LPGA: Thompson, 16, can earn her Tour card

Lexi Thompson during the final round of the Avnet LPGA Classic.

Lexi Thompson during the final round of the Avnet LPGA Classic.

The LPGA has accepted Alexis Thompson’s petition for membership in 2012, an unprecedented decision that allows the 16-year-old to enter Q-School and, should she earn her card, become a tour member.

LPGA rules state that a player must be at least 18 years old to become a member. Players younger than 18 must get the tour’s approval for membership.

The LPGA has granted membership to 17-year-olds on a very limited basis. Jessica Korda, Morgan Pressel and Aree Song were granted membership at that age, but all turned 18 during their rookie seasons; petitions by eventual major winners Yani Tseng and Inbee Park were denied.

Thompson doesn’t turn 18 until 2013. She would be the first player to start her rookie year before age 17. Her 17th birthday is Feb. 10, 2012.

The LPGA's decision was first reported by Golfweek.

"I’m really happy about it," Thompson told Golfweek. "I'm just going to try to do my best and see where it goes."

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement to Golfweek: “The LPGA has previously granted players under the age of 18 the ability to compete in the LPGA Qualifying Tournament (Aree Song, Morgan Pressel, Jessica Korda). Lexi Thompson will also have that same opportunity - to earn her way to the LPGA Tour, or the LPGA Futures Tour, via the LPGA Qualifying Tournament, a three-stage, 13-round qualifying process.”

Thompson's agent, Bobby Kreusler, said he cited Thompson’s physical and emotional maturity in his membership petition, stating that she is qualified to handle the on- and off-course rigors of professional golf. Thompson, once Golfweek’s No. 1 junior and amateur, turned pro in June 2010. She finished second in last year’s Evian Masters and 10th in the U.S. Women’s Open. She held the 54-hole lead at this year’s Avnet Classic before shooting a final-round 78. She has missed her last two cuts while undergoing swing changes with her instructor, Jim McLean.

“This year, Lexi has seen some of the highs and lows experienced by a professional golfer – leading (the Avnet) after three rounds, then having a difficult final round on live television. The way she handled this proved to me, and ultimately to a lot of other people, that she’s as prepared as one can be to handle the rigors of being a true professional,” Kreusler told Golfweek. “Lexi came out of the (scoring) tent after shooting 78, gathered herself for a few minutes and gave a live interview to the Golf Channel, gave every other interview, signed every autograph, and, believe me, that poor girl was gutted. There are a lot of other world-class professional athletes that would not have handled this as well as Lexi did.”

Thompson will have to navigate the LPGA’s new three-stage qualifying structure to earn membership. The first stage will be held July 26-29 at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla., the same week as the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

Thompson's father, Scott, told Golfweek, "It threw a little bit of a kink in the plans, but it’s a good kink."

Q-School applicants younger than 18 had to enter by July 1. The tournament application states that minors must demonstrate their “capacity to assume the professional and financial responsibilities required of a Tour member."

Thompson is No. 120 in the Rolex Rankings. The top 100 as of July 12 are exempt from the first stage, so a good finish at this week’s U.S. Women’s Open could allow Thompson to participate in the British Open. Thompson will play in the Evian Masters on July 21-24, regardless of whether she has to play in Q-School the next week, Kreusler said.

Thompson received an exemption into the British Open’s final qualifier on July 25. Professionals often receive exemptions out of the pre-qualifier, which is held July 11, the day after the U.S. Women’s Open.

Thompson’s petition isn’t the first time she has set a precedent regarding LPGA membership policies. The LPGA limits nonmembers to six sponsor exemptions. Kreusler petitioned the LPGA late last year to increase that limit to 12. The LPGA denied that petition, but did compromise by opening its Monday qualifiers to nonmembers.

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