Europe’s Ryder Cup heavyweights have lined up to criticise the LPGA Tour for its bizarre, if not disgraceful, treatment of Sophia Popov since the German won the AIG Women’s Open last weekend.
Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood and Thomas Bjorn all expressed their disgust at the Troon hero not only being denied entry to the second major of the season – the Ana Inspiration in two weeks’ time – but also the usual five-year exemption as a Tour member.
It is fair to say that Mike Whan, the LPGA commissioner, felt under increasing pressure on Friday after Poulter called the Tour “embarrassing to the game of golf” and Fleetwood termed it “stupid to say the least”.
Yet perhaps Bjorn, the 2018 captain, summed up the bewilderment and anger best of all. “It’s amazing that @LPGA and @LPGACommish haven’t reacted yet,” Bjorn tweeted. “Golf is again the laughing stock of the sports world due to having rules that don’t make any sense.”
The LPGA is not for turning, however, with Whan later going on to the Tour’s official website to point out that the Ana Inspiration field was already fixed because it was postponed in March and that the rules only grant Popov two years grace for Tour playing privileges.
In a complicated scenario, Popov is disqualified from both because she was not a “full” LPGA Tour member when stunning the world in Ayrshire, after missing out her card by a mere shot at last year’s Q School.
However, the 27-year-old is a member of the Symetra Tour, the LPGA ‘development’ circuit, leading almost everyone to question the point of the pyramid.
As Paul McGinley, another former Ryder Cup captain, said: “These are times for sensitivity and adaptability in a crazy world. Come on, find a way to compromise here. She did so much for your Tour and for ladies golf last week.”
Meanwhile, on the LPGA Tour, Sweden’s Solheim Cup star Anna Nordqvist shared the early clubhouse lead in the Walmart Classic alongside American Jackie Stoelting on seven-under. England’s Jodi Ewart Shadoff was three behind after a first-round 67 in Arkansas.
On the European Tour, South Africa’s Justin Walters shot a 71 in the ISPS Hands UK Championship at the Belfry to reach nine-under and stand one clear of France’s Benjamin Hebert, with Liverpool’s Paul Waring a shot further back.
At the Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale, five Englishmen are within three steps of earning spots at next year’s Masters, Open and US Open. Bristol’s Joe Harvey, Lytham’s Callan Barrow, Sheffield’s Barclay Brown, Bath’s Joe Long and Marlborough’s Jake Bolton have all advanced to the quarter-finals, with the 36-hole final taking pace at the famous Open venue on Sunday.
In the Women’s Amateur, Emily Toy, the 22-year-old from Cornwall, has the chance to become the first player in 15 years to defend successfully the championship. Toy plays German’s Aline Krauter in Saturday morning’s semi-final with fellow Englishwomen Annabell Fuller taking on Italian Emilie Alba Paltrinieri in the other law four match at West Lancs. The 18-hole final is on Saturday afternoon.