It has been a whirlwind 10 months for Sophia Popov. Since qualifying for the AIG Women’s Open with her first ever LPGA Tour top-10 finish, to winning the Championship ranked 304th in the world, to becoming one of the LPGA’s brightest stars.
Since her stunning victory at Royal Troon, the 28-year-old has not missed a cut on the LPGA Tour, a streak of 17 straight events dating back to the Marathon tournament last August, the event that earned Popov entry into the 2020 AIG Women’s Open.
During this remarkable run, which started without an LPGA Tour card or a top-300 world ranking, Popov has recorded 11 top-25 finishes, 5 top-10s and of course one special major championship victory. The German star credits much of her success now to that major success, providing her with the foundation to achieve what she has always been capable of.
“I think now when I look back on Royal Troon, my biggest takeaway is just that I’ve become a lot more of a relaxed player out here. Every time I tee it up, every tournament I play, I feel like I’m a little bit more confident,” said Popov.
“I quite enjoy it, you know. I’m having a good time. I’m definitely in a little bit more relaxed of a mood. I think it just took a huge weight off my shoulders, to be honest. I can kind of just go out and have fun and do my thing, and not have to worry about all the other stuff that comes with playing professionally, you know, keeping your job on a yearly basis and all that stuff.
“So I think I’ve just become a lot more relaxed, and I’ve just enjoyed the game a lot more ever since the win because I’m just a little bit more light-hearted out there.”
Popov’s results have indicated such a trend, as the German’s incredibly consistent play is offering up more and more opportunities for further victories. Popov is fresh off her best LPGA Tour finish since the AIG Women’s Open, finishing runner-up in the LPGA Match-Play tournament at Shadow Creek. Further boosting her credentials as a potential Solheim Cup star, Popov is acclimatising to life in the limelight very well indeed.
“I don’t think I struggle with the attention I get," Popov said, "whether it’s the media attention or any other appointments that I have. Being in more featured groups, you definitely notice it. I mean I notice it, I just don’t think that I really made it a big deal. I think for myself I have gotten very comfortable with it very quickly.
“I’ve always been a very social person, I don’t mind joking around with people, I don’t mind doing interviews, I quite enjoy it most of the time, unless it’s like squeezed in between your practice and your practice round and you’re running late and you haven’t eaten anything and you’re hangry… which sometimes happens! Then maybe I’ll struggle with it, but in general I’m pretty easy-going, and I like to keep that mentality on the golf course too.
“I’m not really worried about mistakes I make or bad shots I hit, because I keep feeling I can get myself out of it again, and I don’t put myself under so much pressure to have to get out of the situation. Now I’ll make a bogey and it’s like ‘yeah, its fine you can get it back’, whereas previously it felt like I had lost the tournament in the first three holes, and that’s obviously not a good mental attitude!
“But I think it just makes things a little bit easier not to have to think about those things all the time where every tournament is so important, now I can just take it one tournament at a time, and if I don’t play well one tournament its fine, I have the next week and I have the week after that. And definitely that’s what has helped me to play better, ever since the AIG Women’s Open, and therefore making cuts kind of goes hand in hand with that.”
Now ranked at a career high of 16 in the world, Popov has her sights set on more success for the remainder of the year, with chances to achieve her main goals still to come, including defending her AIG Women’s Open title.
“Ideally defending my title would be amazing, that’s obviously a huge goal,” Popov said. “I’m really excited about it. I love Carnoustie, links golf is my favourite kind of golf. So that’s definitely a goal, I think my biggest goal is probably making the Solheim Cup team for Europe, and the Olympic team for Germany too.
“They’re both so close you can kind of grasp them, and you just don’t want to let them go, so that would be a huge dream of mine to play in both of those, so I think those are my goals for this year, but again hopefully they will come as a result of just consistent solid play, and keeping putting myself in contention as many times as I can.”