JACKSONVILLE, Fla. >> Lexi Thompson proved she was good enough to play on the LPGA Tour as a 16-year-old when she beat a strong field by five shots two weeks ago. She was granted membership Friday based on more than birdies and bogeys.
LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan approved Thompson’s petition to become the LPGA Tour’s youngest member effective in January, impressed with how the Florida teen handled herself in all aspects of tour life.
"I’ve seen her at press conferences," Whan said. I’ve seen her when she played well, I’ve seen her when she hasn’t played too well. I’ve seen her at pro-am parties. I’ve seen her when fans are coming up to her when it’s maybe not the best time."
Thompson filed a formal petition Thursday that the LPGA waive its policy of members being at least 18. Whan approved it one day later, although he described that more as a formality. The bigger decision came in June, when he allowed Thompson to compete in qualifying school.
The 6-foot teen won the first stage by 10 shots, then went to the LPGA Navistar Classic in Alabama and won by five shots against a field that included 45 of the top 50 players on the LPGA money list.
Thompson withdrew from the second stage before filing her petition. By then, it was clear to everyone — from Thompson to the LPGA Tour — that she would be on tour in 2012.
"I always said if she’s good enough, she’ll join us next year," Whan said of his decision to allow Thompson to go through qualifying. "She just sped up the Q-school process by winning a tournament."
Thompson was on vacation in California when she got the news.
"It’s been amazing," she said in a conference call. "It’s always been my dream to play on the tour full time. Getting that win, it was the best experience of my life. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
"I’ve been waiting for this moment, knowing I’m going to play full time next year," she said. "I’m looking forward to it."
Her agent at Blue Giraffe Sports, Bobby Kreusler, said he expects the teenager to play about 20 tournaments next year, including some trips overseas.
"We have the luxury of planning a year ahead," he said.
Thompson, whose brother Nicholas played on the PGA Tour last year, has been building toward this moment. She qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at age 12 in 2007 at Pine Needles, and she was a runner-up by one shot last year as a 15-year-old at the Evian Masters, one of the richest events on the LPGA Tour schedule.
Expectations are high, although they are not coming from the LPGA Tour.
"I don’t feel the need to put pressure on Lexi to win or to carry the tour," Whan said. "She’s a phenomenal talent. She’s progressing at an incredible rate. If she doesn’t win in the next three years, the LPGA is going to be fine. If she wins six times next year, the LPGA is going to be fine.
"If Lexi continues to win, it’s going to be an exciting time for her, and an exciting time for us," he said. "But she doesn’t have to carry any more weight than the weight of her bag."
Thompson is home-schooled, taking Florida-approved classes online.
Whan said her membership won’t start until 2012 because there was no point in making her a member now. She is eligible for only one more tournament, the season-ending Titleholders on Nov. 17-20 in Orlando. This way, Thompson can start clean as a rookie next year.
He also isn’t worried that he is setting a precedent.
Michelle Wie turned pro at 15, but didn’t join the LPGA Tour until going through Q-school three years later. Whan said he has had a little more than a dozen requests from teenagers, either to join the LPGA or go through Q-school.
"I don’t want young players who are freshmen and sophomores in high school contemplating whether to turn pro. I’ve said ‘no’ maybe 50 times and said ‘yes’ once," Whan said, skewing the numbers for emphasis.
Instead, he pointed to Thompson’s resume of playing on the LPGA Tour as a pro and as an amateur, and how she handles everything from the rigors of travel to dealing with sponsors and fans.