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Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Updated: September 22, 7:26 AM ET
Calm down, Lexi Thompson will get her wish

By Mick Elliott

Why has the LPGA not already sent a courtesy car to pick up 16-year-old Lexi Thompson and drive her straight to the World Golf Hall of Fame?

The South Florida teenager turned women's golf upside down Sunday by winning the Navistar Classic outside Birmingham, Ala., by five shots and becoming the youngest tournament champion in the LPGA's 61-year history.

Without a marketable American talent and with the world rankings dominated by an Asian invasion, the LPGA needs the arrival of a young, promising, homegrown star like fish need water. So what has the LPGA done to show Thompson its gratitude?

Nothing.

And that has sent a lot of golf folks spiraling into a Category 5 tizzy.

Take a chill pill.

What has gotten so many people so worked up is that Thompson wants to play full time on the LPGA Tour but is being denied membership.

That's because the women's tour requires all members to be at least 18. Thompson, obviously talented well beyond her age, last year asked for an exemption to the rule, only to be rejected.

It's a good and logical rule, meant to keep young players from getting in over their heads too quickly. The reasoning is that an aspiring and talented teen making a splash here and there is one thing, but it's something quite different to be a full-time tour player hitting the road and living in hotel rooms for 20-plus weeks a year.

Thompson, however, has proved to be an exception. Enjoying a steady stream of sponsor invitations, she sure looks ready. Sunday's victory was another step forward in her maturation. At 12, she became the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open. In 2009, at 14, she played in her third U.S. Women's Open and made her first cut. The same year, she Monday-qualified for the Navistar and shot an opening-round 65 before finishing tied for 27th.

All that as an amateur.

After turning professional last summer, she finished tied for 10th in the U.S. Women's Open and tied for second in the Evian Masters. If she had been an LPGA member, her $319,831 earned in six events would have put her 27th on the yearlong money list.

So far this year, she has played eight events and made four cuts.

That track record is what convinced LPGA commissioner Mike Whan in July to relent slightly and inform Thompson she would be allowed to compete in this year's three-stage qualifying process and, if successful, receive full membership next season -- a year early.

Thompson played in the first stage last month and won by 10 shots. She was scheduled to compete in the second stage next week, but on Wednesday, her agent, Bobby Kreusler, announced his client had decided to withdraw.

As committed as Thompson is to joining the LPGA, she would not be withdrawing from the qualifying process if that was her only route.

Because an LPGA tournament victory typically earns the winner automatic yearlong exempt status, it seemed logical to many that Thompson would leave Sunday's event with the trophy in one hand and a newly printed LPGA membership card in the other.

But she didn't. Blame technicalities: The LPGA minimum-age rule prohibited it. She will need a tour waiver to receive the winner's exemption. To get the waiver, she will have to ask for it.

This week wasn't a good time. The Solheim Cup, the biennial competition between the United States and Europe, begins Friday in Ireland. The Thompson camp is more than smart enough not to detract from the tour's big week.

From the other side, the LPGA isn't interested in driving attention away from the Solheim Cup by creating competing news. So breathe deeply. The LPGA will grant Thompson membership because she has earned it.

And it's the smart thing to do.