Auburn senior Cydney Clanton and Alexis Thompson were teammates last June, playing for the United States in the Curtis Cup. While surely they continue to have a close bond, they may well have conflicting interests that will need to be addressed in the coming weeks. Let me attempt to explain ...
At just 15, Thompson is still not quite ready to be a full-time member on the LPGA Tour, a point she acknowledges. Yet her considerable golfing talents—she earned more than $300,000 playing in five LPGA events last summer after turning pro in June—are such that she would like to be able to play more than just the six events that non-members are allowed to compete in via sponsor's exemptions in a given year. So, Thompson and her agent, Bobby Kreusler of Blue Giraffe Sports, have filed a petition with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan not to seek a waiver for the tour's age-minimum for membership, but to be allowed twice the number of sponsor's exemptions (12 rather than six).
At first glance, it has upset some current LPGA Tour pros, notably Cristie Kerr and Angela Stanford, who want to protect current LPGA members who might be searching for sponsor's exemptions themselves to get into events. With the LPGA schedule likely to be thin on tournaments again in 2011, sponsor's exemptions are valuable because they're scarce.
Thompson and Kreusler, however, see it as a novel approach to the decade-old question of how to handle teen prodigies and tour membership. Kreusler cites how the women's tennis tour offers a graduate number of playing opportunities for young women, depending on their age, and suggests that it could be a model for how golf can handle the teen prodigy conundrum.
The problem? Well, as I mentioned in today's edition of Golf World Monday, what if you aren't a young phenom, but just a maturing playing who also would like a break at playing pro golf? What if you're, say Clanton, an All-American in college who will turn pro after finishing up her four-year career at Auburn in May? You, too, would like to compete in LPGA events this summer, but will need to get sponsor's exemptions to do so. So Clanton and Thompson will most likely be "fighting" to get exemptions into the same handful of events played in the U.S. this summer.
The issue facing Whan is how to weigh the marketability of Thompson playing the LPGA Tour on a more regular basis, with the potential harm her receiving additional exemptions might have on current and future LPGA Tour members. Like my colleague, Bill Fields noted to me while down covering the LPGA Tour Championship this past week, it becomes another classic case of star treatment v. rank-and-file survival.