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  • Alistair Tait

Equity would have prevented Gulbis gaffe

Natalie Gulbis has returned scores of 77, 78 and 77 through the first three rounds of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida. She sits alone in 72nd spot. Dead last.

Sophia Popov is level par sitting on her couch across town.

Popov isn’t in the championship because the LPGA Tour is sticking rigidly to its rules. Popov, the world’s 26th best player, hasn’t made the LPGA season finale based on technicalities even though she deserves to be there. Gulbis, who has no world ranking because she’s made just one cut in three years, is in the field because she happens to be friends with the head of the CME Group.

So much for equity.

This isn’t a blog to slam Natalie Gulbis. Far from it. She’s been invited to play in the tournament and she’s perfectly right to turn up and play even if she’s clearly out of her depth.

I know what you’re thinking: she’s just three shots behind Brittany Lang, and four behind Bianca Pagdanganan. They haven’t exactly been impressive. True, but there’s a huge difference: they’ve earned their right to play in the tournament. They didn’t get into the field on a nod and a wink.

I don’t blame the CME Group, either. I’ve always said if sponsors are given exemptions then they can invite whoever the hell they like. Pretty sure if I was stumping up millions of dollars to stage a tournament I’d want to invite whoever I liked, too.

This game is littered with players who received sponsors’ exemptions that caused consternation. Paige Spiranac was handed one for the 2015 Dubai Masters on the Ladies European Tour much to the chagrin of many in the game, especially players struggling to make ends meet who would have loved the invite themselves.

Spiranac shot rounds of 77 and 79 to miss the cut. She was pilloried, unfairly as far as I’m concerned, afterwards.

Former European Tour chief executive once called Michelle Wie’s participation in men’s tournaments a “stunt.” O’Grady had to change his tune when watch company Omega decided to offer her an invite to the European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre. It was a disaster.

Wie returned scores of 78 and 79 for a 15-over-par 157 to miss the cut by miles. She was dead last after 36 holes, the 152nd player in a field of 152.

“Some things are worth trying once but we will need to take time to evaluate this issue,” O’Grady said.

Hopefully the LPGA will do just that in relation to this year’s CME Group Tour Championship. Allowing a situation in which an unranked player can compete against the year’s elite while someone who deserves to play sits it out is hard to justify.

Whichever way you look at it, Popov has been treated unfairly this season. From not getting the five-year LPGA exemption other AIG Women’s Open winners would have received, to the ANA Inspiration snub, to being ruled out of the final event of the LPGA season while a player long past her best gets to play. It’s just not right.

Many argue the LPGA has done the right thing by adhering rigidly to its rules. I respect that view. I feel otherwise. I’m a big believer in that old-fashioned word that once had far more bearing in golf: equity.

Fairness used to be enshrined in our game. Old Rule II, subsection 4 read:

“If any point in dispute be not covered by the Rules or Local Rules, the decision shall be made in accordance with equity.”

Too bad the LPGA didn’t bear equity in mind when it made its Gulbis gaffe.

#JustSaying: “Do the right thing. If you don’t know how to do the right thing, then use the rules.” John Glover

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