Much ink has already been spilled on Sophia Popov’s improbable Women’s Open victory — and rightfully so. She sent shockwaves through the golf world as she made a rags-to-riches transformation with the win, recalling memories of other long-shot major winners such as Francis Ouimet.
Though she made it look easy at times, the win did not come without its struggles. Popov admitted that as recently as last year she considered giving up the game. Good thing she didn’t.
And even during her Cinderella-like run, there were times when the outcome looked dicey. Popov opened the final round with a bogey after sleeping on her first 54-hole major lead. Surely this would be where the wheels fall off. No way a Symetra Tour player can handle this sort of pressure, right? Wrong.
Every time it looked as though Popov would falter, she steadied the ship. Each errant shot was followed with poise. And there’s one key swing thought she relied on to keep the ship righted: “just swing aggressively.”
The tendency under pressure for many players can be to go into protection mode. Not for Popov. She kept her foot to the pedal and didn’t let up until she walked up the storied 18th with the tournament result decided. She vowed to stay aggressive.
“Honestly that’s the only way for me,” Popov said. “When I get a little tentative, I hang them out to the right.”
It’s a common fault for golfers when the pressure ramps up. That aggressive slash at the ball slows down just a touch as they try to coax the ball into the fairway. The results are never good. It’s likely an aggressive swing that got you this far, might as well ride it into the clubhouse. Exhibiting the poise of a savvy veteran, Popov knew that her aggressive swing had much better outcomes than a tentative one — even on her misses.
“That really helped me in order to swing as hard at it as I was because I knew my misses aren’t very far off,” Popov said. “I can just go after it, and I knew that’s the only way that it could work for today because every time I swing tentative, it’s not a good outcome, so that wasn’t an option.”
Much has changed for Popov over the last week, but her aggression didn’t. If she can keep that attack-first mentality in play, this may not be her last time in the spotlight.