• Alistair Tait

Yet another LPGA Popov own goal


Too bad Louis Martin isn’t the LPGA commissioner. Sophia Popov would probably be playing in this week’s CME Group Tour Championship if he was.


Martin was Sunshine Tour commissioner in 2001 when Adam Scott held off Justin Rose down the stretch to win the dunhill championship at Houghton Golf Club in Johannesburg. Rose wasn’t in the following week’s Mercedes-Benz South African Open at East London Golf Club. The field was full.


Martin soon took care of that.


The commissioner had a quiet word with one of the sponsor’s invitations, promising him he’d look after him for future tournaments. Presto! Rose was in the tournament.


Martin was open and honest when asked about the jiggery pokery to get Rose in the field. Martin said:

“After his performance last week, I wanted him in the tournament. The sponsors wanted him in the tournament, too. So I made sure that happened. I make no apology for it.”

Martin rightly wanted the best players in the South African Open. If only LPGA commissioner Mike Whan had that attitude then Popov would be playing in the LPGA season finale. Isn’t the CME Group Tour Championship supposed to feature the LPGA’s best players of the year?


I won’t go into detail about why Popov isn’t in the field other than to say she’s excluded on a technicality, even though the LPGA’s season finale has two sponsor’s exemption spots for Sarah Kemp, a CME Group Ambassador, and Natalie Gulbis.


Remember her?


Gulbis is currently ranked outside the top 1500 on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings. Popov is the world’s 26th best player. Gulbis has played 26 LPGA tournaments in three years and made ONE cut. But she’s good friends with the CME Group CEO.


For different sides of the argument read former Golfweek colleague Eamon Lynch who says Popov’s exclusion is her own fault. For the opposing view, read Jamie Corrigan’s Telegraph article in which he excoriates the LPGA, holding nothing back for Whan. Jamie writes:

“How does this help women’s golf and what does it say about the integrity of the female game? Whan might well reflect on this and eventually realise it was his pigheadedness in the first place that has allowed such a grotesque scenario to play out.

Popov will have to sit on her couch in Naples, Florida, and watch a tournament being played in …. Naples, Florida. It’s not the first time Popov has been kicked in the teeth. Her fairly-tale win in the AIG Women’s Open Championship didn’t get her a spot in the next major, the ANA Inspiration. Whan and the LPGA stuck steadfastly to the rules then and they’re sticking pigheadedly to them now.


Popov must feel as if the letter L for loser is painted on her forehead. I can’t for the life of me see why Whan and the LPGA wouldn’t want a major winner and one of the world’s best player in its final tournament of the season.


Lynch writes:

“The rules don’t cease to be the rules simply because a competitor and their social media supporters feel they are being treated unfairly.”

Yet there are many examples of rules being waived to do the right thing. Read my It’s never wrong to do the right thing blog for a plethora of instances when authorities overrode “technicalities’ to do the right thing. Here’s one paragraph from that blog relevant to Popov’s current situation.

“Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson are clear examples of the LPGA amending its rules. Both were too young to play on the LPGA Tour when they burst on the scene as precocious teenagers, yet the LPGA saw fit to make exceptions to allow them to take up membership before their 18th birthday.”

Why was it okay for the LPGA to amend its rules on those occasions but can’t see fit to do the right thing in Popov’s case? I posed a question on Twitter yesterday that drew a strong response. I tweeted:

“Would the rules that prevent @SophiaCPopov from playing in the CME be applied so rigorously if, say, a Lexi Thompson or a Michelle Wie was in a similar situation?”

You can imagine the response from many who were pretty sure Whan might have moved heaven and earth to get either player into the end of season finale.


Call it another LPGA own goal. Still, everything will be fine when Gulbis gets her first victory since the 2007 Evian Masters, her only LPGA win.


#JustSaying: “I don’t believe this is a sport that ruins lives. It just ruins dreams.” Mary Harris


Photograph courtesy of the Ladies European Tour

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