(Reuters) - Teenage prodigy Alexis Thompson has the golfing world waiting with bated breath in anticipation of what she might achieve next after becoming the youngest winner on the LPGA Tour.
The 16-year-old American triumphed by five shots at the Navistar LPGA Classic in Alabama on Sunday, eclipsing the earlier achievements of Marlene Hagge and Paula Creamer on the U.S. women's circuit.
Hagge was 18 years and 14 days when she won the 1952 Sarasota Open, an 18-hole event, while Creamer was 18 years, nine months and 17 days when she clinched the four-round Sybase Classic in 2005.
What made Thompson's breakthrough especially impressive was that it came just eight months after she was denied the chance to play more frequently on the LPGA Tour through sponsors' invitations.
She had petitioned the Tour for 'limited membership' and a doubling in sponsor exemptions from six to 12 but that request was turned down by commissioner Mike Whan after "careful consideration."
There is an 18-year-old age requirement for Tour membership.
Whan had to balance Thompson's petition against the needs of the Tour's rank-and-file players, many of whom now struggle to compete in as many as 12 events each season because of limited fields and the economic downturn.
There are only 25 events on this year's schedule, with 13 of them held outside the United States. The 2008 LPGA Tour comprised 34 events.
While Thompson put the gloss on a life-long dream by winning her first LPGA title, she did not want to think too far ahead about her career plans.
"I'm still in high school," said the teenager, whose petition to compete in the LPGA's qualifying school was granted earlier this year. "One more year left, so I'm definitely finishing high school.
"As for college, I haven't even thought of it. It's always there, so I can definitely always do the courses."
Thompson, who as a 12-year-old became the youngest player to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open, was left almost speechless after winning her maiden LPGA victory by five shots over compatriot Tiffany Joh.
"I can't even describe the feelings that were going through my head," she said. "It's been an amazing experience for me.
"It's been my dream my whole life just to play out here, so getting a win right now, I can't describe the feelings......"
Thompson, whose oldest brother Nicholas is a former PGA Tour player, made her professional debut in June last year at the ShopRite LPGA Classic where she missed the cut.
The following month she tied for 10th in the U.S. Women's Open at Oakmont before producing her best finish of the season two weeks later with a tie for second at the Evian Masters in France.
(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Atlanta; Editing by Peter Rutherford)