Is Lexi Ready? Whan Now Thinks So

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO l Michael Whan apparently has never been a favorite of that old Maurice Chevalier standard, “Thank heaven for little girls.”
They may well “grow up in the most delightful way,” as the Lerner and Loewe lyric goes, but Whan would prefer that anyone who wants to play on the LPGA Tour be at least 18 years old, just as the current rules state. He also believes that teenagers under that age would be far better served staying in school, playing on their golf teams and going to junior and senior proms.
And yet, he also knows there are exceptions to virtually every rule, the only explanation for his decision announced last week to allow 16-year-old Lexi Thompson, of Coral Springs, Fla., to try to make it on to his Tour the hardest way possible. She’ll have to go through the grueling three stages of the LPGA’s new qualifying system that goes into effect this season.
Whan would like to emphasize that he has not granted Thompson any sort of free pass to play the Tour next season, and that he still is generally opposed to young girls turning professional too soon. But he also knows that Thompson may well be more ready than most to play golf full time at the highest level of the women’s game.
“If she makes it on our Tour, she’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way,” he said in an interview with Global Golf Post last Thursday. “She’ll have to earn it. Now it’s up to her.”
Whan was singing a slightly different tune himself last January when Thompson, who is home schooled and won’t turn 17 until next February, petitioned him to allow her to accept a dozen sponsor’s exemptions into LPGA events, twice as many as the six currently allowed to any non-member.
He rejected the request, most emphatically.
“At the core of it, I really don’t think I wanted to be the commissioner who created a new pathway to the LPGA that made young girls around the world think that as freshmen and sophomores in high school that they have a big decision to make. I didn’t want to create this worldwide phenomenon where 14-year-olds are sitting in their living rooms and thinking, ‘High school or pro?’ ”
So what changed his mind on Thompson, he was asked.
Basically, he answered, was the nature of the two petitions she filed. The first last January, asking for those six more exemptions, would have given her essentially a free pass to the Tour. The second petition was far more specific, simply asking him to allow her to go to Q-School and let the so-called chip shots fall where they may.
Whan also wants people to know he’s a big fan of Thompson’s, that he recognizes her immense talents and that one day, she may very well be the latest “it” woman of his Tour, the way Annika and Lorena once were, the way Yani Tseng is now “it.”
“Her résumé is significant, it’s spectacular,” Whan said. “The way she handles herself with the fans, with the media, with our customers, with our sponsors. She’s done a great job with all of it really, and that’s very much to her credit.”
What Thompson has not done this year is handle the golf especially well, certainly not to the same level when she was 15. A year ago, she finished 10th in the U.S. Women’s Open and tied for second at the Evian Masters, very nearly winning the event. But this year she has struggled. There have ben six missed cuts, including the LPGA Championship two weeks ago, a tie for 42nd and a tie for 19th.
Whan would have plenty of precedent for granting her an exemption at the age of 17. After all, former commissioner Ty Votaw allowed Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Aree Song to join the Tour at age 17. All three have flourished, and both Pressel and Creamer have already each won a major title. The difference now is that all three players were granted exemptions during their senior year of high school. At least when they came out, they’d have their diplomas.
Among Tour players there are mixed opinions. Juli Inkster, for one, thinks Thompson has enough maturity and plenty enough game to thrive on the LPGA. But Stacy Lewis, a college graduate, recently told Golf Channel she is generally opposed.
“I’m not a fan of it,” she said. “I don’t really like it. The age rule is there for a reason and it’s a good reason, because of maturity levels. If you let one player in, do you have to let them all in? Lexi’s a special case. She’s a great player for her age … but I would hate for other kids her age to want to follow the same track and get burned out by the time they’re 20.”
Good for her. Maybe even good for Lexi Thompson. But bad for so many more.


Comments

Recent Posts