When Sophia Popov claimed the AIG Women’s Open at Royal Troon in 2020, it was unexpected for a number of reasons.
Popov’s ranking of 304th in the world was certainly one of those factors, as was the Symetra Tour player's incredible ability to close out a major championship in comfortable fashion despite having never recorded an LPGA Tour top 10 until a fortnight previously.
However, one of the most surprising elements of Popov’s victory was that she did so with just one day’s practice at Royal Troon.
Popov arrived late to the Championship, due to a commitment to play on the Symetra Tour made before qualifying late for the AIG Women’s Open. Upon arrival in Scotland late on Monday, the German was then forced to quarantine for most of Tuesday as she awaited the results of her Covid-19 test.
This left limited time for preparation, as the 27-year-old prepared to play in just her second AIG Women’s Open, nine years after her debut as an amateur, and just her fifth ever major championship.
“Every time I tee it up I try to win, my preparation for every tournament is the same” Popov said. “And honestly, the preparation that I had for the AIG Women’s Open last year was not the preparation I would have ever, ever had. That’s not how I see an ideal preparation for a tournament!
“And it worked out well for me, I kind of just take things as they come. I don’t like to over-analyse things. I know what kind of shot I need to hit, I either execute the shot or I don’t. I’m a very go-by-the-moment, day-by-day kind of person.”
Popov’s eventual victory on the South Ayrshire links that week was a perfect storm, so much so that the German star, now ranked in the world’s top 20 after an excellent string of play, is considering replicating her arrival time for her title defence at Carnoustie later this year.
“I thought about it”, Popov said with a smile of arriving late to Carnoustie. “I talked about it with my family, you know it worked so well for me I’m almost scared to change that routine! So maybe I’ll roll in Monday night…”
Popov freely admits that she is rather meticulous with her preparation, particularly in regards to keeping her equipment the same. Perhaps even in Popov's mind, she can be a touch too meticulous.
“I’m pretty superstitious to the point where I’m probably too superstitious”, Popov said, laughing. “Like, I’m superstitious with the stuff that I use, my equipment, I’m very superstitious with that. I don’t like to change things very often, the balls I use, the markings I have, the ball markers I use, like everything I’m very superstitious about.
“But I think I’m starting to loosen up a little bit in that department, because I realise mentally it’s probably not the best approach. And (arriving to Carnoustie late this year) is one thing I can be extremely superstitious about.”
The German star certainly has more options this year as to when she arrives, with a full LPGA Tour card at her disposal and the opportunity to schedule events.
“I’d love to play the Scottish just to get used to some links golf”, Popov said, “and get in a routine out there with the wind and everything, but I don’t know as our schedule is so packed this year.
“What I’m probably going to try to do, is to figure out a way that I can play where I give myself the most rest that I can while feeling like I’m well prepared and ready to go. Usually I like playing the week before a major, or even two weeks back-to-back. I like to be kind of in a rhythm, I don’t like to take two or three weeks off and then go into a tournament, I always have a feeling it increases my nerves a little bit.”
“So I’ll probably just go and try to play the Scottish, and I’ll probably prepare like I do for any other tournament. If I did any differently then you’d have to question why I don’t do that for every tournament, because essentially I’m trying to win this week and every week this year.”
Popov will definitely be one to watch at Carnoustie as she bids to defend her title in August. When she arrives in Angus that is, of course.