LPGA's new policies will work to avoid controversies Sophia Popov faced in 2020 after her Women's British Open win
Remember when Sophia Popov won the AIG Women’s British Open? Of course you do. The non-LPGA member’s victory was one of the best stories to come out of the 2020 season. But then remember when she wasn’t in the field at the next major, the ANA Inspiration? You probably remember that, too, because a lot of people felt like that didn’t make sense. And then when she wasn’t in the field at the tour’s final event of the season, the CME Group Tour Championship? That also baffled many.
During a player meeting on Monday, first reported by Golfweek and confirmed by Golf Digest, the LPGA Tour announced policy changes that will eliminate the chance of the Popov situation repeating itself.
Beginning this year, if a non-member wins a major she’ll get the full five-year tour membership instead of the two years received by Popov and A. Lim Kim, also a non-member when she who won the U.S. Women's Open in December. Another change is that if a non-member wins and accepts LPGA membership immediately, she will be allowed to play in the next scheduled tournament. Last year, Popov wasn’t eligible to compete in the Arkansas event the week after the Women’s British Open, despite member winners automatically qualifying for the next tournament after their win.
The final policy change that would’ve helped Popov is points-related. If a non-member wins and immediately accepts tour membership, her points from that victory and the money earned will be official.
Popov didn’t get into the ANA Inspiration because of a timing issue created by the pandemic. Usually played in the spring, the ANA was moved to September. The field was set before the COVID-19 pandemic caused the date to be changed. Commissioner Mike Whan said that the field wasn’t going to change despite the tournament’s date being moved because he didn’t want anyone to be at risk of playing their way out of a major for which they'd already quallified. It’s a stance that likely few would have taken issue with if not for Popov's surprise victory. But she did win, and everyone from fans to PGA Tour players weren’t thrilled that the newest major champ wouldn’t have a chance to play the ANA weeks after her victory. Popov, 28, still gets five-year exemptions to all majors (and she can play the Women’s British Open until she’s 60), but her first ANA appearance will be in 2021. She was in the field at both of the other majors played in 2020—the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open.
As a member of the Symetra Tour when she won the Women's British Open, Popov didn’t earn points toward quailfying for the CME Group Tour Championship for her victory and the winner’s check she got was unofficial money. Had her money been official and she scored official points, she would’ve had a spot in the LPGA season finale. So, that’s two big events that were played without the tour’s newest star.
Whan, who has announced that this will be his last season as commisioner while the LPGA actively seeks his replacement, said last year he’d take a look at the policies in the offseason, and the new policies the tour shared with its players, and Golf Digest, prove that he and his team did just that.