Thompson, 15, transitions to pro ranks

Alexis Thompson made her professional debut at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

Alexis Thompson made her professional debut at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. – Alexis Thompson looked so at ease on the first tee, laughing with Christina Kim while standing coolly beside her Cobra bag, a black Red Bull visor protecting her youthful skin. Her father, Scott, paints a different picture from inside the starter’s tent.

“She’s holding the (water) bottle shaking and I’m shaking, pouring it in,” Scott Thompson said. “We were laughing about it. It’s tough.”

Thompson, 15, striped her first tee shot as a professional at the ShopRite LPGA Classic but missed a kick-in for par. A three-putt bogey on her first hole as a professional wasn’t in the script.

“I was probably shaking, and then I should’ve taken more time over it,” she said. “So you learn from that. I never did that again today.”

Thompson opened with an even-par 71 on June 18 at Dolce Seaview Resort’s Bay Course with her dad on the bag. Her mother, Judy, was in the gallery along with several cousins from Scranton, Pa., and two Blue Giraffe agents.

The question on many minds this week: Is she ready?

One round at the ShopRite LPGA Classic won’t provide the answer. Most people try to think back to what they were doing at age 15 and the comparisons seem absurd. But unless you had an exceptional skill, one that deserved the qualifier “phenom,” it’s not a fair comparison. Most teenagers wouldn’t mow lawns and baby-sit if Puma offered them a big paycheck.

Scott Thompson said his daughter has asked for more than a year to turn professional. She has watched her older brother, Nicholas, compete on the PGA Tour. She got her first taste of national exposure at age 12 when she became the youngest to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open.

“I don’t feel that I’ll be missing out on anything,” Thompson said.

Her father agrees, noting that the homeschooler attends area high school football games, watches movies and plans to go to prom. She’s on track to graduate in May 2013, though they might accelerate that schedule.

Thompson hasn’t been in a classroom since the fifth grade. She already has missed plenty.

Morgan Pressel, one of two players whom the LPGA has granted special permission to join the tour at age 17, said the question isn’t about ability. Even if Thompson contended for titles on a regular basis, Pressel thinks it’s too early.

“For me, there are so many other things out here than just playing golf,” Pressel said. “There’s dealing with the media, sponsors, being able to handle yourself around your peers, older people we play with in pro-ams. Fifteen just seems very, very young.”

The Thompson camp indicates there’s no plan to petition the tour in the immediate future. Should Thompson earn enough money through sponsor exemptions this year to finish inside the top 80 on the money list, though, they might reconsider.

The plan is to compete in her six sponsor exemptions on the LPGA and the U.S. Women’s Open. Perhaps add a couple of events in Europe and Japan. They’ll do the same next year, opening 2011 with two events in Australia. The Duramed Futures Tour does not fit into the equation.

The Thompsons are smart not to barge onto the professional scene, demanding a place to play. With so much scrutiny surrounding this decision, Thompson’s clubs need to speak loudly before the next move is made.

Pressel, now 22, knows what it’s like to be advanced for her age, but she never considered turning professional until she was 17. She didn’t get bored competing five years on the AJGA. In fact, Pressel played high school golf right up to the end. She closed her amateur career with a U.S. Women’s Amateur victory.

Suzann Pettersen agrees it’s too early for Thompson to be on tour full-time, though she concedes that the young girl has plenty of game.

Thompson, looking particularly young with pink ribbons and hair clips, lost several shots off the tee to the right in her pro debut. Her father chalks that up to nerves, and thinks Saturday’s earlier tee time should help settle her down.

When asked whether she had thought about what she’d do with her first paycheck, Thompson giggled and said “maybe a car.” Keep in mind that she has only a learner’s permit.

At an early-week news conference, Thompson pulled up to the Seaview clubhouse in the Red Bull Racing show car – strapped into the passenger seat. It’s a fitting entrance for a teenager in a hurry to grow up.

Just hope she knows where she’s going.

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