(Reuters) - Teenage prodigy Alexis Thompson will compete full-time on the LPGA Tour next year after her petition for membership was approved by the LPGA on Friday.
The 16-year-old American, who is now ranked 44th in the world, became the youngest winner ever on the U.S. circuit earlier this month and is widely viewed as one of the game's most exciting prospects.
There is an 18-year-old age requirement for Tour membership but the LPGA agreed to bend the rules for her.
"Lexi Thompson is a unique talent who has continued to grow, develop and mature both on and off the golf course since turning professional in 2010," LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement.
"Her overall performance, most recently demonstrated by her win at the Navistar LPGA Classic, has currently placed her among the top 50 in the world."
Thomson won the Navistar LPGA Classic in Alabama by five shots, 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 Whan after "careful consideration."
That stance has since been reversed by the LPGA.
"Her ability to handle the success and disappointment inherent to this game testifies to a level of maturity that I believe makes her capable of handling the emotional rigors of professional golf," Whan said.
"Therefore, effective at the start of our 2012 season, Lexi will officially become a member of the LPGA Tour."
Thompson, whose oldest brother Nicholas has competed on the PGA Tour, 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 Los Angeles; Editing by Julian Linden)