News & Opinion

LPGA shuts out 2 major winners from Tour Championship

Natalie Gulbis at 2015 KPMG Women's PGA Championship
Natalie Gulbis hasn’t made a cut on the LPGA in more than 2 years, but that won’t disqualify her from competing in the women’s tour’s signature event this week. Meanwhile, 2 of the LPGA’s major champions from 2020 will not be playing.

A Lim Kim and Sophia Popov fail to qualify for Tour Championship as sponsor CME Group hands spots to Sarah Kemp, Natalie Gulbis

Two of the LPGA’s major champions from 2020 will not be playing this week in the women’s tour’s signature event.

South Korea’s A Lim Kim, who won the U.S. Women’s Open on Monday, and Germany’s Sophia Popov, the reigning Women’s British Open champion, did not qualify for the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Fla. Because they were not LPGA members when they won their titles, they did not earn points in the tour’s season-long standings, which determined 70 of the 72 spots for this week. Popov ultimately finished 82nd; Kim, who won in her first appearance in America, did not score any points. The Tour Championship field expanded from 60 to 72 players this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and two sponsor exemptions were included. But those two spots went to Australia’s Sarah Kemp, who is paid to endorse title sponsor CME Group, a Chicago-based financial-derivatives exchange, and to American Natalie Gulbis, a longtime fan favorite, though no fans will be permitted onsite at Tiburon Golf Club.

“The decision to add sponsor exemptions for the CME Group Tour Championship is for this year only,” LPGA official Heather Daly-Donofrio told Golfweek's Beth Ann Nichols. “In this abnormal 2020 year, the CME Group Tour Championship is slightly different than in the past, allowing more players in the field and offering two sponsor invites. In 2021, we expect to return to a 60-player field that is filled strictly off the Race for the CME Globe rankings.”

That explanation does nothing to address the bureaucratic banning of two of the LPGA’s four major champions from 2020 in the Tour Championship.

Kemp, 35, a non-winner on the LPGA, has made six cuts in 15 starts this year and stands No. 252 in the Rolex World Rankings. Gulbis, 37, whose only LPGA victory was in 2007, fell out of the top 1,400 in the world ranking after she missed the cut in five starts and withdrew from her sixth tournament after a first-round 79 this year. Gulbis has not qualified for weekend play in her past 18 LPGA appearances, dating to early 2018. Gulbis announced her retirement for 2020, but, because of the absence of spectators since the season restarted in July, intends to play in 2021.

Popov, who recently bought a home in Naples, told Golfweek’s Nichols: “It’s a fairness thing, as far as playing ability. It’s not like I haven’t earned it. It’s like I have earned it points-wise, technically.”

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