson's golf and not try to make her a fashionista or a beauty queen or any other thing that stresses her gender” (ESPN.com, 10/3).

LET HER TAKE HER TIME: Whan said the LPGA does not need Thompson "to win next season for the LPGA to be strong." He added the tour does not need "to ride the Lexi bandwagon, and she doesn’t need to feel the pressure of having to win right now.” Whan: "I find in sports that we all rush to anoint ‘the next one.’ Sometimes that puts added pressure on the player, or the sport, or even the league" (“Golf Central,” Golf Channel, 9/30). In Honolulu, Ferd Lewis wrote under the header, “LPGA Sets Thompson Up For Wie Treatment.” Lewis: “May she enjoy a successful and balanced life -- minus much of the drama that surrounded [Michelle] Wie -- before it is time for her to hand over the mantle of ‘phenom’” (HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER, 10/1).
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