Meghan MacLaren: "Sponsor's invites over Major champions is wrong"

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Ladies European Tour golfer Meghan MacLaren is unimpressed that the LPGA failed to find space for Major champions Sophia Popov and A. Lim Kim in their season-ending tour championship.

If you are more productive with your time than I am, you might miss the various instances of outrage on ‘Golf Twitter’.

The one that amazed – and infuriated – me the most during the past year was that of hoodies being worn on the golf course. For all the things to provoke people into moral outrage and apparent activism, it was the presence of an extra bit of material on golf clothing. In a year of seismic shifts in political, racial and social spheres, it’s reassuring to know us golf fans can find a common hill to die on.

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One of the things I dislike about social media (besides the word counts) is the difficulty in presenting every side of an issue. Outrage and ‘cancel culture’ have made it a necessity as unless you consider every implication for every male/female/non-binary, you leave yourself wide open to criticism and condemnation.Unfortunately, even the things that give the most black and white of appearances will contain shades of grey for someone. In my opinion, it is a responsibility for all of us to try and understand that.

A.Lim Kim didn't get an invite to the LPGA's Tour Championship.

Which brings me to the latest hot-button topic in the golf world – sponsor invitations – and the perceived worthiness of their recipients. It does encourage me when a wide array of fans – and the professional golfers – get involved in an issue that pertains to women’s golf. It just makes it all the more frustrating when it’s something with negative connotations.

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In case you missed it, the season-ending event on the LPGA – the CME Group Tour Championship – did not have a place in its field for two of this year’s Major winners, Sophia Popov and A. Lim Kim. This is due to both players not being official members of the LPGA at the time of their wins – winning does give them both the option to take up special membership, but not until 2021. Consequently, the points they would have earned towards gaining entry do not count, and so they cannot play.

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To add insult to this obvious injustice, for the first (and only) time, this year’s Race to CME finale has two extra spots for sponsor invitations. Many presumed this would offer at least one of those two Major winners a different way to get into the field, because if anyone’s play has merited it, surely it would be theirs? But no.

Women's British Open winner Sophia Popov wasn't invited to the LPGA Tour Championship.

Here we enter the notorious world of tournament sponsors and their decision making. In this particular instance, the two spots were given to an LPGA player who is an ambassador of the title sponsor, and a one-time winner who had been planning to retire at the end of this season – and who has become relevant as much for her marketability as for her play.

In my opinion, that is the fault of neither of those players, and it is not their ‘responsibility’ to give up their invitations for the Major champions, as some have suggested. If nothing else, the sponsor would quite probably have refused.

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But this is far from the first time sponsor invitations have caused controversy. A few years ago, basketball superstar Steph Curry received an invitation to an event on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour. It sparked a debate as to what is more important to a professional golf tournament – having the best and strongest possible field, in terms of playing ability, versus drawing more media attention. This is the delicate balancing act between every professional organising body and the people who put up the money to host the tournaments on their schedules.

Basketball star Steph Curry was given a sponsor's invite to a Korn Ferry Tour event.

While I find it astonishing that there isn’t an existing category in every single tournament field for current Major winners, regardless of member status or field size, I disagree that it is the sponsor’s obligation to make that happen. Agree with the principle or not, it is entirely at the sponsor’s discretion what they decide to do with their power.

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This particular tournament on the LPGA carries the single largest winner’s cheque in women’s golf, INCLUDING the Majors, and that is entirely because of the sponsor’s commitment. If it wasn’t for them, the tournament and that payout wouldn’t exist. That is the reality of professional golf. We rely on the financial investment of outsiders. What they ask for as their return on that investment is their prerogative.

I, like pretty much everyone else, think it’s a disgrace that the Major winners aren’t automatically added to the field for every event on the schedule. But I just ask that in any instance where the immediate reaction is outrage, we all take a few extra moments to consider the multiple ‘whys’ behind it. Very few things are as black and white as the words of text on this page.

Meghan MacLaren is a two-time winner on the Ladies European TourFollow her on Twitter and InstagramYou can also read her blog at megmaclaren.com

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