After a Cinderella British Open win, a new star adjusts to the majors of golf

Posted by on October 08, 2020  /   Posted in golf reviews

It was well past midnight in Scotland by the time Sophia Popov FaceTimed with her parents, Philipp and Claudia, and older brothers Alex and Nicholas had won after they won the Women's British Open at Royal Troon Golf Club in August

Popov's victory, then ranked 304th, shocked the golf world. It wasn't just that she'd claimed a major title after a handful of lean seasons as a pro, but how impenetrable the 27-year-old had seemed for the final round on one of the world's famous courses.

"There was a lot of joy and excitement on that phone call," said her brother, Alex, 31. "We were super happy for her because she deserves it. She had the skills. It was just a matter of get over the bump and believe in himself. ”

Popov, who turned 28 last week, is a player to watch in the Women's PGA Championship, starting Thursday at Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pa., A Philadelphia suburb. After seemingly out of nowhere to win at Royal Troon, Popov's rise was briefly halted by missing the ANA Inspiration – the second major on the rescheduled 2020 schedule – when the LPGA offered Her no exemption from the already determined field Popov has risen to No. 25 in the world rankings and has a two-year exemption for the LPGA Tour, adjusting to her new status and entering only the fifth major of her career.

"It was crazy, a bit of a whirlwind," said Popov. “Winning the Open was surprising, not only for everyone, but also for me. I tried to let it soak in while at the same time having a lot more on my plate. It has changed my life in a great way. I still wake up and can't quite believe where I am now, unlike six weeks ago.

Six months ago Popov took part in the Cactus Tour, an Arizona circuit for young women. golf pros. Previously she had competed in the Symetra Tour, the development arm, after losing exempt status on the LPGA Tour, but this and most of the other major golf tours in the world were on hiatus due to Covid-19. Using safety measures such as cup liners and individual carriages, the Cactus Tour played on.

Popov has both US and German citizenships, so when she wasn't playing in lower level events, she worked hard at her play and fitness in Arizona, where her parents have a home and she spends time when she doesn't is in her Florida residence. "She treated it like a little boot camp for two or three months," said Rob Rashell, her swing coach.

In addition to bringing in reruns, Popov rediscovered her winning touch and claimed her first professional trophy at a tournament. mid-April and then two of the tour's next five events. "It was important because I hadn't won in six years since I was a senior in college," said Popov, who played in Southern California. By the time the bigger tours resumed this summer, Popov had a dozen Cactus Tour events under her wing and renewed confidence.

"There's a craft to play and win regardless of the stage," said Rashell, who has been working with Popov since spring 2019. "You have to beat the players around you. You have to get used to how that feels. There is pressure no matter where you play.

For the first two laps at Royal Troon, the field fought harsh weather – the wind was so strong that Popov had to use a 4-iron from 126 meters on her approach to No. 1 on day one – that put strategy and determination to the test.

Popov was supported not only by her trio of mini-tour wins, but also caddying this summer for fellow player and good friend Anne van Dam, a Dutch professional, in an LPGA event at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Popov had urged van Dam to make conservative choices that she had often shunned when playing herself. "I thought a lot more about strategic things as a caddy than as a player," said Popov. "Sometimes you don't have to be that aggressive, you don't have to go straight for the flag."

While watching the televised broadcasts of the Open, Rashell was hit by Popov's remote control. “It was amazing how many times she hit the ball pin-high,” said Rashell. Tiger Woods has talked about that. If you can fly the ball the distance you want, even if you are a little left or right, it is a super power in golf. "

Popov's competitive instincts were nurtured early in life to keep up with her older siblings in a sporty family that engaged in activities in every season." It was always a competition between the three of us, " says Nicholas, 30, who swam at the University of Arizona. “If you're not the first, you're the last. Sophia wanted to beat us, be it sports, academics or a card game.

Popov's mother was on the swim team at Stanford. Her maternal grandmother, Sabine Schwarzer, qualified to represent West Germany in the high jump at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, but, recovering from injury and already moved to the United States, where her fiancé Dieter had moved don't bring them. As a tall teenager in the 1950s, Sabine was recruited to accompany her brother, Albrecht, on track and field practice.

"I saw the girls jump high, six feet, not even up to your hips," said Schwarzer. “I pulled up my skirt, took off my shoes and just jumped over it. I thought, "What's so hard about this?"

While her granddaughter was cleaning up a new bar at the British Women’s Open, Schwarzer couldn't get the broadcast on her home TV on Nantucket. She rushed to a friend's house. & # 39; I had to watch the wave. And we went crazy when Sophia won.

A talented golfer had fulfilled long-cherished opportunities. “Mentally it was a huge breakthrough,” said Popov. "I've always fought the game between my ears, more than anything, my entire golf career. That was the most important thing to me. But I still had to execute." because she's not an LPGA member. It almost didn't seem real when the money was deposited into her bank account.

“It came later in the week and you look at it and say," Man, it feels like something illegal is happening on your account, & # 39; & # 39; said Popov.

But like the career-changing victory itself, money is all on the rise.

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