• Alistair Tait

Popov takes one for posterity

Let’s just say Sophia Popov has taken one for the team. Too bad the team can’t repay the favour.

The LPGA has instituted some new rules which could easily be called Popov’s posterity plan.

The German penned the fairy tale story of 2020 when she won the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon. Many probably didn’t expect the world’s 304th ranked player to make the cut, let alone walk off with the title. Even when she entered the final round with three-shot lead, few would have backed her to hold her nerve under the pressure. She did more than that. She closed with a 3-under 68 to win by two shots.

What happened next qualifies as arguably the biggest kick in the teeth to any major champion in golf history. Instead of receiving the five-year LPGA Tour exemption that normally goes to major winners, Popov only got a two-year exemption because she wasn’t a full LPGA member, despite previously playing on the LPGA Tour. She also missed out on playing in the very next major, the ANA Inspiration.

As Guardian golf writer Ewan Murray put it so aptly:

“The aftermath of the 27 year old’s victory has been shrouded in the kind of bureaucratic piffle which turns people away from top-level sport. That fairy tale has been lashed with a hammer.”

Despite similar howls of protest from those who think golf was meant to be a fair game – Ian Poulter said it was “absolutely embarrassing” – LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan decided to play the role of Scrooge long before the Christmas season began. Unlike Scrooge, there was no moment of epiphany for Whan. He stuck steadfastly to LPGA rules. Popov missed both the ANA and the end of season CME Group Championship as a result.

At least the outgoing commissioner has helped overturn those rules so no player in future has to go through what Popov experienced, as former colleague Beth Ann Nichols reveals on Golfweek.com

Henceforth, any player who wins a major who isn’t an LPGA member will get the five-year exemption many feel Popov should have received. Moreover, said winner will receive official points and money from that victory if she takes up LPGA membership. Popov took up membership, but the $675,000 she won at Royal Troon, and points that should have gone with that victory, didn’t count on the LPGA money list. She consequently missed the CME Group Tour Championship, the LPGA’s season-ending finale.

So far so good, but if you were hoping Whan would make one of his last acts as outgoing commissioner a retroactive present to Popov by handing her the five-year exemption for her remarkable win, then sorry to burst your bubble. He didn’t. It might be the only blemish on Whan's tenure as LPGA boss.

I suppose it’s better later than never. It still doesn’t change the fact Popov was treated appallingly last year, and all because of a technicality.

#JustSaying: “Golf always makes me so damned angry.” King George V


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