How Lexi Thompson’s surprising PGA Tour invitation came to be

Two weeks ago, even Lexi Thompson didn’t know a PGA Tour invite was coming. Now, she’s set to become the seventh woman to make a Tour start.

The post How Lexi Thompson’s surprising PGA Tour invitation came to be appeared first on Golf.

Two weeks ago, even Lexi Thompson didn’t know a PGA Tour invite was coming. Now, she’s set to become the seventh woman to make a Tour start.

The post How Lexi Thompson’s surprising PGA Tour invitation came to be appeared first on Golf.

When Peter Malnati, a thoughtful and active PGA Tour member who serves as a player director on the Tour’s policy board, last week characterized Lexi Thompson’s forthcoming PGA Tour appearance as a “gimmick,” he didn’t mean it in a demeaning or spiteful way. That much was clear by the very next sentence out of Malnati’s mouth: “I shouldn’t have said that.”

Malnati’s larger point about the invitation the Las Vegas-based Shriners Children’s Open extended to Thompson: Yes, these might be uncertain times for fall events on the still-evolving Tour calendar, but as fans start to better understand that tournaments this time of year now determine the fate of many players’ Tour status, drama, intrigue and interest should organically follow.     

“I’m pretty sure that the fall is going to be a blockbuster hit,” Malnati said. “I think it’s going to be very successful. But these tournaments, they don’t know yet.”

Whether or not that turns out to be true, in the short-term tournaments such as the Sanderson Farms Championship, Butterfield Bermuda Championship, RSM Classic and, yes, the Shriners have been continuing to fight for attention and try to establish identities. For the Shriners this year, that meant getting creative and extending an invitation to Thompson, an LPGA star who has top-10 finishes in her last two starts but largely has had an underwhelming season, missing eight cuts in 13 stroke-play appearances.

This isn’t the first time a female player will tee it up on the PGA Tour — six other women have done so — but it might be the most speedily arranged of those exemptions.

The idea surfaced on a phone call Shriners executive director Patrick Lindsey had less than two weeks ago with Thompson’s agent, Brett Falker, with whom Lindsey already had a working relationship. Lindsey hadn’t been seeking an LPGA player to play in his event, but as it happened, Thompson was scheduled to be in Vegas during Shriners week anyway for a shoot with one of her sponsors, Cobra Puma. The wheels began turning, and Lindsey and Falker started discussing the idea of Thompson joining the field at TPC Summerlin.

That what if quickly turned into one of the event’s seven sponsor invites, which the event extended to Thompson on Oct. 1.  “It was basically an automatic yes,” Thompson said earlier this week. “I did have plans this weekend, but they moved to next week now.” Thompson added of the invite, “It was kind of surreal.”

Five days later, the Shriners announced that Thompson was in the field.

Come Thursday afternoon local time in Vegas, Thompson will become the third member of her family to have played on Tour, joining her older brothers Nick and Curtis. Lindsey described Thompson’s start as a “nice circle to complete, especially for her parents,” and also “an opportunity for Lexi to complete this lifelong dream to play in a PGA Tour event.”

That’s the micro-benefit. The macro is, of course, the impact Thompson’s presence will have on extending the reach of a smaller-market tournament competing with Week 6 of the NFL.

“The amount of local and national press has dramatically increased,” Lindsey said. “That’s because of Lexi, and that’s great because we’re able to tell more stories of the amazing work that Shriners does.”

Lexi Thompson is making her PGA Tour debut this week.

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Thompson will also help draw more viewers to the Golf Channel telecasts of the first two rounds, and, in the dream scenario in which she makes the cut, the third and fourth rounds. Of Shriners Children’s, Lindsey said, “Just like any PGA Tour sponsor, eyes on the broadcast is really important, and we knew that Lexi would [help accomplish that].”

The downside to Thompson’s appearance, some Tour players would tell you — especially those players who are fighting for their livelihoods — is that she is taking a spot that might otherwise go to player a who desperately needs a start this week. This isn’t a new beef, of course. There’s always grumbling anytime a celebrity accepts a PGA Tour or Korn Ferry invite, as have the likes of Tony Romo, Steph Curry and Jerry Rice. Lindsey understands that resentment but believes the pros far outweigh any cons.   

“We always want to make sure that we are doing the right things for players and that we are talking to players and agents,” he said. “We want to make sure that we our field is as strong as possible all the time.”

But Lindsey added: “I can’t sit here and say my thoughts on how other players would react [to Thompson’s exemption] was a huge consideration — it was probably a little bit of a consideration — because at the end of the day, I think having Lexi in the field and on the broadcast, it’s only going to bring more eyes to the broadcast, which will bring more eyes to the golfers who are here and the golfers’ sponsors that are on their shirts and hats and bags. Everyone should be looking at this from a very positive standpoint, because we’re bringing more eyes to the players, Shriners, the city, the golf course, all of it.”

In Lindsey’s many interactions with players so far this week — on the range, during the pro-am — he said he has received no gripes or blowback.

Does Thompson’s result matter this week? It could, sure.

If she struggles to keep up and misses the cut by a wide margin, she’ll still have accomplished her goal of playing on Tour and no doubt have inspired a legion of young players who look up to her. If she makes the cut, it’ll be one of the great sports stories of the year.

For that to happen, Thompson will, perhaps above all, need to control her nerves. When Brittany Lincicome played in the Barbasol Championship five years ago, she opened with a 77 that included double-bogies on two of the par-3s. In the second round, when she said she felt far less jittery, Lincicome shot a 71 that included an eagle and a stretch of three consecutive birdies. (Two rounds of 71 would have left her just two shots above the cutline.)

“I’ve been under the microscope I guess since I was 12 years old,” Thompson said. “You just have to block out everything and believe in yourself and go after what you want. No added pressure. That’s what I want. I want to have women support me, and me support them. That’s what it’s all about.”

Thompson’s most obvious disadvantage will be her length. Though she’s long by LPGA standards, her 270-yard driving average in 2023 would rank last, albeit by just a couple of yards, on the PGA Tour. TPC Summerlin can play up to 7,255 yards, or 817 yards longer than the official yardage at Thompson’s last LPGA start, the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Will Thompson’s inclusion in the field in any way influence the TPC Summerlin course setup? Lindsey is not responsible for how the course will play but said: “I would say absolutely not. I think they are going to set up this golf course based on how the weather conditions are going to be. The golf course is in incredible shape, and I would imagine they would set it up the same whether there’s a female in the field or not.”  

One potential upside for Thompson: The Thursday forecast in Vegas calls for wind, which could benefit her lower ball flight.  

Whatever the conditions, Lindsey said, “I know she’s up for the challenge.”

The post How Lexi Thompson’s surprising PGA Tour invitation came to be appeared first on Golf.