by Jeff Skinner
Lexi Thompson did what no other player in the history of the LPGA Tour could do yesterday. She won as a sixteen year old. Thompson, who turned 16 in February, is the youngest winner in LPGA history eclipsing Paula Creamer’s record of 18 years and 9 months when she won in 2005. Marlene Hagge won twice as an 18 year old in the 50’s but the tournaments were only 18 holes.
Thompson’s victory at The Navistar LPGA Classic comes in her eighth appearance on the LPGA Tour this season and she certainly showed that she can play with the big girls. Thompson is officially one of the big girls as she stands nearly six feet tall and outdrove everyone this week. She dominated many holes this week and played driver/wedge so often she may have worn out her wedge. She averaged over 276 yards off the tee and was constantly 30-40 yards past second place finisher Tiffany Joh.
Her strength is certainly her driver which allows her to attack greens with her short clubs. She hit 63 of 72 greens in regulation (87%). Consider that Thompson at sixteen is out driving the longest hitters on tour. Tour driving leader Yani Tseng averages 268 yards and former teenage phenom Michelle Wie averages 266.
She won this week with long, accurate drives and pin seeking iron play. Her putter was at best mediocre as she averaged 30 putts per round. But when she needed her putter it came through with birdies on 16 and 17 the thwart a mini charge from Joh who had narrowed her lead to three strokes.
Needless to say, Thompson was as giddy as a teenager with her win. “It’s been an amazing experience for me. I can’t even describe the feelings that were going through my head this whole week. I look forward to this tournament every year. The course is in amazing shape for us, so this was the best experience. It feels amazing. I can’t even describe it. It’s been my dream my whole life just to play out here. Getting a win right now, I can’t describe the feelings, but it’s the best feeling ever.”
What should be great news for the LPGA Tour may have put Commissioner Michael Whan in a bit of a dilemma. The minimum age requirement for entry to the LPGA Tour is 18 years of age. Whan has already given Thompson special permission to compete in the LPGA Qualifying School and she made good use of the exemption. In the first stage she toasted the field by ten strokes but still may have to prove herself in the second stage at the end of this month. Normally a win earns membership onto the tour but Whan has said Thompson still needs to qualify through Q-School.
The tour’s age limit is certainly understandable. No one wants kids quitting school to try the very difficult task of playing golf to earn a living. But the tour has a unique opportunity here. Thompson isn’t your normal sixteen year old. She’s a home schooled kid with a family that has lived in professional golf for years. Lexi’s older brother Nicholas played on the PGA Tour for three years and is currently on The Nationwide Tour.
Whan may be hoping that the kid qualifies on her own through Q-School but he should step up her and make an exception to the rule right now. It’s not like Thompson is not going to play professional golf somewhere. It would be best to grant her an exemption into the tour right now and give the LPGA a much needed shot in the arm. It’s just the right thing to do.
By forcing Thompson to continue to Q-School the Tour is embarrassing itself. After all is there any more valid proof that she is ready for the tour other than winning a tournament? Tour veteran and sage of the LPGA, Juli Inkster said it best, “It’s kind of silly, isn’t it?” Inkster said. “I think it makes us look bad, too. Now, you have to go to qualifying school? To me, that’s silly.”
Inkster is right and Thompson deserves to be a full member of the tour no matter her age. The tour certainly could use a bright, young star like Thompson. As a matter of fact the LPGA needs her more than she needs the tour.
Thompson beat the tour’s best this week and her skills and poise show that she is ready for the next stage of her life. And that should be as a member of the LPGA Tour.