15-Year-Old Alexis Thompson Wants More Than 6 Sponsors Exemptions, Files Petition
By Stephanie Wei under LPGA

15-year-old phenom Alexis Thompson has filed a petition with the LPGA, seeking to double the maximum number of sponsor’s exemption to 12 for the 2011 season, according to a report. Lexi’s father Scott Thompson, who is caddying for son Nicholas Thompson at this week’s PGA Tour Q-school, spoke to me and two other reporters this afternoon at Orange County National.

Mr. Thompson was reluctant to comment on the specifics to the petition (which he called “a very well-written 25 pages”), but he discussed the situation and his daughter.

“She wants to play badly,” he said. “We don’t care where we have to go, we’ll travel anywhere.”

Lexi is playing in two events in Australia this February — the Handa Australian Women’s Open and ANZ RACV Ladies Masters. She was also offered a sponsor’s exemption for the first LPGA event in Thailand, but the Thompsons haven’t accepted yet because of the petition.

Asked if there were any stipulations or promises in the petition to limiting the number of Lexi’s playing appearances worldwide, Mr. Thompson said, “Yes, there is. That’s in there. We would agree not to play her too much. I think it was either 15 or 17.”

Why not just petition for membership then? The Thompson family has emphasized on multiple occasions their desire for Lexi to be “normal” (but I mean, how normal can you be if you’re a 15-year-old making six figures playing professional golf?). Perhaps if she were to granted full-LPGA membership, it would eventually force her to make too many starts (though “15 or 17” already seems like a lot for a 15-year-old still in high school).

LPGA policy requires members to be at least 18, but some teen prodigies, such as Morgan Pressel and Aree Song, have successfully petitioned for exemption at age 17 in recent years. But Lexi, who has proved she is beyond capable to compete, isn’t looking for tour membership, she wants more playing opportunities. Actually, Team Thompson is trying to change the LPGA structure for underage wunderkinds to mirror women’s tennis, Lexi’s agent, Bobby Kreusler told The WTA policy gives players more appearances each year, starting with 8 starts for 14-year-olds.

Thompson earned $336,472 in limited appearances (6 sponsors exemptions and the US Women’s Open), which would rank her 34th on the LPGA money list. She T2 at the Evian Masters and T10 at the US Women’s Open.

Seems like a no-brainer to grant Lexi the extra exemptions, right? Well, yes and no. The young American star would probably generate more interest in the LPGA — which it could use with the dramatic cuts in the schedule due to lost sponsors. Not everyone sees it that way, though.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea for the tour,” American Cristie Kerr said. “Why wouldn’t they do that for Michelle Wie? If they didn’t do it for Michelle, why do it for Lexi?”

Wie never petitioned the LPGA to waive the age restriction. (She played in men’s events, instead.)

“She wants to try and play on our tour, and you know, she’s 15 years old or 16 years old, and she’s not even really got her high school education complete yet,” Kerr continued. “So I think, you know, that was her decision to turn pro aerly, and yeah, she’s a great player, but she’s also very young. And you know, that’s the rule, six exemptions. It’s to protect the rest of the people that are members that need to get those exemptions sometimes.”

Lexi’s father Scott Thompson obviously sees it differently.  His response to Kerr’s argument?

“How do you feel about someone who is making $20,000 on the LPGA trying to hang on to their card — just trying to hang on to something — or a young player that’s coming up with the chance to win? Where do you draw the line? I just don’t know. Maybe I’ll feel that way when my kid is 40 years old.”

Mr. Thompson also wasn’t surprised that some players are against the idea.

“Of course, I didn’t expect it to go over well,” he said. “From what I’ve experienced out there, my feeling is that the players don’t want her there.”

Why not? Because Lexi would take the spot of a veteran? Jealousy?

“Yes to all,” Mr. Thompson said. “She’s young and there are some veteran players that I don’t think they want to see her out there. I don’t understand it, but that’s the feeling I get.

“I think [Lexi] would be good to have out [on tour] — she could help [the LPGA]…a lot.”