Young Alexis Thompson is paying for the Michelle Wie controversy. The organisers of the Ricoh Women's British Open yesterday admitted that the furore which greeted the Hawaiian's invite five years ago was instrumental in them denying the game's latest 15-year-old sensation from trying to qualify for this week's major at Birkdale.
Thompson - who on Sunday produced one of the greatest performances by a schoolgirl when finishing runner-up in the Evian Masters, an event featuring all the world's top players - was refused entry to yesterday's qualifier at Hillside from which 17 emerged. Instead, she was flying from France back to America and according to a spokesman for her management company was "upset at not having a shot at qualifying for such a great competition".
Shona Malcolm, the chief executive of the Ladies Golf Union, insisted there was nothing the governing body could do to accommodate Thompson and revealed it was the preferential treatment of Wie which led to them adopting strict criteria. When Wie was 15 she received a "special exemption" into the Women's British Open, ironically held at Birkdale, where she was to finish third. "We have tightened up our regulations since then because of other players' criticisms over that exemption," said Malcolm.
Many will support with the LGU's hard-line, but Thompson's situation is different from her starlet predecessor. As a member of the US Curtis Cup team, Thompson received an exemption into final qualifying, but, under their rules, the LGU rescinded it when she turned pro six weeks ago. That meant her only possible route was through the first stages of qualifying.
"The problem was they clashed with the US Women's Open so there was no chance of Lexi making it," said the management spokesman. "After she finished 10th at the US Open we made repeated requests to the LGU to allow her into final qualifying. They refused. Lexi is obviously disappointed. There was basically no path into Birkdale. All she wanted was the chance to try to qualify."
Her loss does seem the tournament's loss, particularly as the women's game is currently so desperate for superstars. As a 12-year-old Thompson became the youngest ever to qualify for the US Women's Open and she has clearly built on this potential. The top-10 finish in her first professional major and her one-shot defeat in Evians-les-Bains behind the world No 1 Jiyai Shin took her earnings to more than £200,0000 for a month's "work".
Malcolm denied the LGU, an amateur body, has effectively punished Thompson for turning professional. "Not at all," she said. "I'm sure she has many Women's British Opens in front of her."