Lexi Thompson May Have Proven More Than She Knows
Upon hearing the news and the various storylines leading up to what became an expected verdict today for Lexi Thompson, a few angles crept into my mind regarding Lexi and what her story will likely mean to not only the LPGA TOUR, but professional sports in general. In addition, numerous questions come to mind regarding this decision and how LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan's announcement relates to other arenas of professional sport. Could there be a downside to this verdict?
Thanks to a groundbreaking decision handed down by commissioner Whan this afternoon, 16-year old golfer Lexi Thompson will officially become an LPGA-card carrying professional golfer as of February 2012. In doing so, Thompson will become (by far) the youngest professional player on the LPGA in 44 years.
First, allow me to place the Lexi Thompson situation into perspective: she will not be the youngest player in LPGA history. As Jeff Shain of the Sun Sentinel writes, that honor will forever be reserved for Beverly Klass, who played four events in 1967 as a 10-year-old pro. This prompted the LPGA to amend its bylaws the following year to only allow females over the age of 18 to compete on tour as professionals. In addition, players were allowed a waiver to play in events if they were younger than 18, which had to be approved by the commissioner in office. Stars such as Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer, and others have taken advantage of this waiver addendum in the months leading up to their 18th birthday.
What is interesting, however, is determining where Thompson's situation fits in a time when other professional sports - namely the National Football League and National Basketball Association - have other issues to deal with on what seems to be a semi-regular basis. Lock-outs, owner/player relations, and financial differences plague these associations to the point where millionaires are arguing with millionaires about who gets the bigger piece of the pie. While both the NFL and NBA are incredibly different sports from professional golf, the most obvious differing factor rests in one component: a player's union.
In addition to helping regulate player contracts, financial considerations and other factors, the union is also responsible for protecting the rights and well-being of the player. Since professional golfers are essentially independent contractors and are not asked to join a union, these athletes are left to fend for themselves when he or she feels a wrong-doing or injustice has taken place. In the case of Thompson, she, her agent and family chose to petition commissioner Whan not for an injustice, but instead for her right to compete at the professional level.
Player unions are also responsible for another major component: protecting the best interests of its members. For example, the NFL recently agreed to shortened practice sessions during the week leading up to games in an effort to limit the risk of needless player injuries. While this decision forces coaches and players to adjust their work routines throughout a regular season week, ultimately it will protect the health and well-being of the player.
While there is obviously no comparison to the risk of injury between a football player and professional golfer, Thompson's well-being is still a question that a "golfers' union" would have undoubtedly considered in her petition to become a professional. Numerous LPGA players and pundits have already acknowledged the uncanny maturity that Thompson has shown in various situations (Whan even mentioned this during his press conference); however, that doesn't change the fact that she is still a minor. She is still legally under the care and direction of her parents/guardians.
The obvious counterpoint? NBA players are able to play straight out of high school, many of whom entering the league at the tender age of 17. Major League Baseball players can also be drafted while in high school, albeit for the purpose of then playing in a minor league system. The NFL, however, prohibits high school athletes from being considered for its draft. Then again, all three of these sports have unions.
In that regard, other questions arise. Thompson has already competed in professional golf events in the past and has shown a great deal of success along with disappointment and bad play. What originally may have appeared as a "oh, that's nice" draw to the LPGA (a 14 year-old playing with women twice her age? Sure; I'll tune in) catapulted into a pleasant surprise: Lexi actually won a professional tournament.
A question for all parents out there: what is the one thing that any child or teenager needs to know before attempting to achieve the impossible? That nothing is impossible, of course. Lexi saw this, experienced it firsthand, and decided to run with it.
The result? A sense of "why?" Why couldn't she become a professional golfer? She just showed the world that not only does she have the ability to play at the highest level, but to win at that level. Lexi then experienced another feeling that many teens know rather well: a sense of entitlement.
That phrase - "sense of entitlement" - certainly carries a negative connotation, doesn't it? For some people, it may suggest that the individual believes he or she deserves something they are not really meant to have. For others, however, it may actually represent a fact: perhaps the individual is entitled to something more.
By petitioning the LPGA, Lexi Thompson took a risk. A huge risk. What happens if she really can't cut it on tour? Was her professional victory a fluke; a type of beginner's luck? How often will she need to win in order to silence those who may feel that rules are established for a reason, young lady?
These questions, and others like them, can only be answered by Lexi. I have a feeling she will have no problem doing exactly that.