Sophia Popov will take time to enjoy her remarkable success at the AIG Women’s Open, after revealing she gave “serious consideration” to retiring from professional golf prior to the victory.
Popov delivered a sensational performance at Royal Troon, expertly defying challenging weather conditions on the first two days before carding superb rounds of 67 and 68 over the weekend to prevail by two strokes.
Few could have anticipated Popov’s incredible triumph, which saw her become the lowest-ranked winner of a women’s major championship in history.
The German, who revealed her battle with Lyme disease in a post-championship press conference, came into the AIG Women’s Open without an LPGA tour card to her name and was close to pursuing an alternative career after missing out at Q-School in 2019.
“I think if you would ask some of my family members, or my boyfriend, he would be able to tell you multiple occasions where I was ready to hang it all up and say maybe this is just not the way that my life is supposed to be going, or maybe I should be looking to other stuff,” said Popov.
“At the end of last year, I did look into other options as far as, you know, maybe going into broadcast. That’s been my post-golf dream, basically, since I graduated from college and I was seriously debating it.
“I took a little bit of a break from golf after the Q-Series last year and I just kind of wanted to do some other stuff and really take my mind off golf. And then I think probably after four or five weeks I figured, it’s just tough, you work for this, you work for a certain goal your whole life and you just haven’t reached what you know you’re capable of reaching. And so it’s really hard to quit, because you think: ‘What if? What if there’s that little chance that something can change?’
“It was a very serious consideration. And my family would be able to tell you that too. So that’s why this means so much more to me than probably if this had happened three or four years ago.”
Popov, who will celebrate her 28th birthday in October, added: “I set myself that classic: if nothing happens by the time I turn 30 we should probably look into some other stuff.
“Also being a female professional athlete is not that easy because you’ve got other timelines going on in your life too, so you need to really seriously debate whether it’s lucrative and it makes sense. So I set myself that deadline, I guess, for when I turned 30, but I’m glad I took care of that really quickly.”
Having claimed a prize of $675,000 that comfortably dwarfs her previous career earnings, Popov has certainly been rewarded for her decision to persevere.
Following her win at Royal Troon, she received advice from several fellow major champions, including compatriot Martin Kaymer and 2009 AIG Women’s Open winner Catriona Matthew.
“All the players I talked to previously that had won big tournaments or majors said they never really took enough time to really enjoy it, so I definitely want to do that and then kind of go into the thick of things for the rest of the year,” said Popov.
“I’m going to stay in shape; I’m gonna keep practising and working out and making sure I’m ready (for my next tournament), but at the same time relax and enjoy it.”
Detailing the contact she received from Matthew, Popov added: “It was just a really nice, genuine text message that she sent me on my play over the week … and at the same time just giving me a little bit of her own insight into what it’s like to win a major championship and what the weeks after look like.
“She said to enjoy every minute of it and I love the fact that she said that, because I think we as golfers tend to get ahead of ourselves very easily. We think of the next step and the next step, and honestly I want to look back on Sunday and realise that no one’s gonna take this away from me. And I think that’s more important to me right now.
“You can’t quite fathom what happened on Sunday, because not in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to go to Scotland and come back with this trophy. It’s still all sinking in, but obviously I couldn’t be more happy and I’m excited to be able to hold this trophy for the next year. I definitely don’t want to give it back!”
After taking the time to enjoy her victory, Popov will soon turn her attention to the future as she seeks to earn a place in Europe’s team for next year’s Solheim Cup at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.
“It’s not a secret that it’s probably my biggest dream,” she said. “I played the Junior Solheim Cup in 2009 and for all 18 holes on Sunday I was wearing my Junior Solheim Cup mittens, and (it was) just a reminder of how far I’ve come and just what my journey has looked like the last 10-15 years.
“I would love nothing more than to play the Solheim Cup next year. That’s the ultimate dream and I’d love for that to come true.”