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  • 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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Dec 19, 2020


We can agree to disagree. It's allowed. It's a free world.

Whichever way you cut it, Popov has been treated appallingly this year. From not getting the 5-year exemption, to the ANA snub to not playing in a season finale that's supposed to be for the LPGA Tour's best players.

Imagine the howls of protest from Seattle to Miami, New York to LA, if a Lexi or a Michelle had gone through the same experience. It would have been overwhelming. I wonder how Whan and the LPGA would have acted? We'll never know.

Incidentally, didn't Lexi get a free pass this year for an incident in the Women's Open Championship, or did myself and many others just imagine it?


Dec 18, 2020

Actually I don't believe the Lexi thing for a second. Not. One.

There seems to be an underlying belief in Europe that the LPGA will do whatever it must to favor North Americans while disfavoring other internationals. The LPGA since Whan came aboard has demonstrated time and time again that's simply not the case. Especially considering Popov has American citizenship too and her win was extremely popular here as well.

IMO Whan is handling this 100% correct. First by not caving in to the over the top personally insulting BS namecalling from some of the [mostly] European media (like Corrigan), second by pledging he's going to push for a rule change on this issue going forward.

So we'll just have…


Dec 18, 2020

The comparison is entirely apropos. You know as well as I do Whan would have moved heaven and earth to get a Lexi Thompson or a Michelle Wie into the field if they had been a similar situation. I don't blame Gulbis or CME, but the LPGA. Its final tournament should be for the year's best players. Popov has clearly been that. Wiser heads should have banged together to come up with a way to get her in the field.


Dec 18, 2020

With all due respect Alistair... The comparison of LPGA age waivers to the Popov situation seems a bit of a false equivalency.

The ability of under-18 players to apply for an LPGA age waiver is actually part of the LPGA rules and is a usual and customary practice and process (Even though the majority of those waivers are denied).

There is no allowance for any type of waiver process in the Popov situation. Nor should there be IMO.

But that's said... I would hope the LPGA would reexamine this rule and consider amendment going forward, perhaps similar to the PGAT.

The PGAT does allow the retroactive awarding of yearly points for any player who wins a tournament EXCEPT for points…

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