One measly bogey robs Open hero Popov of 5-year LPGA Tour exemption

John Craven
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One measly bogey robs Open hero Popov of 5-year LPGA Tour exemption

Sophia Popov kisses the trophy following victory in the final round at the 2020 AIG Women's Open at Royal Troon (Photo by Richard Heathcote/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

What a difference a shot makes.

You’ll remember 27-year-old Sophia Popov who shocked the world of golf last week when, as the 304th ranked player in women’s golf, the German claimed her maiden title and maiden Major win with victory at the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon.

What you won’t remember, however, is Popov making bogey at the final hole of her LPGA Q-School assignment last year that saw her miss out on her main tour card by a single stroke.

At the time it was obvious disappointment; Popov had held her card on the LPGA Tour for four years but found herself on the secondary Symetra Tour having to rebuild her career from the second division.

Yet, last Sunday, after Popov came out on top of a world class field representing 32 countries and featuring Major champions, Solheim Cup stars and home favourites, you would’ve thought she’d done just that.

Yes, her life will undoubtedly change because of her incredible success in Scotland, but her victory didn’t come with all the bonuses you’d expect to accompany a maiden major win.

Turns out, only LPGA Tour members receive the full five-year exemption that comes with a  Major victory. Popov was “just” a Symetra Tour player when she became the story of golf and showcased the women’s game in all its glory when holing the winning putt at The Open in Troon.

Now her story is one of frustration with the powers that be at LPGA Tour HQ refusing to bend on their stringent rulebook that states she’s only entitled to an exemption for the few remaining events of this season and the whole of the next.

“I definitely got a little bit frustrated about the whole thing,” Popov told GOLF.com who first picked up the story. “It’s tough because I feel like I deserve the full five years of exemption from the LPGA, but at the same time, I understand the regulations and the fact that they can’t change the rules for a certain player.”

“The only reason why I really feel this way is because I had already played so many seasons on the LPGA Tour. I felt like, really? Just because I finished one shot short of getting my status last year at Q-Series, you’re going to take away four of the years I should have gotten?”

Popov told GOLF.com that she and her manager have since been in touch with LPGA Tour officials but golf being golf, the suits seem to be unwavering in their stance behind the archaic two-tiered rule.

“It’s a tough situation because I know they’re on my side and they support me and they want that for me too, but they have to be fair to all players and all of the major winners, so I do also understand their perspective,” she added.

“I definitely was thinking about appealing that and talking it out with the LPGA because, even if you could negotiate a couple more years than just the done, I feel like I deserve that. But the rules are the rules, and I have such a good relationship with everyone at the LPGA and they’re always doing the best they can with all the information they have at hand.”

If ever there was a chance for golf to show that it’s a forward thinking sport, both fluid and adaptable, this is it. In truth, it’s the least it can do given Popov’s remarkable display last week drew more eyes to the game than perhaps any other champion would’ve done that Sunday in Troon.

Justice for Popov. Give Sophia four more years!

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