Sophia Popov is focused on enjoying her AIG Women’s Open title defence as she returns to the Championship that changed her life in 2020.
Popov was ranked 304th in the world and had never previously won a main-tour event when she produced a truly sensational performance to triumph at Royal Troon 12 months ago.
The German has gone on to establish herself as a consistent performer on the LPGA Tour and will be the focus of much attention this week at Carnoustie.
Yet although outside expectations of Popov will be much higher than they were at the start of last year’s AIG Women’s Open, the reigning Champion is determined to adopt a similar mindset to the one that served her well at Troon.
Asked how she felt on her return, Popov told a news conference: “It just brings back a lot of memories of last year, (which was) obviously a special week. It’s a little bit emotional coming out here.
“Once you get on site and you see your face everywhere you realise, oh my God, it’s been a year now and this is the event that changed so much for me.
“I think up until last week it was just a regular season and you just keep playing, keep playing. And then once I kind of set foot our here, it was like, okay, I’m coming here to truly enjoy this week, regardless of what happens.
“This is my sixth or seventh week on the road now. We are all probably a little tired at this point, but I think this is kind of energising me a lot just to be here, just the excitement surrounding the event.”
Popov has fond memories of Carnoustie, having made her AIG Women’s Open debut at the course in 2011.
She also returned for the Women’s Amateur Championship the following year and is thrilled to be back again this week.
“Obviously last year was a completely different time, also just in my career where I was at that moment. It’s actually funny just playing my practice round today, it was a lot of the same emotions that I had last year where I’m just kind of excited to be back to play some links golf. And just enjoying the venue because it’s so special.
“It just brings back a lot of memories from having played here in 2011 and 2012, and so I’m just enjoying myself being out here and I think that’s very similar to last year. Last year I didn’t know what was was going to happen on Sunday, and I don’t know this year either.
“Just being able to tee it up as at defending champion is something that's very, very special and something I shouldn't take too lightly either.”
While Popov feels she is in a similar mindset to 2020, she will be able to enjoy one notable difference this year with the return of fans to the AIG Women’s Open.
Last year’s Championship was held behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but spectators will return for Thursday’s opening round.
“It's going to be awesome to kind of see the flipside of last year,” said Popov, who is due to tee off at 12:05pm on Thursday alongside Sei Young Kim and Jessica Korda.
“Last year was very quiet in general just because we didn't have any fans out there. I could see a lot of the people coming off the beach and they really wanted to watch some golf. And I think it's going to be great thing about this year everyone is looking forward to this so bad.
“I know Scottish fans are always awesome. I feel like they are very well known to cheer for everyone which is great. They know the game so well, so they know they can decipher golf shots from bad shots and I think that's the greatest part of it, for them to also be really able to enjoy it because they weren't able to enjoy it last year.
“I'm just as excited for the fans as I am for myself.”