When Sophia Popov tees off at the Inverness Club on Tuesday, the starter came up and said, “That’s a different job this year, isn’t it?”
Popov was in Inverness for a Pro-Am event before the Marathon Classic in Toledo and raved about its mint condition. She will be back for the Solheim Cup from September 4th to 6th. The starter, of course, was referring to the last time Popov was in Inverness for the LPGA Drive On event in July 2020, where she performed as a caddy for good friend Anne van Dam.
The next week Popov, then a member of the Symetra Tour, played in the Marathon Classic. She used a pulling cart and tied herself in ninth. She was one of 10 players who qualified for the AIG Women’s Open with a strong finish at the marathon, although she didn’t realize it until van Dam told her after the round.
What happened next is of course the fairytale part: Popov, who was 304 in the world at the time, won the British Open.
“When I was playing the training rounds (this week) I was going through some of the holes and how I had played them,” said Popov, “and I remembered that I only had my wheelbarrow. I say, ‘My God, things have changed a lot in a year.’ “
The wheelbarrow is back in Arizona, where she often uses it for practice. Lots of players have come this week reminding Popov how much changed when she appeared out of the blue to win a major.
“For me,” she said, “not out of the blue.”
Unlike last year, there is no major qualifying at stake in the marathon this week, as the field for the Amundi Evian Championship, which will take place this month, has already been determined. However, a seat is reserved for this week’s winner.
Popov will be competing in her first Evian this summer. She will also represent Germany at the Olympic Games in August. The first are flying for the 28-year-old USC graduate, who is now number 23 in the world rankings.
“I think right after the British last year I knew that they had postponed the Olympic Games by a year,” said Popov, “and I figured that with my world rankings I would probably take the top German position now, the one of the greatest was the first things that immediately came to my mind. I think I can actually do that for Tokyo next year.
“That was also a big dream of my national coach. He’s been my trainer since 2006. He said, ‘We’re going to Tokyo’ and I said, ‘I hate to destroy your dreams.’
“But in the end everything worked out and it was something special to know that I’m on this team.”
For Popov, the competition in Tokyo will fulfill a family dream that goes back generations. Her younger brother Nicholas swam for the University of Arizona and narrowly missed qualifying for the London Olympics. Mama Claudia swam for Stanford and never saw her Olympic dream come true.
“You know,” said Popov, “since my mother couldn’t travel to Moscow in 1980, it was just always a sporting event that was so important to her and us children.”