Thompson loses LPGA petition but still gains access

Lexi Thompson waits on the green during the second round of the Navistar LPGA Classic at the Senator Course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail on October 8, 2010.

The LPGA denied Lexi Thompson’s petition to double the number of allowable sponsor exemptions, but she won’t be complaining. Commissioner Mike Whan’s solution could result in even more starts for the 15-year-old prodigy. And they won’t be handouts.

Beginning this year, the LPGA will open its Monday qualifiers to non-members. Thompson still will be allowed the maximum six exemptions, per LPGA rules – not the 12 she had sought – plus the ability to Monday qualify for seven domestic events, along with the U.S. Women’s Open and Ricoh Women’s British Open.

“While the vehicle that they used to get there was different, we’re satisfied with the outcome,” said Bobby Kreusler, Thompson’s agent at Blue Giraffe Sports. “We actually have more opportunities than what we asked for.”

Whan said he’d been considering changing the Monday qualifying criteria well before Thompson filed her petition. In the midst of discussions with Thompson’s agent, Whan told him of the rule change.

“I said, ‘There’s an option for you,’ ” Whan said. “I don’t know how many Sunday night plane tickets you want to buy.”

Fields at Monday qualifiers aren’t exactly overflowing, because competing is a big expense for many pros struggling to make a paycheck, and those qualifiers were limited to LPGA members. This change gives the LPGA a chance to earn more revenue and strengthen its fields -- and storylines -- with fresh talent. It's a good move by Whan.

Not everyone who is deserving of sponsor exemptions gets a nod. Thompson will take many of the spots this year, leaving fewer for other potential stars. For example, Victoria Tanco, a two-time AJGA Player of the Year, has had a difficult time getting starts. Tanco, 16, of Argentina, isn’t optimistic that she will get many exemptions in 2011. This rule change gives her a chance to make her own way.

Thompson, who will turn 16 on Feb. 10, earned $336,472 last 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.

Thompson will play in the Australian Open (Feb. 3-6) and ANZ Masters (Feb. 10-13), both sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour, to start her season.

With so many opportunities now available to players, Whan is considering changing the criteria for non-members to earn status for the following season. Now, a player must finish the equivalent of 80th or higher on the money list to skip LPGA Q-School. But, Whan said “perhaps” that number will change.

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