Sophia Popov is currently ineligible for the next month’s ANA Inspiration – the latest women’s major – and the US Women’s Open in December due to the fields being set before her Women’s Open win.
Both Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter were amongst those who criticised the decision. Popov was only given exemption until the end of the 2021 campaign by the LPGA Tour, rather than the full five years. According to LPGA Tour commissioner, Mike Whan, it will not be fair to change the regulations mid-season and extend Sophia Popov’s exemption for winning the AIG Women’s Open.
She was world number 304 at the time. Popov (27) was playing on the second tier of women’s golf on the Symetra Tour in the United States. This means her exemption will only run through to the end of the 2021 season. Whan has confirmed the LPGA Tour will not be reviewing the regulations until the end of the season.
Both golfers Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter were among those to criticise the decision on social media. Tommy said on Twitter “As golfers we all dream of being a major champion. Sophia Popov, congratulations on such a special achievement!!
LPGA rule is stupid to say the least. The way you’re playing though you won’t have to worry about it”. Ian Poulter, also on Twitter, said “this story is absolutely embarrassing to the LPGA and quite frankly 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”. In a video on various LPGA social media channels, Whan said “You may not like the regulation and I’ll be the first to admit I’m going to think about that in the off-season, which is when we reassess all of our regulations.
And maybe we should feel differently about somebody from the Symetra Tour or the LET because it comes from an LPGA-run Tour, maybe we should feel differently about non-member wins at majors period, and I’ll definitely look at that.
“What I won’t do is change a regulation in the middle of the season; what I won’t do is change a regulation the Monday after an emotional win; what I won’t do is try to explain why I did that this year and I didn’t do it last year”.
"What I will do is look at that regulation long term. I will commit to that because I think that's a fair question, but I'm not going to do that in th middle of the year, not going to do that the Monday after - that's not the right way to run a sport, quite frankly not the fairest way to treat your athletes."
According to Whan golfers should know when they tee it up on Monday, what those wins earn and it shouldn't be changed on the Monday after they actually earn them. He admits his answers might not satisfy everyone but stands with his decision not to change Sophia Popov's exemption.