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  • Alistair Tait

LPGA scores Popov own goal

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

So major championships are for the best players are they? Aye right, as we say in Scotland. A look at this week’s ANA Inspiration tells you otherwise.

If my first sentence was true then AIG Women's Open champion Sophia Popov would be playing in Palm Springs this week instead of kicking her heels at home in Arizona.

Once again, golf officialdom, this time the LPGA, proves that when it comes to common sense and doing the right thing, our game has a lot of catching up to do.

Imagine the same thing happening in any other sport. If a fairy tale story like Popov’s happened, you can bet most other sports would have done their utmost to cash in on. Not the LPGA. They’ve got our stupid rules and regulations and they can’t be changed. Oh no. Gotta stick to the regulations. No exceptions, even for major winners, the latest major winner.

If only former Sunshine Tour commissioner Louis Martin was in charge of the LPGA. If so, Popov would be in Palm Springs this week.

Justin Rose defeated Adam Scott to win the 2002 dunhill championship in South Africa. It was a thrilling duel between two rising stars. Unfortunately, Rose wasn't in the following week's South African Open at East London. Martin made a few calls behind the scenes to make sure Rose got in the field. Martin had the nous to know Rose could bring value to South Africa's national championship and made it happen.

Yet all we get from LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is a head in the sand, "rules are rules" attitude.

Kudos to Popov. While players of the status of Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Eddie Pepperell, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood and others have lambasted the LPGA for its intransigence, Popov has shown her professionalism by trying to stay level headed. She hasn’t lashed out at her treatment, as other might have. However, she makes a good point when she says:

“I truly believe that a major champion is a major champion,” said Popov, “regardless of what status you came into the tournament with. It should be rewarded the same.”

One of those rewards should be playing in the very next major.

Finding those who agree with Whan's decision isn’t easy. He's completely out of step with public opinion on this issue, yet refuses to budge.

However, don’t take my word for it. Take the word of former Golfweek colleague Beth Ann Nichols. I might be a wee bit biased inasmuch as Beth Ann is a close friend, but when it comes to knowledge of the LPGA and women’s golf, there’s no better expert. She isn't one to spout off for the sake of spouting off. So it pays to listen when Nichols writes.

In a strongly worded column, Nichols speaks for the vast majority of golf fans when she says:

It’s a complete whiff by the tour. Popov will be the most talked-about player who isn’t at the blistering Dinah Shore Tournament Course, and that includes the defending champion and No. 1-ranked Jin Young Ko.”

Call it an own goal for Whan and the LPGA. As Nichols points out, it’s not as if the ANA is a crowded event.

“There was plenty of room for Popov in the field. Plenty of players chose to skip this year’s ANA due to COVID-19, including former major winners So Yeon Ryu, Jeong Eun Lee6, Hyo Joo Kim, Shanshan Feng and Ko.”

There’s even more room now that Charley Hull has had to withdraw after testing positive for coronavirus.

Nichols nails the essence of this fiasco when she notes:

“The world needs more Popov stories in these uncertain times. A bigger picture perspective would’ve served the tour well here.”
“Baffling rules and inflexibility robbed Popov from making her debut in the ANA Inspiration. That robbed the rest of us too.”
“It didn’t have to be this way.”

Spot on. Simple common sense – dare I say equity? – should’ve come into play.

#JustSaying: This story is absolutely embarrassing to the @LPGA and quite frankly embarrassing to the game of golf. Somebody wake up and figure this out. To the best story in golf for a very long time to the worst story in a few days. @SophiaCPopov” Ian Poulter

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