U.S. Open: With spectators banned at Winged Foot, merchandise pavilion moves online

Reality began to register back in April when the USGA announced the U.S. Open was being postponed. In the midst of a pandemic, a (...)

U.S. Open: With spectators banned at Winged Foot, merchandise pavilion moves online

Reality began to register back in April when the USGA announced the U.S. Open was being postponed.

In the midst of a pandemic, a full-scale championship was unlikely.

And while she was bracing for bad news, Mary Lopuszynski still felt the sting at the end of July when Gov. Andrew Cuomo weighed in. He gave the U.S. Open a needed go-ahead, but announced only essential personnel would be allowed inside the gates at Winged Foot Golf Club next week.

The longtime senior ‎director of licensing and U.S. Open merchandising was left holding the bag.

“I threatened to sell this stuff out of the trunk of my car in front of Sal’s pizza,” said Lopuszynski, a Rye native whose career roots extend to Winged Foot where she once picked the range and worked in the golf shop.

A tag sale wasn’t the answer, either.

“You have to be safe and with everything we’re doing, with all the testing protocols in place, merchandising really doesn’t fit into those plans,” she added.

Mary Lopuszynski is the USGA’s senior director of licensing and U.S. Open merchandise. She is a Rye native who used to work at Winged Foot. With no merchandise pavilion to oversee this year due to the pandemic, Lopuszynski will be a walking scorer at Winged Foot.

The merchandise pavilion is a U.S. Open centerpiece.

It would have occupied 30,000 square feet on the driving range at Winged Foot, with some 20 semi-trailers nearby to warehouse the goods not on display. Lopuszynski oversees the operation with the help of 14 full-time staffers and 1,200 volunteers.

The pavilion routinely handles north of 100,000 transactions.

Revenue numbers are not shared publicly, but $10 million is a popular estimate given the scale of the operation and the fact that most golf shirts with a 2020 U.S. Open logo run $72.

As the COVID-19 metrics in the region began to raise the level concern, Lopuszynski was in contact with vendors.

“We typically start ordering product in July for the following year’s U.S. Open and we continue that process into March, so when our world changed and we saw what was happening, we contacted all our vendors and hit the pause button,” she said. “At that point, I’m going to say about 40 percent of our merchandise had been produced, so not everything we planned to offer at Winged Foot had been made.”

U.S. Open merchandise for sale in the pro shop at Winged Foot Golf Club Sept. 1, 2020. Winged Foot will host the U.S. Open Sept. 17-20.

U.S. Open merchandise for sale in the pro shop at Winged Foot Golf Club Sept. 1, 2020. Winged Foot will host the U.S. Open Sept. 17-20.

That’s still a monumental pile of hard and soft goods.

Fans went online ahead of Father’s Day and purchased merchandise that normally would’ve been picked up onsite during the championship’s traditional June date.

“We actually had a pretty good week,” Lopuszynski said.

Right now, the entire operation is online at usgashop.com with a wide assortment of polos, sweatshirts, head wear, posters, flags and other U.S. Open paraphernalia readily available.

“After the decision to postpone until September was made, we started to put more of the merchandise online,” Lopuszynski added. “Fanatics is a large sports apparel company and they run our online store. Most of the product went there and they’ll have a more robust offering from now through September.

“I’m sure a lot of people will still want product with the Winged Foot logo, which is one of the greatest of all time.”

No lines. No waiting.

The club’s pro shop is well-stocked and members have been sporting the U.S. Open gear all season.

“Ralph Lauren has been our official outfitter for 10 years now and they have product that will go on their own website, too,” Lopuszynski said. “A few other vendors are doing the same thing. … Obviously, we can’t have fans, which is extremely unfortunate and disappointing, but this is what we had to do.”

Impulse buys are usually a big part of the bottom line.

“People who come to the U.S. Open, depending on the location, they might need outerwear, maybe they forgot an umbrella,” Lopuszynski said. “People come in and get hats when the sun is out, they buy chairs. That won’t happen on USGAshop.com because everyone is watching from home, but a lot of the apparel, the head wear and the accessory items that are good sellers for us year to year are going to be available on the website. And we’re going to be doing some fun promotions on our social media channels just to make sure people know we have the product and if they’re interested where they can get it.”

Golfers like bargains, too.

Lopuszynski will be onsite next week with a role to play. It’s good to know all of the right people at the USGA.

“I’m going to be a walking scorer so I’m going to be watching golf for the first time in my 27-year career at the USGA. “I’m looking forward to it. This is a silver lining for me. Growing up in the area, working at Winged Foot and picking the range … the home game part of this is exciting. I’m really happy to do this and I’m happy (USGA senior manager of championships) John Bodenhamer found a spot for me.”

Mike Dougherty covers golf for The Journal News/lohud.com, part of the USA Today Network. He can be reached at mdougher@lohud.com, or on Twitter @hoopsmbd and @lohudgolf.

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Opinion: Baffling rules and inflexibility kept Sophia Popov, golf's Story of the Year, out of this week's ANA Inspiration

When Sophia Popov came up the 18th hole at her home club last Friday, members of FireRock Country Club in Fountain Hills, Arizona, had (...)

Opinion: Baffling rules and inflexibility kept Sophia Popov, golf's Story of the Year, out of this week's ANA Inspiration

When Sophia Popov came up the 18th hole at her home club last Friday, members of FireRock Country Club in Fountain Hills, Arizona, had gathered around the green. They wanted to give Popov the applause she didn’t receive at Royal Troon. The party was capped at 50 people due to COVID-19.

Popov is a friendly pro, the kind of player who will stop what she’s doing and engage in conversation. Sometimes give a mini lesson. It’s no wonder that members had tears in their eyes when they came up to congratulate the most improbable winner of the AIG Women’s British Open. Heck, they were proud of those three Cactus Tour wins too.

“We realized that the cup could’ve been made by Yeti,” said Popov. “We put ice cold beer in there, and it stayed ice cold the entire time.”

Golf fans around the world became enthralled with the story of Sophia Popov, the 304th-ranked player who became the first major winner of 2020.

It’s the Story of the Year so far in all of golf. And yet, incredibly, she’s not in the 105-player field at this week’s ANA Inspiration.

It’s a complete whiff by the tour. Popov will be the most talked-about player who isn’t at the blistering Dinah Shore Tournament Course, and that includes the defending champion and No. 1-ranked Jin Young Ko.


Because Ko hasn’t played all year on the LPGA. She’s not top of mind for most fans. Popov, on the other hand, is the new LPGA darling, the Cinderella who catapulted from Symetra Tour status to major champion in the span of seven days. In the weeks following her victory, Popov averaged five to six media interviews per day. She was in demand, and rightly so.

Interest grew even more after a Golf.com story reported that Popov wasn’t eligible for the tour’s five-year exemption as she was a non-member at the time of her victory. Instead, Popov is exempt for the remainder of 2020 and all of 2021. Her first eligible start is next week’s Cambia Portland Classic.

Popov, a four-time All-American at USC, isn’t in this week’s field because the criteria for the ANA Inspiration (originally scheduled for April) was set before the LPGA took a 166-day break due to the coronavirus. The winner’s five-year exemption into the ANA was slated to start in 2021.

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said that there was no changing it.

The simplest answer to this would have been to let Popov start her five-year exemption into the ANA in 2020. She wouldn’t get more years than anyone else. She’d simply be able to start the clock now. That would’ve given Popov and the LPGA the chance to capitalize on the momentum of the moment.

There was plenty of room for Popov in the field. Plenty of players chose to skip this year’s ANA due to COVID-19, including former major winners So Yeon Ryu, Jeong Eun Lee6, Hyo Joo Kim, Shanshan Feng and Ko.

The world needs more Popov stories in these uncertain times. A bigger picture perspective would’ve served the tour well here.

Popov kept waiting for the LPGA to offer her a seat on the charter flight and a spot in the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. There was a spot reserved in the Arkansas field for the winner at Royal Troon if needed, but Popov didn’t qualify for that either because she wasn’t a member when she won. (And her winnings from the AIG don’t count toward the money list either because she wasn’t a member.)

No one was more shocked by this than the player who benefited from that bewildering rule, first alternate Kristy McPherson, who made the most of the start by finishing in the top 10.

While the criteria was set for the ANA last spring, there was still a way to play in through the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. The top 20 players and ties on the money list, not otherwise qualified, through the end of the Walmart event made the field, provided those players were within the top 80 on the money list.

Dani Holmqvist was the last player in through that category with $48,127. She’s 80th on the money list.

Popov first earned LPGA membership in 2015 and lost her card last year by one stroke. She has competed in 34 LPGA tournaments in her career and played three times on the Symetra Tour this season.

Several male pros, including Ian Poulter and Tommy Fleetwood, took to Twitter to express their disdain for the LPGA’s exemption rule for non-members.

Whan said he would look into the rule in the offseason but wouldn’t change it midseason, pointing out other non-members who have won previous majors – last year’s Women’s British winner, Hinako Shibuno, for starters. Shibuno didn’t take up LPGA membership.

Shibuno differs from Popov in that she hadn’t spent any time on the LPGA in previous years, nor had she competed on the LPGA’s developmental tour. She came directly from the Japan LPGA.

“I think everybody in their right mind thinks (Popov) should get a five-year exemption,” said McPherson, “but that’s how it’s written.”

It’s time for the LPGA to loosen up its non-member rules and reward exceptional play.

Anyone who wins a major – regardless of what tour they came from – deserves a five-year exemption.

Anyone who wins a tournament deserves a spot in the next week’s field.

The LPGA should also take this time to strongly consider adopting a top-10 rule that allows non-members and members alike the chance to play their way into the next event with a top-10 finish.

Growing the tour should always be the main goal.

“I truly believe that a major champion is a major champion,” said Popov, “regardless of what status you came into the tournament with. It should be rewarded the same.”

Popov isn’t exempt into this year’s U.S. Women’s Open either but has a strong chance to get into the field by way of her Rolex Ranking, which vaulted to 24th after the British.

“It was imperative to us as we built the exemption categories for this year’s U.S. Women’s Open that the final field most closely resemble a traditional championship, which includes rewarding players for solid play leading up to the event,” said Shannon Rouillard, Senior Director, Championships.

“In addition to several play-in events this fall, we also created a category for LPGA money list high performers not otherwise exempt, as well as made the decision for the remainder of the field to be filled using the Rolex Rankings, to ensure those playing well would find themselves in the championship.”

As of now, the final 11 spots will be awarded off the Rolex Rankings and Popov tops that list.

Popov has taken the high road throughout the controversy, saying that she doesn’t want to dwell on it too much ahead of Portland. She also made sure to note that the LPGA staff has been overwhelmed in general with COVID-19 protocols and that she appreciates what they’ve done to get tournaments running again.

This is a player with great perspective. A player who has overcome health battles with Lyme Disease and Q-School heartbreak, battling back from obscurity to give the LPGA a storyline that reverberated throughout the sports world.

Baffling rules and inflexibility robbed Popov from making her debut in the ANA Inspiration. That robbed the rest of us too.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Source : Golf Week More   

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