Lexi Thompson Makes History with First LPGA Win at Age 16

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Sept. 18, 2011 - Alexis "Lexi" Thompson is a 16-year-old still taking high school tests. She's also a winner on the LPGA Tour.
Thompson, who turned pro at age 15, won the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic in Alabama. And she didn't just win, she dominated. Thompson took a 5-stroke lead into the final round and wound up winning by that same amount.

Thompson carded rounds of 66, 68, 67 and 70 for a 271 total, 17-under par.

The margin of victory would have been larger except that runner-up Tiffany Joh went on a 4-hole birdie streak in the middle of the back nine. Thompson birdied two of the final three holes herself.

Winning with that score, by five strokes, is impressive. Winning at any score, by any amount, at age 16 is even moreso.

(See also: Photo Gallery - Lexi Thompson's first win)

Youngest Winners in LPGA History

Thompson is now the youngest winner in LPGA history, and by nearly two years. Or more than two years, depending on how you view things.
The previous youngest winners on the LPGA Tour were:
  • Marlene Hagge, 18 years, 14 days old at the 1952 Sarasota Open. Hagge also won the 1952 Bakersfield Open two months later.
  • Paula Creamer, 18 years, 9 months, 17 days old at the 2005 Sybase Classic
Thompson won the 2011 Navistar at the age of 16 years, 7 months and 8 days. That's a year-and-a-half younger than Hagge was in 1952 - but Hagge's win was in an 18-hole event. Thompson is 2 years and 2 months younger than Creamer was at the multi-round Sybase Classic in 2005.
It should be noted that Thompson is not the youngest winner on any major golf tour, if we define "major tour" to include tours that are part of the world ranking system.

Ryo Ishikawa was only 15 when he won the Japan Tour's Munsingwear Open KSB Cup in 2007. And Amy Yang was about a month younger than Thompson is now when Yang won the 2006 ANZ Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour. Winning on the LPGA, the top-level women's tour, is worth much more than wins on the Japan Tour or LET, however.

The PGA Tour recognizes Johnny McDermott, 19 years, 10 months old when he won the 1911 U.S. Open, as its youngest winner.

Lexi Thompson's 2011 Results

Thompson's win at the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic can't be called shocking. Thompson is a golfer whose immense talent has been on display since the age of 12, when she played her way into the U.S. Women's Open; and she's come close before, nearly winning the 2010 Evian Masters.
But it probably can be called a mild suprise, only because Thompson hadn't played great in 2011 leading up to the Navistar. She was making some minor swing changes, and her results in 2011 prior to the Navistar did not match her results in 2010.

Here is how Thompson fared in tournaments in 2011 prior to the Navistar (tournaments are LPGA unless noted):
  • Feb. 3-6: Women's Australian Open (LET), missed cut
  • Feb. 10-13: ANZ Ladies Masters (LET), tied 42nd
  • April 28-May 1: Avnet LPGA Classic, tied 19th
  • June 3-5: ShopRite LPGA Classic, missed cut
  • June 23-26: LPGA Championship, missed cut
  • July 7-11: U.S. Women's Open, missed cut
  • July 21-24: Evian Masters, tied 36th
  • Aug. 5-7: Ladies Irish Open (LET), tied 24th
  • Aug. 19-21: Safeway Classic, tied 31st
  • Aug. 25-28: Canadian Women's Open, missed cut
And then, victory.

What Win Does for Lexi Thompson's LPGA Eligibility

What does the win do for Thompson's status on the LPGA Tour? Let's recap where things stood before:
  • The LPGA has a minimum-age required of 18 years old for membership; however, a player younger than 18 can petition to have that requirement waived. In the past, only Aree Song and Morgan Pressel received such exemptions, and both were 17-closing-in-on-18 at the time.
  • Thompson earned enough money after turning pro in 2010 that she would have earned LPGA membership had she been old enough to meet the age requirement. But she was only 15.
  • At the end of 2010, Thompson petitioned the LPGA not to waive the age requirement, but to increase the number of sponsor exemptions she could accept in 2011. The LPGA denied that request, but did make another change allowing Thompson to enter additional Monday qualifiers (18-hole events in which non-exempt golfers attempt to play their way into a tournament field).
  • The LPGA did grant Thompson permission to take part in 2011 LPGA Q-School despite not meeting the minimum-age requirement, and Thompson won the first-stage qualifier by 10 strokes (two stages remain at the time this is written).

Now Thompson is a winner, but she's still only 16. Normally, a non-member who wins an LPGA tournament is immediately offered membership. But Thompson doesn't meet the minimum age requirement. What happens?

She can still claim that membership - but first has to petition for a waiver of the minimum-age requirement. Given that Thompson has just won a tournament, it's hard to imagine the LPGA can turn her down. But the LPGA also doesn't want to set the precedent of giving membership to a 16-year-old. So here's what will probably happen: Thompson will use her victory to request membership starting in 2011, when she will be 17 at the beginning of the LPGA schedule. And the LPGA will grant that request.

Assuming that happens, it means that Thompson won't have to complete Q-School.

Also, her victory at the Navistar gets Thompson into the season-ending CME Titleholders tournament in November. (continued on next page)
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