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An inspirational champion


Popov produces stirring storyline

AIG Women's Open champion Sophia Popov in front of a floral wall

There is much to admire in any golfer that achieves the immense feat of winning a major championship.

Such a triumph requires years of dedication and the path to glory is rarely smooth; all champions have hurdles to overcome before they reach the peak of their sport.

However, it is hard to think of many recent major winners whose story is quite as inspirational as that of Sophia Popov, the newly crowned AIG Women’s Open champion.

When Popov knocked in her winning putt on Sunday at Royal Troon to complete a stunning two-stroke victory, it was already clear that she had achieved something truly special.

After all, she came into the event as the world number 304 and without a main-tour victory to her name. Indeed, her sole top-10 finish on the LPGA Tour had come just a fortnight earlier at the Marathon Classic, a result that secured her place in the AIG Women’s Open.

Popov only arrived at Troon on Tuesday and played just one practice round, having opted to stick to her original plan to play in a Symetra Tour event in Phoenix, Arizona in the week that followed the Marathon Classic.

In any circumstances, this would be a heart-warming underdog triumph, particularly when you consider the 27-year-old began August caddying for close friend Anne van Dam at the LPGA’s Drive On Championship.

However, in the aftermath of her glorious success, Popov revealed another strand to her remarkable journey as she discussed her battle with Lyme disease.

“It’s honestly something I haven’t really talked about a lot before, but my rookie year, I started having a lot of health issues. I had just been struggling a lot with fatigue … and it took a total of about 20 doctor visits three years later to figure out that I had Lyme disease,” she explained.

“For me to regain all my energy … I lost like 25 pounds and had to regain all of that and get back to where I was before. It was a tough time to go through.”

Thankfully, Popov is happy to report she now has the disease “under control really well”, adding: “I’m glad I got to the point where I’m feeling pretty good, and hopefully it stays that way.”

Given all she has gone through in recent years, it is no wonder Popov was moved to tears in the trophy presentation as she reflected on her incredible victory.

A player without a tour card at the beginning of last week has now joined the likes of Dame Laura Davies, Karrie Webb, Annika Sorenstam and Inbee Park on the list of AIG Women’s Open champions, as well as becoming the first female major winner from Germany.

Popov’s success will live long in the memory, but the enormity of the triumph is likely to take some time to sink in for the victor.

In an Instagram post on Monday, she wrote: “Today I work up a major champion. I still can’t believe what happened yesterday. A single week that turned my life upside down (in a good way).”

Royal Troon’s first AIG Women’s Open could hardly have produced a more stirring storyline, or a more inspiring champion.