Ninety players are competing today for 17 spots in this week’s Ricoh Women’s British Open. Lexi Thompson, one of the fresh new faces in women’s professional golf, isn’t among them, a victim of bad timing and some short-sightedness.
Thompson, 15, finished second at last week’s Evian Masters, one shot behind Jiyai Shin. Two weeks earlier, she tied for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open. But she won’t get a chance to continue her good play this week at Royal Birkdale.
Thompson earned an exemption into the British Open’s final qualifying because she played on the U.S. Curtis Cup team, but like most exemptions earned for amateur performance, she lost the exemption after turning pro. Thompson couldn’t attend pre-qualifying because it was the day after the U.S. Women’s Open (what the Ladies Golf Union was thinking scheduling a qualifier that conflicted with the U.S. Open is another story).
These scenarios happen fairly often when a player first turns professional. For example, Ryan Moore missed out on the ’05 British Open at St. Andrews because he turned pro beforehand, thus losing his exemption from the ’04 U.S. Amateur. Colt Knost missed the Masters two years ago for the same reason.
But there was an easy solution to this problem: give Thompson an invitation into final qualifying. Not into the tournament, just the qualifier. The Ladies Golf Union has extended special exemptions into final qualifying before.
Thompson’s camp asked the LGU for such an invitation, but was denied, even after Thompson’s impressive performance at Oakmont.
“Exemptions into final qualifying for professionals are not the norm,” Shona Malcolm, the LGU’s CEO, said via e-mail. “The main circumstances would be medical exemptions or, occasionally and very exceptionally, players of reputation who had previously been long-term participants in, supporters of or winners of the Ricoh Women’s British Open.”
Thompson’s U.S. Open performance should have been enough to convince the LGU to give her a spot in the qualifier, which consists mostly of amateurs and little-known pros. Few players, of any age, have shown better recent form than Thompson. She’s quickly becoming one of those players whose appearance on the leaderboard adds interest to any event.
Yes, rules are rules, but the LGU should have acted in its own best interest by giving Thompson the opportunity to earn her way into their event.