For German golfer Sophia Popov, the thought of winning a major seemed out of reach. Popov started playing professional golf in 2014, but faced multiple setbacks throughout the years.
She lived with undiagnosed Lyme disease for three years, which led to an inhibiting 25-pound weight loss and losing her LPGA card in 2019. She was one shot away from returning to the tour while playing in the Q Series, but was demoted to the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s developmental tour. She played in a few mini-tour events, and even caddied for her best friend in an LPGA event.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, tour players from Europe and Asia were hesitant to come to the U.S. for the Marathon LPGA Classic in Ohio, which opened a space for Popov and others from the Symetra Tour. She tied for ninth overall, her first LPGA top 10 finish, and qualified her for a spot in the AIG Women’s British Open in Troon, Scotland.
“I took advantage of it and used the opportunity to get here [to the LPGA],” Popov told Golf Digest.
Beginning the day with a bogey, Popov quickly adjusted her game. Crediting her mental fortitude, Popov reminded herself to focus on aggressive swings.
“That really helped me in order to swing as hard at it as I was because I know my misses aren’t very far off,” she told Golf Magazine. “I know that the only way it could work for today because every time I swing tentative, it’s not a good outcome, so that wasn’t an option.”
Those adjustments resulted in birdies and pars the rest of the way. By the time Popov reached the 18th hole, she set herself up with three putts to win the tournament. After the first putt landed close to the hole, she began to cry.
“There’s a lot of hard work behind this, a lot of struggles I went through, especially healthwise,” Popov said after the tournament. “It is an incredible story personally for me. That’s why I think I broke down on the 18th hole, because it has been something I couldn’t have dreamed of just a week ago.”
After her victory, Popov’s ranking skyrocketed from No. 304 to 24th in the world, and she became the second-highest ranked European woman in the Roland Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings.
Because league standards for 2020 were already set, Popov didn’t qualify for the tour’s next major, but she did earn a five-year LPGA exemption beginning with the Cambia Portland Classic.
“It feels amazing,” Popov told the Golf Channel. “There’s a lot of hard work behind it, and a lot of struggles that I went through the last six years. I’m just glad I was able to overcome everything and just keep my head in it.”
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