Before we get too carried away about whose interests Mike Whan represents, make no mistake that he acted on behalf of the LPGA and the LPGA only. Allowing Lexi Thompson membership into the LPGA next year, when she turns 17, will prove in time to be the wisest decision the commissioner ever made.
She will be the best thing that has happened to the LPGA in a long, long while. She will certainly become the player and the personality that everyone hoped Michelle Wie would be when she emerged nine years ago, when she qualified for her first LPGA tournament at age 12.
Those who are concerned that Whan might not have had Lexi’s welfare in mind are mistaken. Besides, that’s not really his job in this case. Whan was smart enough to leave that to the Thompson family. And it’s because the Thompsons are who they are that allowed Whan to make his decision in good conscience.
This is not Scott and Judy Thompson’s first rodeo. They have raised three accomplished golfers and Lexi is only the second professional in the family. Brother Nicholas Thompson, 28, played on the PGA Tour last year and is competing on the Nationwide Tour this year. Middle child Curtis, 18, is a scholarship golfer at LSU.
Scott has been caddying for Lexi since she turned professional last year and Judy works full time in a dentist’s office, processing insurance claims. From all accounts, the family is happy and well-adjusted and Lexi has more than a stable support system.
It was clear from the beginning that Lexi was a special case. She became the youngest ever to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Open, at age 12 in 2007 at Pine Needles. By the time she reached 15, she, along with her parents, decided that she had done everything she wanted to do in junior and amateur golf and it was time to become a professional.
The problem is that the LPGA has a minimum age requirement of 18 and Whan was unwilling to budge, no matter how much his Tour needed a young, attractive American star. Earlier this year, Thompson’s agent, Bobby Kreusler of Blue Giraffe Sports, petitioned the LPGA to waive the rule and allow Lexi to become a member of the Tour.
Whan turned them down but did capitulate. He told the Thompsons that if Lexi could qualify for the Tour through all three stages of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament, he would allow her membership for 2012. Lexi entered first stage and won by 10 shots.
That was after she held the third-round lead in April at the Avnet LPGA Classic and shot 78 in the final round to finish tied for 19th. So when she led by five strokes after three rounds of the Navistar LPGA Classic in Alabama three weeks ago, players, officials and observers – Whan, most notably – wondered what would happen.
Her five-shot lead that ballooned to seven early in Sunday’s final round and she walked into the house with a five-shot victory to become the youngest player ever to win an LPGA tournament. Scott Thompson was so moved that he told Lexi to walk ahead to the 18th green so she could not see his tears.
The concern is that Lexi is being plucked right out of teenage-hood and is missing the chance to be a kid and graduate high school and play college golf. The Thompsons have seen this movie before. Nicholas and Curtis went the college route but Lexi is a once-in-a-lifetime case and the entire family knows it. Nicholas said last year that Lexi would do wonders for the LPGA Tour.
He’s right. She’s tall and lithe and powerful. She has physical skills beyond her years. She’s almost six-feet tall and led the field in driving distance at the Navistar. But she also has a maturity that few young people her age possess. And what she doesn’t have will be filled in by her support system. Scott Thompson will continue to serve as both father and caddie and that’s just fine with Lexi. If she needs advice on how to survive and thrive on a professional tour, she has brother Nicholas to lean on.
She is exactly what the LPGA Tour needs at exactly the right time. With a dearth of American stars on LPGA leaderboards, Thompson’s arrival will no doubt bring television viewers, bigger galleries and, Whan hopes, more sponsorship dollars and greater exposure for his Tour.
Whan’s job is to grow the LPGA Tour and after Thompson won, he was criticized for not showing up at the 18th green at the Navistar with a check and a Tour membership card. The problem is he couldn’t have done that. According to LPGA regulations, Whan had to wait for Kreusler to make another petition and when that happened, he did the only thing he could do: he welcomed Lexi with open arms.
Now, the biggest dilemma in Lexi’s life is what kind of car is she going to buy now that she has some new-found cash. If the way she and her family have handled this situation is any indication, her brand new ride will no doubt be something perfectly sensible.