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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Problem with Lexi

What to do with Lexi -- that is the problem, isn't it? For most of us it's pretty simple. Let me sum it up for you, in case you've been living under a rock lately.

Say 'hi

Lexi's only 16 -- she'll be 17 in February -- but she's already been given permission to qualify for the LPGA through Q-School. In the first round of Q-School she blitzed the field, winning by 10 shots. Sunday she won the Navistar LPGA Classic, which would make her eligible for instant Tour membership if she were 18. She made history by becoming the youngest woman to win an LPGA tournament by nearly 2 years. In doing so she beat each of the Top 5 in the Rolex Rankings by at least 12 shots. Her closest Top 10 competition was Stacy Lewis, who just made the #10 spot this week and had already remarked that the LPGA wasn't for players as young as Lexi. Lexi calmly beat her by 8 shots. (Stacy's comment was less tactful, so I won't repeat it. I wonder if she feels that way now.)

But Lexi didn't get her Tour card Sunday. Instead, a questionably-worded release seemed to indicate that Lexi had been granted permission to get her card via Q-School and that she would have to get it that way. Later statements have indicated that Michael Whan won't be that harsh and that he's awaiting a petition from Lexi to be granted Tour membership. But that just added fuel to the fire. She's already beat the LPGA's best, and it wasn't a squeaker either. Why shouldn't she get her card right now?

Lexi has stolen the thunder of both the Solheim Cup and the FedExCup, and she's even taken some headline space from the NFL. Not bad for a 16-year-old!

And that's the problem. Lexi's still only 16. That raises problems that, if they're not handled properly, the LPGA fears will backfire on them down the road.

In this New York Times article Whan spoke about those problems. Karen Crouse wrote that:
"Whan has made it clear he is philosophically opposed to youngsters forsaking their high school and college educations to pursue full time a sport in which athletes often continue improving into their 20s and 30s and even 40s."
She also notes his willingness to consider each player on a case-by-case basis, as evidenced by the Q-School ruling.

John Feinstein even seemed to agree with Whan to an extent, because he feels Whan is trying to protect Lexi from a "too much, too fast" situation. Michelle Wie is always quoted as the example here, but Feinstein does have a point. The public's hunger for the next big thing can put tremendous pressure on any player, let alone a 16-year-old. Whan certainly cares about that, as well as the possibility of "burnout" for an up-and-coming star who could really spark the LPGA's future.

Whan also has to consider possible backlash from players who might be, shall we say, less than welcoming to a young player like Lexi. While Stacy Lewis -- who is a self-admitted traditionalist -- may have only meant that the rules concerning age shouldn't be bent, there may be those who will be outright hostile to a hot young player who's going to make the competition tougher. Especially when the rules would have kept her off the Tour for another year or two.

And of course there's Whan's previously-mentioned desire to avoid setting a precedent. Lexi is an anomaly, the type of player who only comes along once every few years. Almost every young player who's been successful as an amateur is going to think that she is that player. When Whan and the LPGA have to tell those players that they aren't as good as they think, they're going to have a lot of angry players... and parents.

All of these things are surely playing into Michael Whan's decision. And I don't think he's having any difficulty at all with his decision. Rather, the difficulty comes in how that decision is publicly explained.

Personally, I think Lexi should get her card. She's old enough to have a driver's license -- which puts people's lives in her hands -- and to hold down a job, which is an adequate description of playing golf. Especially at the level Lexi plays! She's proven she can stand with the best -- she did, after all, win by a large margin. What more does she have to prove?

And I think Whan agrees with me. Bear in mind that he gave her the special permission to go to Q-School. I suspect he'll grant her petition for Tour membership but make her wait until 2012 to claim it. That's when she could have claimed a card won through Q-School, and it will put her only a year short of the normal age limit. He'll hope that minimizes the possible bad feelings and future petition problems from other young players.

Whan's decision is expected next week, after the Solheim Cup, although the word "decision" is questionable. I'm not sure he has any real choice. In fact, it's not even a real question. Not only does Lexi have a legitimate claim to LPGA membership, but the LPGA needs her. The real problem will be how the LPGA handles the consequences of the decision they almost have to make.

The picture came from this story.


  1. I think the commissioner should have been waiting on the 18th hole with her membership card in hand.

  2. I agree. But I think they're a bit too worried about how they'll deal with other young players, and that's interfering with what should be fairly straightforward decisions.

  3. According to this Waggle Room post:

    the Tour bylaws require Lexi to file a petition for membership before she can be given a card. It's a requirement based on her age, and Whan doesn't have the authority to overrule it.

    The post also says that Lexi will not be playing the 2nd stage of Q-School. That sounds as if the talks with the LPGA are going in Lexi's favor.

  4. She's amazing. I have to admit, I don't watch the LPGA Tour as much as the men's tours, but she had me glued to the television all weekend. Good golf is good golf, and now that she has proven that she can win at this level, she should be allowed to get her card.

    If she had me watching, I'm sure I wasn't the only one. Allowing her to play will only attract more attention to an organization that really needs it.

    The Doctor and I played a round on Monday and she was all we were talking about. I say...Let her play! Let her play! Let her play!