Alexis Thompson has petitioned the LPGA for additional starts in 2011, Golfweek has learned. Thompson, 15, is limited to six LPGA starts per year under current rules because she is not an LPGA member.
The LPGA requires members to be at least 18 years old. Thompson is asking to be allowed to accept sponsor exemptions into 12 events in 2011, her agent, Bobby Kreusler, told Golfweek.
“We’re not looking for a full card,” Kreusler said. “We’re not looking for full privileges.
“Our petition says that we believe that this young girl has proven that she has earned the right to additional starts on the LPGA tour. It doesn’t mean we’re seeking membership on the LPGA tour. Those six additional starts could come in the form of six additional (sponsor) exemptions.”
Thompson earned $336,472 this year, equivalent to 34th on the LPGA money list. She finished 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open and second at the Evian Masters.
Kreusler said the petition does not address potential LPGA membership before Thompson turns 18. She will turn 16 on Feb. 10, 2011. She is scheduled to graduate high school in 2013.
“I didn’t get into the specifics of (membership) for the very simple reason that I don’t want to cloud the issue of what I’m trying to do,” Kreusler said.
Kreusler said he would like to see the LPGA fashion a system similar to the Women’s Tennis Association, which also must deal with teenage prodigies. The WTA allows 14-year-olds to play, but caps their number of starts at eight events. The maximum number of starts gradually increases each year.
“This is an issue that comes about quite frequently, and it’s only going to continue to come about,” Kreusler told Golfweek. “It’s not going to go away. To assume that the LPGA can just ignore it, and have this archaic rule that says unless you’re 18 you’re only going to get six starts, and that’s it because that’s just the way it’s been, is an incredibly myopic and short-side way to view things.
“The world is filled with rules and regulations that are ultimately revised because they have to be in order to reflect the changing times. While we’re looking for relief for Lexi Thompson, I’m also trying to do it in such a way that it makes sense not just for Lexi, but for the people who are going to come after her.”
LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said that he has not yet read the petition, but expected to read it “cover-to-cover” on Sunday night.
When asked about the petition, LPGA standouts Cristie Kerr and Angela Stanford stood behind the six exemption rule currently in place.
“She’s a great player, but she’s also very young,” said Kerr. “That’s the rule, six exemptions. It’s to protect the rest of the people that are members that need to get those exemptions sometimes.”
Added Stanford: “If you give her 12 sponsor exemptions, and say there are only 24 events on the schedule, she’s going to be playing in more events than a member of the tour. I don’t think that’s right.”
Kreusler told Golfweek he has received an “overwhelming” number of requests from tournaments asking her to play in 2011.
The U.S. Women’s Open, for which she is exempt, would not count toward the 12 starts, nor would the Women’s British Open, if she were to qualify. Kreusler said Thompson will play no more than 15 to 17 worldwide events, regardless of whether the LPGA allows her additional starts.
– Beth Ann Baldry contributed to this report