For Yuka Saso, coming from behind to win the U.S. Women’s Open was no small task. The 19-year-old clawed her way back after a disastrous start and dueled with Nasa Hataoka in a three-hole playoff just to be able to lift the U.S. Women’s Open trophy on Sunday.
For all her effort, however, Saso will be handsomely rewarded — and not just with a big trophy and a bigger paycheck ($1 million, to be exact).
Saso, a member of the Japanese LPGA Tour (JLPGA), did not have status on the LPGA Tour at the beginning of the week. In fact, she got into the field at Olympic Club through her world ranking, as the top 75 players were exempt. Making the most of her second start in an LPGA event, her win also awarded her a full five-year membership on the LPGA Tour.
While it might seem logical that the winner of a major championship would also be allowed to become a full member on the premier women’s golf tour in the world, that wasn’t the case just a year ago when Sophia Popov won the AIG Women’s British Open at Royal Troon.
If you recall, Popov, who was not a member of the LPGA Tour at the time of her win, thought she had earned the priceless bonus of a five-year LPGA exemption, but that was not the case. At the time of her win, the LPGA’s rules stated that only major winners who are current LPGA members are eligible for the five-year exemption. Popov, who had already played on the LPGA Tour but lost her status for 2020 by falling a shot short at Q-Series, was only eligible for a two-year exemption.
“I definitely got a little frustrated about the whole thing,” Popov told GOLF.com at the time. “It’s tough because I feel like I deserve the full five years of exemption.”
Popov’s frustration and the ensuing controversy did not go unnoticed. Although then-LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan stood by the decision to offer Popov a two-year exemption per the tour’s existing regulations, the LPGA voted to change its rules. Now known as the “Popov Rule,” non-member winners receive the full five-year exemption, something Saso found out following her win on Sunday at Olympic Club.
Saso, surprised by the fact that she had earned her full LPGA Tour card, wasn’t sure what her decision would be at the time of her press conference Sunday night, saying “I’m going to talk to my dad and my family about it.”
About an hour later, news percolated through the media center that Saso had accepted her LPGA membership.
To the victor go the spoils, Yuka.